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  • Writer's pictureSteven Marsh

Connecting–Transitions: a Reflection on John 20:1, 11-18 and Isaiah 25:6-9

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Pastor and author Tim Keller writes,

I always say to my skeptical, secular friends that, even if they can’t believe in the resurrection, they should want it to be true. Most of them care deeply about justice for the poor, alleviating hunger and disease, and caring for the environment. Yet many of them believe that the material world was caused by accident and that the world and everything in it will eventually simply burn up in the death of the sun…Why sacrifice for the needs of others if in the end nothing we do will make any difference? If the resurrection of Jesus happened, however, that means there’s infinite hope and reason to pour ourselves out for the needs of the world…N.T. Wright has written: the message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won…Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things—and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement the victory of Jesus over them all.[1]

In the sixteenth century, several individuals participated with God in further implementing the victory of Jesus over injustice, violence, and degradation. A huge transition began. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli banked their hope on God and God’s message that loving God and loving others is the bottom line of Christianity. Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli asserted the five solasas the bedrock of a connected and dynamic religious experience: Sola Scriptura…only Scripture;Solo Christo…only Christ; Sola Gratia…only grace;Sola Fide…only faith; andSoli Deo Gloria…only glory to God. Think about it. Our existence is not our own. None of us, other than putting one foot before the other each day, can control the number of our days, the affection of our relationships, or anything for that matter. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias tweeted on November 20, 2013, “Jesus Christ did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead people alive.”

Both the prophet Isaiah and apostle John address how transitions effect our relationship with God and others. Watching our parents grow older and assisting them through the transitions of technology, prescriptions, housing, banking, and basic daily activities are filled with lows and highs. As our children move through preschool, elementary, secondary, college or technical schools, and graduate education formats, we are proud and perplexed, in that we aren’t as needed, and relationships take on new dependencies and interdependencies. Being unemployed or experiencing a fractured relationship are both fraught with disappointment. Connecting with God and others is marked by transitions that have movements of valley to the mountain, death to life, and suffering to salvation.[2]

Isaiah demonstrates that God engages us on and in life’s movements of valley to the mountain, death to life, and suffering to salvation. That participation with God destroys all pretense and mechanisms we use to hide our true selves; wipes away our tears and disgrace; and saves us again and again and again. John, in the retelling of the women going to the tomb that early morning, reminds us not to weep for long over the lows and highs that life brings. Why? God calls us by name in and throughout all the transitions we face. As in the case with Mary, Jesus says to each one of us every day, “…Why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” And then Jesus says, “Steve…Laura…Teri…Jack…Trish…your name!” Life is a continuous process of Jesus entering into the movements of valley to the mountain, death to life, and suffering to salvation connecting us to him and others. In the transitions comes resurrection. Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes this about the transitions of valley to the mountain, death to life, and suffering to salvation:

In John’s Gospel, the liar stubbornly blinds himself to light and truth and plunges into darkness. The devil is the father of lies…The conflict between the father of lies and the truth who is Jesus Christ dominates John’s Gospel. The Lord has not only vanquished the liar but given us a share in his victory through the Holy Spirit; the exaltation of Jesus Christ on the Cross releases the Spirit. The paschal triumph has not only expiated our sins and justified us before God but brought the outpouring of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. The Spirit enables us to conquer lying, self-deception, and dishonesty, endears us to the truth of God, and leads us to savor eternal realities.[3]

Every joy, sorrow, blessing, curse, justice, and injustice is ordained by God. We are grateful to the One who knows the beginning and the end. Therefore, as a community of faith named Geneva Presbyterian Church: we are a congregation characterized by “a generous orthodoxy;” we are welcoming and supportive of all who are seeking a better way to live; we are a church committed to worshipping, learning, connecting, serving, and giving; we are a congregation blessed with resources, that is human, financial, and a church campus; and we are followers of Jesus who desire to inspire others to a better way of living.[4]The story is told,

Three individuals died and are at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter tells them that they can enter the gates if they can answer one simple question. St. Peter asks the first, “What is Easter?” He replies, “Oh, that’s easy! It’s the holiday in November when everyone gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful…” “Wrong!” replies St. Peter, and proceeds to ask the second the same question, “What is Easter?” The second person replies, “Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter looks at the second, shakes his head in disgust, tells her she’s wrong, and then peers over his glasses at the third individual and asks, “What is Easter?” The third smiles confidently and looks St. Peter in the eyes, “I know what Easter is.” “Oh?” says St. Peter, incredulously. “Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and his disciples were eating at the last supper and Jesus was later deceived and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. The Romans took him to be crucified and he was stabbed in the side, made to wear a crown of thorns, and was hung on a cross with nails through his hands. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder.” St. Peter smiles broadly with delight. Then he continues, “Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out…and, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.”[5]

What is Easter? Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord? Billy Graham pointed thousands of people to Jesus and invited them to pray this prayer, as I do those of you who are uncertain about that relationship with Jesus. I invite you to agree with this prayer as it is said or quietly repeat after me: “O God, I’m a sinner. I’m sorry for my sin. I’m willing to turn from my sin. I receive Jesus as my Savior. I receive Him as Lord. From this moment on, I want to follow Him in the fellowship of His Church. In Christ’s name. Amen.”

Jesus calls you by name all the time. He finds you where and when you least expect him. Jesus is with you on the journey that has movements of valley to the mountain, death to life, and suffering to salvation. Let me remind you that by connecting with God and others, in transitions, comes resurrection.Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

[1]Tim Keller, The Reason for God(Penguin Books, 2009), 210.

[2]I thank George Bryant Wirth for the trilogy of transition parings in this sentence. For more on these pairings, please see George Bryant Wirth in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 359, 361, 363.

[3]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 12-13.

[4]For the five “We are…” statements above, I am indebted to the Rev. Michael Lindvall’s impact on my life personally and through his Pastor’s Vision for the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, New York.


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