The Lenten season reminds us that life needs a center –some place to call home, some place that has a spiritual gravitational pull from all directions, some place to alleviate the hunger and thirsting of the soul, some place leading to new territories, some place offering peace to our daily pilgrimage. For those of us preparing for the celebration of the Resurrection, the center of life must be Jesus.
Jesus spoke of his life and the kingdom through recognizable and ordinary things. He illustrated truths through calling to their minds the small mustard seed, the sparrow in the field, the light being hidden under a basket, the lilies of the field, the lost coin and the need for a solid foundation.
As practicing Christians it may be that the time is near when we add some new dimensions and directions to the way we work and live. Perhaps the time is near when we discard some old habits and claim some new ones. Perhaps the time is near when we learn to walk in a different way and navigate a new system.
Today’s blog post was written by Robert H. Spain. Robert Spain is a retired United Methodist bishop and former chaplain of the United Methodist Publishing House.
Today’s Bible Lesson
The Living Word
by Robert V. Dodd
This bible lesson originally appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Christian Living in the Mature Years.
LESSON: JOHN 20:1-10, 19-20
BACKGROUND: JOHN 20:1-23
A man recently said to me, “I am 86 years old and I have had a full life characterized by many blessings and opportunities as well as challenges and disappointments. But it’s still not enough. I’m not ready to die. I don’t want to die. I want to live to see my grandchildren grow up and go through college. I want to live to see my children grow old and gray. I want to keep on living.” I suggested to him that the important thing was not what he wanted but what God wants. I also told him that this yearning for something more in life is probably the greatest of evidence that God has placed a sense of eternity in our hearts. Somehow, we intuitively sense that this life is not all that there is for us in God’s presence. We know that there is more to life than what we are presently experiencing, far more, much more, exceedingly, abundantly more than we have dared to think possible.
Each person has some idea regarding the nature of life after death. For some, it may be a bright and glorious city, green pastures, a majestic forest, a sunny beach, or gloriously high mountains. For others, it may have more to do with continuing to be in familiar surroundings but seeing things from a different perspective so that they are able to look through them and experience life’s fullness in ways in deeper and more meaningful ways. For still others, eternal life has something to do with traveling through time and space to visit scenes of history or future events on earth or, perhaps, to visit other worlds, maybe even worlds in other galaxies or universes. Scripture doesn’t tell us a lot about what eternity will be like. None of the people Jesus restored to life in the Gospels made any comments concerning their experience of being dead and restored to life, at least no comments reported in the Scriptures. Even Jesus did not say anything to his disciples about his own experience of having died, being placed in the tomb, and then being raised from the dead on the third day. But the Gospels do tell us that Jesus promised to have prepared a place for us. And the apostle Paul said that all of those who believe in Jesus and trust him would also be there with us. When we enter eternity, we will not be alone; we will be with Jesus and will also have the opportunity to be with other people who know, love, trust, and obey him.
My dad and my uncle were farmers. They were also partners in a general merchandise store that sold everything from groceries and dry goods to oil and gasoline. Next to the store, they had a mill to grind wheat into flour and corn into cornmeal In the store, they had all of the equipment needed to butcher all kinds of livestock, including the only walk-in meat locker or cooler in the southern part of Cleveland County, North Carolina. Because of their equipment, most of the farmers in the area would bring their livestock to the store and butcher them out back so that the meat could be stored in the meat locker until they had time to further process it and wrap it for freezing.
We did not have air conditioning in those days; and in the summertime, when it was really hot, if I happened to be at the store, I would sometimes ask my dad to put me in the meat locker so that I could cool off. I would stay in there until I became deliciously cold. Then because the door was so heavy and the lock was so tight that, at my young age, I was unable to open it by myself I would knock on the door and call out, “Daddy, let me out.” Somehow, he always heard my cries for help and always came to let me out. I think that there is a sense in which death is a lot like being shut up in that meat locker. We cannot open the door and let ourselves out. Our only alternative is to call on the name of Jesus and asked him to open the door for us.
Nobody who is living a healthy and satisfactory life wants to die. But I have known some people who, in advancing years and declining health, expressed the opinion that they were ready to go to their heavenly home. There comes a point in our earthly life when this life holds less meaning or promise for us than it once did. At that point, we may yearn for our heavenly home and for the hope of a better life to come. We received this hope from the Christ, who lives within us and the promise of Scripture that there will come a time at the end of time when there is no more pain and suffering, no more tears and no more death to separate us from our loved ones, “and so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
John’s Gospel tells us that, early on Sunday morning, when Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb, she ran to tell Simon Peter and the other disciples. Because she, like the rest of them, was not expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead, she assumed that some of Jesus’ enemies had stolen the body, perhaps so that his tomb would not become a place of veneration. Peter and another disciple, who is assumed to be John, ran to the tomb. Three different Greek verbs are used to describe what they saw. (See John 20:5-8.)
In verse 5, John arrived first, looked in, and saw the linen wrappings lying there. But the verb used suggests that, although he saw that the tomb was empty, he did not perceive the details and did not derive any particular meaning or significance from them. However, in verse 6, when Peter arrived, he looked carefully and saw the details of how the wrappings that had been used to cover Jesus’ body were now arranged. The description suggests that it appeared as though Jesus’ body had somehow dematerialized out of the grave clothes and left them behind like an empty shell. Then John entered the tomb and saw with perception and understanding, which this time led to his belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. So this other disciple, whom we believe to be John, was the first disciple to see the empty tomb and truly believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.
For most of the disciples and followers of Jesus it took more than the empty tomb and the empty burial wrappings to make believers out of them. The evidence of the empty tomb had to be combined with personal encounters with the living Christ in order for them to fully believe. These resurrection encounters were not just visions, hallucinations, or stimulated memories that produced shadows of Jesus’ earthly life. Neither did they encounter a disembodied spirit from the afterlife. But their encounters with the resurrected Jesus represented a tangible, substantive reality with which they could associate. The evidence of the empty tomb and their encounters with the risen Christ gave them the confidence to tell others with assurance, “We have seen the Lord! He is alive and has made himself known to us.”
At Gethsemane, when the Temple guards, accompanied by the crowd, came to arrest Jesus, the disciples scattered like roaches looking for dark corners when you turn on the kitchen light. But after they saw the empty tomb and encountered their risen Lord, a new type of courage and confidence rose up from within them. They now knew that death had been conquered by the Lord of life, and they no longer had anything to fear.
Life took on a new meaning and purpose for them. Instead of hiding behind closed and locked doors out of fear that they too might be arrested and crucified as Jesus was, they found a new courage to declare to others the fact that he was alive and remained undefeated by every foe. The only thing that could have made such a vital difference in their life and in their willingness to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ was the fact that they had transforming encounters with the living Christ. The resurrection of Christ gives each of us hope by expanding the boundaries of possibility for us.
Someone once said that life has a way of dwindling down to a singular conclusion, which is death. But Christians confidently affirm that, although death is real, it is not the end of our journey. It is only a blip on the monitor. For the greater reality of Jesus Christ has overcome the final enemy.
KEY VERSE The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. John 20:20b