Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Meaning of Easter

The Scripture passage today is taken from Luke 24:36-48 where Jesus appears to the Disciples after being raised from the grave, into everlasting life.

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 

There is a funny scene from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean where a bunch of ghost pirates forgot that they were dead and were happily drinking beer and eating food on the ship. But since these ghosts were half-skeletons and badly decomposing, everything (all the beer, meat and fruits) went through their mouth and straight down on the floor, making a total mess everywhere.

Now that scene helps me to understand the point of that Scripture passage we read just now. The tomb was empty! Jesus has risen from the grave.

But the disciples were surprised with fear and doubt (This is too good to be true, isn't it?) the best theory they could come up with was that they have seen a ghost! So Jesus has to show them His very physical hands and His physical feet: “It’s me! It's me! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, okay…”

But still they were stoned. So Jesus had to give them the ultimate proof.
“Sigh.... You’ve got anything here to eat?” They gave him a broiled fish.
And so the risen Lord of the universe munched down that ikan bakar before their very eyes. It shows that His new body is capable of swallowing food neatly unlike those messy ghosts we find in the movies.

This is no ghost. He is back – with muscles, tendons, bones and a functioning stomach. This is tangible, physical resurrection.

All over the world, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. That He is alive forever. But what do we mean by that?

Just earlier this month, the President of Venezuela died of cancer. And his supporters gathered around his coffin, and chanted, “Hugo Chavez will live in us forever. He is not dead. He has sowed something in us and that way he will live.” Well, yes, Jesus’ example has inspired millions of lives and His teachings have shaped human civilizations but that’s not what we mean by the resurrection. Jesus Himself took great care to show His disciples that this is not just a pious illusion or pie in the sky, but something physical grounded in reality. In space, time and history. It’s something open to public investigation and rational inquiry. Even until today, tons of serious research papers in top universities are still written to explain: Why is the tomb of Jesus empty 3 days after his crucifixion? And why a bunch of simple fishermen started a Kingdom movement that changed the world?

These are historical events that require an explanation. It’s not just a “take it or leave it” kind of faith. It’s based on evidence that you can explore and verify.

I've had some conversations with people who seriously looked at what historians can tell us about Jesus. And it's interesting to find even skeptical scholars conclude that Jesus' disciples had some kind of resurrection experience as a matter of fact, but they do not know what is the reality behind those experience. The historians could only lead us so far, but they cannot take us any further.

For Christians, we know that the resurrection event alone can explain both the empty tomb as well as the new found faith of the disciples from the depths of despair.    

The resurrection means that there is hope for our personal future and hope for the future of this world. It means Death is not the final destination. Today we see a lot of pain, suffering, violence and corruption. Often we see the bad guys win and the good guys lose. And we struggle with the question of whether evil that appears so powerful can ever be defeated.

But the resurrection means that what God has done in Christ on Easter morning is a down payment of what He would do on a bigger scale for the entire creation… and for us as individuals. This world we live in will be renewed, transformed and restored. For those who are reconciled with God through faith and repentance, their bodies will also be raised to eternal life. Easter is a promise of a new world where there will be no more sorrow, sickness or decay for God will wipe away every tear and restore all that is good.
Today marks the end of Lent season of fasting, prayer and giving up things; and it is the beginning of Easter season that lasts for fifty days until Pentecost. If Lent is a time to give things up; Easter ought to be a time to take things up. If Lent is a season to let go of old habits, sins and attitudes, what are the new and wholesome things we should pick up for Easter season? Now, how would that look like?

Perhaps it could mean simple things like signing up for a new project that gets our hands
dirty conserving the environment. Or maybe, getting involved in caring for the poor and
the sick around us? Ever thought of spending some time and energy on a worthy social
cause that promotes fairness and peace in our country?

Surely the surprising reality of Easter Sunday ought to empower us to be witnesses of
Christ’s death and resurrection the way it did for the early disciples.

Resurrection power is lived out in down-to-earth realities, grounded in the real world where we do business, as we cook in the kitchen, when we play with our children, study in schools, draw a painting, love and be loved, infusing everyday life with fresh spirituality and power.

Perhaps Easter should be a season of celebrating the newness of life, the goodness of creation and the hope of future glory in Christ.