The Lord is risen!
Welcome to Eastertide, my friends. According to a Christian tradition that stretches way back, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection until we get to Pentecost — almost seven weeks from now. That’s a long time to be looking back on the resurrection and to consider what it might mean for us today. In a way, though, we’ve been living in Eastertide ever since that stone was first rolled away, which means that everything we do and think today is a reflection on that first Easter Sunday. It’s us piecing together a puzzle now that we know the centerpiece is a cross and the flip side is an empty tomb. Easter changes everything we think we know about life, love, and lordship, not to mention salvation, success, and suffering.
So, let’s take a look back at Jesus’ death and resurrection and ask one of those questions that never seems to leave us and always seems to bother us: Why do we suffer in the first place?
God of Resurrection, we thank you for inviting us into your life and your love by enduring with us our sin and suffering. Guide us by your Word and your Holy Spirit today, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will, we might truly discover peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
“Because He Lives” by Gloria and Bill Gaither
(YouTube video for in-home worship: https://youtu.be/4M-zwE33zHA)
God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus
He came to love, heal and forgive
He lived and died to buy my pardon
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives.
How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and the joy he gives
But greater still the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days because He Lives.
And then one day, I’ll cross that river
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain
And then, as death gives way to vict’ry
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He reigns.
There are some puzzles that simply won’t come into focus until you place that last piece. When the BBC released their Sherlock series a decade ago now, Sara and I couldn’t help ourselves. Mysteries might be our favorite adult candy, and Sherlock was like peanut butter and chocolate. Great acting, wonderfully drawn characters, and stories that you cared about. But, what we loved most about the show was how it kept you on the edge of your seat until Sherlock divulged that last clue, piecing everything together. The suspense and surprise at the end were downright addictive.
I get the feeling that’s what our two friends from Emmaus felt listening to Jesus piece together the mystery of why the Messiah had to suffer and die if he was going to heal the world. “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Sometimes we need that last clue to understanding how everything works together. The resurrection, Jesus seems to be saying here in Luke 24, is precisely that last clue, and what it shows us is that God works through suffering, tragedy, betrayal, and death — all those elements of Christ’s long walk to the cross. And God does this not to punish us (or his Son), but to bring us back to life. “Nothing we sow comes to life unless it dies,” the Apostle Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15:36. Resurrection works through suffering to bring about healing, growth, and that deep, identity-changing realization that God’s got this, and that he’s got us, too.
At some point in our lives, we all want to know why there’s suffering in the world, especially if there’s an almighty, totally good and awesome God out there somewhere. The Bible asks this question also (which tells us the complaint goes way back), but it does so — strikingly — only to rule it out of bounds. I often told my students that the Bible doesn’t give an answer to the question of suffering and evil; it gives a solution to the problem of suffering and evil — and that solution is Jesus.
We can find suffering in the Bible starting on page one, and everything God and Jesus do — living, teaching, dying, rising, ascending, indwelling — all of it is God working out the solution to suffering. That’s what Jesus had to explain on the disciples’ road to Emmaus, that God can be trusted to do something about all this suffering.
The significance of this fact struck home this week when I ran across a comment by Richard Rohr, “Sooner or later, the heart of everybody’s spiritual problem is ‘What we do with our pain? Why is there evil? Why is there suffering?’ Job begs God for an answer to this mystery, and he can’t get one. He only begins to trust when he no longer feels ignored, when he knows that God is taking him seriously and that he is ‘part of the conversation’ (see Job 42). When Jesus later becomes the answer in his own passion, death, and resurrection, he discovers what Job finally experienced: in the midst of suffering, God can be trusted.”
God can be trusted. To do what? To bring life out of death, to bring transformation out of suffering, “to work all things together for good for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose,” as Paul famously tells us in Romans 8. Even more than that, though: God can be trusted to sit down with us, to hear our cries and listen to our worries, to comfort us and include us in the conversation.
The big revealing mystery of the resurrection is that, while it’s all God’s work, what God does is invite us into that work, because at the heart of resurrection life is the transformation of lives. It’s God’s plan that our wounds become sources of healing and change for our neighbors and our world. Even the worst of what is thrown at us can be transformed into life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This we can be certain of for one simple reason — because God shares our wounds, too. They’re right there in his hands and his feet.
Prayers for Our World
Let us pray today for the wounds we bear, for the suffering of our neighbors and our world, and that God would bring life and transformation through all these wounds:
- For all of us who have suffered in any way from this virus, we pray that God would work through it to heal us and transform us into more loving, kind, generous, and compassionate people.
- For those who have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet during this time, we pray for the generosity of neighbors and the witness that generosity brings.
- For those who have lost a loved one to this virus, we pray for comfort and peace and the hope of resurrection.
- For those who day after day work on the front lines serving all of us — whether in health care, research, food service, or other hospitality work — we pray for their protection and their encouragement.
- For those researching remedies and vaccinations, we pray for their quick success.
- For those in our governments around the world, we pray for wisdom and a clear sense of what is best for everyone.
- For those who have lost hope or are searching for it, we pray that they might discover the source of all true hope in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- For our churches here in Cincinnati and around our world, we pray that we might be sources of hope and life materially, socially, and spiritually to our neighbors and our strangers.
- For all those who have died this week because of this virus, that God would receive them into his open arms of love.
Eternally wounded God, you know our suffering because you have experienced it, too. You know our worries and our fears. You know when we feel forsaken and when we feel empty and lost. So, we come to you today confident that you hear us and understand what this world is going through right now. And, most importantly, we come to you confident that you are doing everything to heal it and transform it. So, hear our prayers this morning for ourselves and for our world. We ask these things in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, one God with you and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you’re interested in the idea that, in the midst of suffering, what we really want is for that suffering to be heard and shared, I encourage you to read the Book of Job and to pay attention to the fascinating way that the author of Job tells his story. He refuses to flatten the dialogue out, to reduce it to a problem that can be readily solved.
You can find the Bible’s Book of Job here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job+1&version=MSG