“Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, as He told you." Mark 16:7
I’ve never mocked folks who just show up to church on Easter and Christmas. Something has drawn them to the services, and it’s probably more than just guilt or a grandmother’s demands. There’s something there they want, and the “thin places” of our holiest days, when matters of the spirit are especially close, draw people to church. As a preacher, I don’t want to make them feel any more uncomfortable than they already are. I’m glad they’ve come.
Now I’m always interested mostly in the afterglow of such events. What do you do after you have drawn especially close to the truth? Here we are in the week after Easter. You heard a familiar story, perhaps packaged a little differently, but there were no surprises. Jesus really did walk out of the tomb. He secured forgiveness and conquered death. These two things are hard to wrap your mind around, but it seems reasonable to suggest that we should do something with such powerful truths. Life should somehow be different. What can you reasonably expect to do today and in the days to come that might make a more permanent difference in your life?
I believe that is the angel’s point when he told the disciples to “go back to Galilee.” They were all in Jerusalem at the time, holed up in a room darkened not only by tightly shuttered windows but also by fear. Why travel 60 miles or so back to Galilee?
Galilee was a place of beginnings. It was where Jesus began His public ministry, called disciples, taught huge crowds, exorcised demons, healed, and was almost universally acclaimed. By contrast, Jerusalem was a forbidding place of doubt, rejection, and death. Couldn’t the angel’s command for them to return to Galilee be a way of saying “it’s time to start over?” I think so. In that sense, the afterglow of Easter offers us the same opportunity. Life can be different this week from the way it was last week. What, then, should you strive for?
First, go ahead and give church another chance. I mean your church. Keep going. Hypocritical Christians and flawed churches are always cited by those who have left the church as reasons for their leaving. On behalf of all churches I plead guilty. Having been a pastor for nearly 30 years, I can well-attest that there are plenty of members who might be able to quote the Golden Rule but don’t even pretend to try to live by it. Churches can be messy.
But churches can be very good too, and I am a strong believer in the church. Frankly, I love the church and not simply because it is in my job description to do so. I find something endlessly appealing about a group of people who limp into a sanctuary together in the hope of finding some assurance of a good and loving God. Of course, there may be a lot of mean-spirited folks in the flock, but I was raised to look for the good and to overlook the bad. The church, your church, can be very good. That’s why you went on Easter. That’s why you need to go every week.
I think it would be a wonderful blessing to you and your church if you used this Easter as a time to begin again. You really do need the church, and your church needs you. Give it your best.
Second, let the goodness of the biblical message be a time for you to embrace that which is good and turn away from that which is bad. You do not have to keep making the same mistakes or holding on to the same old fears.
One of my favorite stories comes from one of Ken Chafin’s Easter sermons. After a series of Holy Week services he decided to spend 24 hours in prayer and Bible study, seeking a new personal message he could share with his Easter congregation. During that time he heard the Lord say to him, “Kenneth, you’re a little frightened; let me take your fear. Through the years, you’ve accumulated people that don’t like you. You’ve let that bother you. Let me take that away from you. Let me take away your defensiveness and insecurity and bring to you a sense of peace, of boldness, of love, of forgiveness, of openness, and the willingness to risk.” Chafin’s reply? “This is what I want at Easter, for the living Christ to come and take out of me everything that’s deadly; deadly to others and deadly to myself. You see, this is the kind of thing that Christ is trying to do in our lives, but sometimes we want to hold onto the things that are killing us.”
What are you holding on to that is killing you? Did you get a glimpse of how good life can be during Easter? That is part of your calling to return to Galilee. Take the opportunity.
Let Easter this year be more than one day. Let it be the beginning of a new and better life. Christ always calls us higher. Heed the call. May the afterglow of Easter be especially bright for you.
Dr. Terry Ellis
April 24, 2011