Resurrected with Christ Easter Sunday
Colossians 3:1-4 John 20:1-18
In the middle of the pandemic and all its heartaches and losses, I find myself taking immense pleasure in watching the crocuses and daffodils and hyacinths pop out of the ground and start sharing their cheerful colors! As much as I enjoy winter and snow and the bracing cold, I have been ready for spring, excited to go outside without a coat and smell the fresh earth and hear some birds singing!
Seeing these fresh little flowers reminds me of the days long past when I planted those bulbs. I had an idea that I would need these early blossoms someday, and I was right! I put those bulbs in the ground, knowing full well that they would disappear from sight and I would no longer possess them. I planted them as an act of faith, built on trust that God would work with them just as they needed. I also planted them with great expectations, because I’ve seen what happens when you put healthy bulbs into fertile soil and forget about them through the winter!
One of the favorite things in my ministry has been sharing with children. I love the time in worship when the kids come up for a little story time, we take turns planting some “little seeds” in them! One of my favorite stories through the years has been the one about the seeds that get planted—and die—and eventually grow up as plants that produce LOTS of seeds.
One year, I took some dusty old “Indian Corn” that Melissa had used as a decoration—and now was going to throw out—and I harvested the beautiful red, brown, black, and yellow seeds. I put four or five of them into several little sandwich bags, and on Sunday morning, I gave them to the children and advised them to plant them in the garden and watch them grow all summer. Then they could harvest their own “Indian Corn” and remember the story of how seeds planted in the ground die and then grow up to produce lots more seeds!
After the worship service, the children were rejoining their parents, and I asked one little boy if he was excited about planting his seeds. He said, “I ate mine!” (Kind of reminds me of the birds in the parable that ate up the seed that fell on the path!) Well, apparently this little boy didn’t quite get the point of what I was trying to convey:
Jesus was trying to help his disciples be prepared for his death. He explained to them, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Letting go of the one seed opens up possibilities for many seeds. Indeed, when I dig up my crocuses and daffodils and hyacinths this fall, I will discover that the bulbs have multiplied—and I can divide them and spread them out and have even more blossoms next spring!
Our Scriptures for today are about letting go of our lives here on earth and trusting that God will work with them as needed—and will bring you and me into glorious bloom when the time is right!
John tells us that Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb. The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” It’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? Jesus was her best friend, her teacher, her hope—and he had died. She had managed to keep away from his body on the Sabbath, but now she was determined to show him honor by anointing his body. (The text tells us that Peter and John had seen the empty tomb and believed, and had gone back to the upper room.) So Mary was alone when she saw Jesus standing there. She was so intent on finding a dead body, that she thought Jesus was the gardener, and asked if he knew where the body had been taken!
And all Jesus had to do was say her name, “Mary!” and she turned to him and said, “Teacher!!” Then Jesus sent her to tell the rest of the Disciples the Good News. (They were still grieving, after all.) So Mary had to LET GO of her previous focus—and obey the Master.
Jesus often challenged folks to let go of their current focus and accept a new focus. He said that whoever wants to save their life will lose it; and whosoever loses their life for him will find it. What good would it be to gain the whole world and lose one’s soul?
Friends, you and I are also being asked to let go of our demands of God:
- That life be “fair” (or at least understandable to us);
- That our priorities are honored above God’s infinite wisdom;
- That our comfort level must never be transgressed!
There was a time years ago when I had to move “from Sailboat to Surrender.” It was a time when I was reading a lot of sailing magazines that were loaded with stories of people who were sailing all around the world. That life looked so inviting! And, of course, at the back of the magazines would be tons of advertising of “boats for sale.” I looked at those boats with longing and desire. But I noticed a growing discontent with my real life, and this drove me to prayer. In prayer, God convinced me to just let it go, to shift my focus, to seek God’s will, God’s Kingdom. I was much happier when I chose to obey The Master!
I thought about this when I looked at our Epistle Reading for this morning. Paul says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Think about it: earthly things are only temporary, while eternal things are (by definition) forever.
Paul says to put our focus on UPLIFTING things. Good advice in his day, as well as in this day of quarantines and isolation and sickness and loss. I understand that a bit of juicy gossip or some tantalizing entertainment might be tempting, but these earthly things drag us down.
We are better off if we focus on that which lifts us up. I love Paul’s advice to the Christians in Philippi: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, pure, lovely, admirable—anything excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Your Life Is Hidden with Christ
Paul tells the Colossians, “Your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ (who is your life) is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” It makes me think about Abraham’s faith. Paul tells us in Romans 4, “Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what God had promised.”
Just as a seed is hidden in the soil, Paul says that, in the same way, our real lives are hidden with Christ in God. And we understand that God works all things to GOOD. ALL things! Tragedies, mistakes, losses, personal and global difficulties—God finds a way to transform them for the good.
So, when Paul says, “You have been resurrected with Christ,” it means that we put our lives in God’s hands. Trusting. Hoping. Obeying. Confident in God’s provision for this world AND the next.
I will finish with a story. Many of you know the name of Marcia Gay Harden. She won an Oscar in 2001, but my favorite role was that of the “patient fiancé” of the Robin Williams character in Flubber! As a young actress, Marcia was waiting tables, trying to earn her Screen Actors Guild Union Card, and her entire focus was on breaking into the movies. Meanwhile, she was asked by the Make-A-Wish foundation to play the part of Snow White for Bonnie, a seven-year-old girl who was dying of cancer. Her final wish was to meet Snow White, and Marcia gladly accepted. She got a great costume and re-read the book, re-watched the Disney movie and buried herself thoroughly in the character. She could rattle off the names of all Seven Dwarfs without a hitch.
The hitch came when she was offered an audition with a big-name director on the same day that she was committed to play Snow White. There was no way to change either date. It was a moment of truth for Marcia. Her number one priority had always been making it in show business—but she just couldn’t back out on a dying little girl. She cancelled her audition and (with tears and sobs) dressed up as Snow White and went to the hospital.
When she went into Bonnie’s room, all her doubts about whether or not this was the right thing vanished. The little girl’s face lit up like a candy store as she said, “Snow White!” Suddenly, Marcia was no longer a struggling actress playing a part—she WAS Snow White! After they talked for a while, Bonnie took her hand and asked, “Snow White, when I die, will the prince kiss me and then I’ll wake up again?”
Listen to Marcia’s response, in her own words.
“How do you answer a child’s question like that? It had never struck me that Bonnie wanted to meet Snow White in order to answer a life-after-death question. What could I say to this brave, beautiful, honest girl? I closed my eyes for a second and tried to imagine what Bonnie must be feeling. How lonely it must be to be this young and this sick.
‘No, Bonnie, it’s even better. When you go to heaven, God will kiss you and then you’ll wake up again.’ At that moment in that hospital room with Bonnie, I knew that I was exactly where I was meant to be, playing exactly the role I was meant to play.”
Prayer: God, please give us courage to put our lives in your hands. Help us to shift our focus, and be ready to be planted like a seed that will bear fruit and bring glory to you.