When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:19-23 NRSV)
What is the narrative that shapes the way you view the world and your place in it?
What determines how you understand your life mission and ultimate destination, how you face adversity, and how you put into context all the suffering you see around you?
Easter is the climax of the defining story of the Christian faith. It is the event that shapes how we see the world.
A few years ago, LaVon and I traveled to northern Europe, where I’d been invited by the Bishop of the Scandinavian countries to speak at a conference for Methodist pastors and leaders. This part of the world is sometimes described as “post-Christian.” There are churches everywhere—Christianity is still part of the culture—but very few people attend them. We had a free evening in Copenhagen and it was raining, so we decided to go see a movie. One of the few shows in English was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and we went in to see it. I had not seen any of the Harry Potter movies—I wasn’t against them, just hadn’t seen them—nor had I read any of the books, though I knew a little bit about the story.
About three-quarters of the way through the movie, it hit me how familiar the plot seemed. And then I realized, I know this story! A young man lays down his life to save his friends. He appears to be dead. All seems lost. And then he opens his eyes, defeats his arch enemy, and restores hope!
As I watched the film, I also watched the audience, and that was an amazing experience. In Scandinavia, 95 percent of the population—nineteen out of twenty people—don’t go to church. Those were the people sitting all around me. As Harry went forward to give up his life for his friends, I could hear people crying. When Harry rose, they cheered. And when he finally defeated Voldemort, they broke out in joyful applause.
I don’t think they were cheering just for the fictional Harry Potter. They were cheering for the idea that life conquers death, that good conquers evil, that evil will never have the final word. That idea was best demonstrated not in a movie, but in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. Jesus gave himself to save the world, so that death and evil would not triumph. He was crucified, dead, and buried, but on the third day he rose from the grave. Ultimately, as the Bible proclaims in the Revelation of John, Christ will defeat the forces of evil.
I have been the senior pastor of the Church of the Resurrection for over two decades. Every year I end my Easter sermon the same way. I mention that people ask me from time to time, “Do you really believe this stuff? You’re a smart guy. Do you really believe that Jesus rose from the dead?”
My response is always the same: “I not only believe it; I’m counting on it.”
I’m counting on the fact that there is always hope. I’m counting on the fact that God walks with us through hell and back again. I’m counting on the fact that God forgives our sins and that he’s the God of the second chance. I’m counting on the fact that ultimately we don’t have to be afraid. I’m counting on the fact that sin and hate and sickness and death will not have the final word. When we walk in the footsteps of the resurrected Christ, we walk with hope.
What are you counting on? What is your defining story?
Today’s post is taken from “Your Defining Story” from The Way. It is based upon my sermon by the same name, delivered Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012.
The 2012 Easter service from Church of the Resurrection will be broadcast on ABC affiliate stations across the country. Each ABC affiliate chooses when to air the service, so check your local listings or visit this link to search by state for your station. (In Kansas City, it will air on Easter at 1:30 p.m.)
If your local station is not airing the service, you may also view it in its entirety below.