“There is a stage in a child’s life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began ‘Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.’ This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer seem sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.” ~C. S. Lewis
Easter is decision time for all of us. First and foremost it is a time when we must decide between grace and works. By accepting the truth of today(grace), we must see Easter as a day to remember how God draws near to us, not because we've done great things to deserve it, we constantly do the right things, we show up at church on Sunday's or because we know the right people. In fact today is a time to accept the fact that God chose to reconcile His people in spite of the fact that "All our righteous acts are like filthy rags" (Is. 64:6).
Today is a day in which we must refuse to celebrate our worth first (though today proves our worth to Him) and instead is a day to celebrate with gratefulness, thankfulness and awe just what a loving Father has done through Christ. By accepting today as a day to celebrate God's rescue mission through Christ, we can't help but be grateful to Him even if we do recognize how much we mean to Him during this weekend. By seeing God for who He is, a righteous, unconditionally loving, judge (sound like a paradox?), we come to realize that we are nothing without Him, unable to save ourselves and the resurrection of Christ and the defeat of death has eternal implications that are now received as opposed to earned.
While many (not all) preachers use Easter to share how God can do great things (the impossible), share who Jesus is and what we can do during this life because of Him, I can't help but be discouraged by the people centered message I've heard the last six years on this glorious, majestic day. Today is not a day for a topical sermon with bullet points that tell us how to have a better life because of Easter. It's not a time for a message about how God will resurrect us "too" if we stay faithful to His call. It is not a day to try and act more like Jesus because of what He did through His life, death and resurrection. Today is a day to believe that Jesus' defeat of death is able to bring a sinful, lost, striving people back to the Creator who loves them. Today is a day that God ushered in the truth of His Kingdom. Today is the day that Jesus proved who He claimed He was.
There is no doubt that we will feel joy today, but the start of this joy doesn't begin with how we get a new life (a true and good thing) or that we finally know what we have to do (accept, believe, have faith-all good and true things) to get back to God. Instead, today is a day in which we must first realize, recognize and celebrate that we don't have a distant God, we instead have a God who loves us so much that He has brought Himself closer to us through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. We have a God who by defeating death has also defeated the striving ways of the human being to draw closer to Him. We have a God that sees us as heirs and aims to share eternity to those who accept this grace through Christ.
Christianity is not a religion for enlightenment though it is typically taught that way in America today. (Michael Horton and others have coined this teaching "moralistic, therapeutic, deism"). Easter is not a day of enlightenment or meant solely for individual spiritual excitement that brings out what some would call the God in us, or the ability to see as God sees, or brings us closer to God through some vain effort. Christianity instead is a special ops mission in which a personal God came as man (Christ) to save us from eternal damnation and offer a new Spirit that spares us from the sting of death through His death and resurrection(by clothing us in the blood of Christ's death which washes away our sin). The God of Christianity separates Himself from all other worshipped (created) god's as He offers the gift of grace on Easter that no other religion can offer. He does it by drawing near to us first through the life, death and resurrection of Christ so that we can't take the credit for our salvation and so we may stop wasting so much time trying to earn it.
Easter is a time to choose to accept what Christ has done for us on this morning. Period. The choice is the only work involved and the grace undoubtedly precedes the work. The saving grace is already there through Jesus, we don't get it because we choose it but instead by choosing it, we receive it. Easter is a day of truth. It's the reality that the Natural and the Spiritual are not separate but instead live together in the flesh of the risen Christ and His gift to us. Like the boy in Lewis' story above, when we choose to see Easter as God's day and gift to us first, the gift we receive because of the day(chocolate/salvation) will always point us back to Him.
May you all have a Happy Easter! May the Lord bless you by the presence of His Spirit and may He relieve you of the stress of striving in your Spirit to reconcile yourself to Him. Today is a day to accept and believe what He has done through Christ and now, out of a response to what we are, we will choose to share His love not just by deed but also in creed.