Season 6 - Easter Season meditations

by Tim Isbell, posted April 2020 (written a year earlier)

These Easter Season meditations are the sixth part of the seven-part collection for every season of the Christian calendar. Unless you read it earlier, please read the introductory material at Responsive Prayer Meditations

The Easter Season begins on Easter Sunday and extends for 50 days, through Pentecost Sunday. It is the time Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the promise of the eventual resurrection of his followers, and the coming of the Holy Spirit into the lives of believers.

Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about. – N.T. Wright in Surprised by Joy

Four insights on Easter

Easter - Pilgrim Year series (PYS) Easter, ch 1; John 20.19-31

Here are my brief descriptions of Steve Bell’s Easter insights, and my meditations on each.

> Redemption of materiality. The appearance of your (Jesus) resurrected body convinced the disciples that God “did not discard Jesus’ material body, but recreated something marvelously new.” It was similar enough to your previous body to be recognizable, even including the crucifixion scars on his hands, feet, and side. And there were differences: You appeared in a room without going through the locked door.

> Redemption of history. Scars remained on your resurrected body, perhaps to help the disciples’ faith but probably also as a hint that you are in the business of redeeming history - the past. Maybe you will leave some scars on my resurrected body to help me remember the personal and genetic sin from which you redeemed me.

> You are Lord of the new creation. Beyond being the firstfruits of the new creation, you are its Lord. And I can live confidently under your reign because your character is on full display in the gospels and because of my experiences following you.

> We are collaborators with you in the new creation. The Easter season hints of your invitation to join in transforming a sliver of the present world in ways that even death cannot destroy. I can call on you through prayer and participate through ministry within and beyond your church.

I wrote the above meditations a few days ago. This morning, I awoke to feel fragile in my 72-year-old body and thinking about the baggage I inherited at birth. It was no fault of my own. But I needed redemption from it just as an Israelite born in Egyptian slavery required redemption from his masters. To compound the matter, I added more baggage as I grew. That was a troubling way to wake up.

Then you shifted my thoughts to these four Easter insights and reminded me of my redeemed Identity in Christ. I don’t know how I’d get out of bed without such blessings. But with them, I climbed out looking forward to another day of living out this redeemed life. Thanks!

Incredibly, you offer this redeemed identity and purpose to everyone.

Love’s response to skepticism

Easter - PYS Easter, ch2; John 20.19-31

I noticed something about your (Jesus) disciple named Thomas. He wasn’t present for the resurrection nor when you joined with the disciples on Easter night. So when he heard that you were alive again, Thomas was skeptical and said, “I won’t believe it unless I put my fingers in the nail wounds in his hands, put my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later, the disciples gathered again, and this time Thomas was present. You showed up, perhaps especially for Thomas. Upon entering the room, you said, “Peace be with you.” Then you turned to Thomas and blessed him with this invitation: “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

So Thomas did.

I like that you didn’t rebuke him for his absences or his skepticism. I’m glad you didn’t say, “You predicted that I’d die in Jerusalem and you were with me when I raised Lazarus, so where were you at the cross or the resurrection!?” Or, you could have less threateningly confronted Thomas with, “I’ve missed you lately.” But you didn’t “guilt trip” him at all. You just offered evidence to satisfy his skepticism and invited him to believe.

Finally, you said, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

This last sentence was meant for me, and all of us who did not personally see your resurrected body. Along with Steve Bell, I suspect that you are as gracious with our skepticism and absences as you were with Thomas. Thanks for offering us your blessing.

Our world is as skeptical about your resurrection as Thomas was. For him, it took seeing the scars of the crucifixion before he could believe. I expect that, before it can believe in the Lord, our world needs to see the Church, the “extreme instance” of you in our world today, humbly bearing the marks of the broken and suffering.

This chapter in Steve’s Pilgrim Year Series - Easter closes with this song, “For the Journey.”

May the Lord bless and keep you.

May his face shine upon you.

May his graciousness be like an endless stream.

May the Lord show his favor to your house and your neighbor.

Till the last remaining strains of striving cease,

May he grant you peace.

(You can listen to the song at Pilgrim Year Songs, then click on Easter and then on “For the Journey.” The words paraphrase Numbers 6.24-26.)

Resurrection quotes

Easter - A collection from my Quotes File concerning the resurrection of the Lord Jesus

The Bible is not a script for a funeral service, but it is the record of God always bringing life where we expected to find death. Everywhere it is the story of resurrection. – Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

In the Bible the “proof” of the resurrection is not the absence of Jesus’ body from the tomb; it’s the presence of Jesus to his followers. – William Willimon

The church is the bodily result of the reappearance of the risen Christ. The main evidence for the truth of the resurrection is the continued presence of the risen Christ among his followers. – William Willimon.

Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about. – N.T. Wright in Surprised by Joy

God intends to give us new life within His ultimate new creation. But the new creation has already begun with the resurrection of Jesus, and God wants us to wake up now, in the present time, to the new reality. – Simply Christian by N.T. Wright

The Christian is the child of the kingdom, the grace-merry person who, while sharing fully in the tears of this world is ultimately distinguished through his or her laughter. To consider life as tragic is to not believe in the resurrection. – Ronald Rolheiser

Faith in the resurrection is the only thing that can ultimately empower us to live beyond our own crucifixions, beyond being raped, beyond being muted by wound. – Ronald Rolheiser

We become Christians when we find our life’s narrative in the story of God’s redemption in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. – Neal Fisher, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.
The resurrection will not set us free from the future unless the cross also sets us free from the past. We need to see both, simultaneously. – Paul Tillich

Cancer’s power is limited. It cannot cripple love, shatter hope, corrode faith, eat away peace, destroy confidence, kill friendship, shut out memories, invade the soul, shorten eternal life, silence courage, quench God’s Spirit, or limit the power of truth and the resurrection. – Sign above a bulletin board at the Mayo Clinic

The evidence for Jesus' resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live. – Wolfhart Pannenberg, German theologian

The New Testament’s Gospels narrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the action of God that both reveals God’s passion for the world and achieves God’s purpose for that world. – Missional Church by Darrell Guder.

Behold, I make all things new

Easter - PYS Easter, ch4 and John 8.12, Matthew 5.14-16, & 2 Corinthians 5.11-21

I listened to Alana Levandoski’s song countless times, but I needed my “theologian wife's” interpretation. Now I see how elegantly it captures your (Jesus) gospel. (Reader: Below are the lyrics; follow the footnote to listen to the song.)

Behold, I make all things new (x3)

I am the light (x2)

Anything made manifest (x3)

Becomes the light (x2)

Behold, I make all things new (x3)

I am the light (x2)

Turn your face toward my face (x3)

Become the Light (x2)

Behold, I make all things new (x3)

I am the light (x2)

Become the light (x2)

Stanza 1 declares two things: 1) You make all things new; it’s just what you do. 2) You are the light that shines in the darkness; it’s just who you are.

Stanza 2 says, “Any darkness that I bring into your light you will redeem into something that becomes light for others.” My darkness and struggles only await me making them manifest (show them) to you. How radically different this is from the world which, when it perceives my darkness and struggles, tries to stomp it out or cast me away.

Stanza 3 repeats Stanza 1.

Stanza 4 invites me to turn my face to you like the repentant thief on the cross. Then your light reflects off of my face to others as the sun reflects off the moon to brighten the night. And you invite me to join you in the redemption process. How different from the role the world offers!

Stanza 5 summarizes the entire song: 1) you make all things new, 2) you are the light, 3) and you will make me a reflector of your light.

Steve Bell writes that This song points to your commitment to the earth and to a time when love, as we understand it through your self-donation on the cross, is the ordering principle of all earthly relations. We Christians are no different than others except you give us a sneak peek into the last chapter of history and charge us to witness to that ending in the present moment.

I sense you calling me to bring snippets from the future into the present so you can use them to change the present for good. In other words, you are offering the role of a reconciling agent of a reconciling Lord. Astonishing!

We had hoped...

Easter - Luke 24.13-34, PYS Easter, ch 3

From Luke’s “Road to Emmaus story”

On the afternoon of the day of your (Jesus) resurrection, two of your followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, you suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing you. As you walked with them you asked, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?” They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

“What things?” you asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth. He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.”

Later that evening, during a sort of “communion” meal, you took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning yourself.

In his Pilgrim Year Series, Steve Bell lifts the phrase “We had hoped… “ from Luke’s story to remind readers of how we hope for some good outcome only to have our hopes dashed. Then Steve reminds us that “it would be through, and not around, suffering that salvation’s glory would be revealed, and through which redemption of all would come.”

Steve’s chapter also offered advice on how to minister to those who had hoped for a loved one’s healing, but the loved one died. He suggested taking some food to the mourning family and staying long enough to invite those closest to the deceased to tell their loved one’s story. He assured readers that this usually lifts a little sorrow from the room

Last week Robin and I learned of a death in our extended family, and we sought a proper way to respond. Informed by Luke and Steve, we gathered bread and fruit and coleslaw and drove to the two of the homes we knew were in mourning.

Also this week, I’m working on a lesson from Philippians where Saint Paul makes the same point as Luke: because of my imprisonment, the gospel is advancing (and not despite it).1

Thanks for informing my week and making it fruitful. Every time you do this I feel like Yogi Berra must have felt when he said, "It's like déjà vu all over again."

1 Philippians 1.12-14

Nations in heaven

Easter - Revelation 21.22-27, Isaiah 2.1-4, Micah 4.1-5

I’ve long assumed that after your (Jesus) return all national identities would cease such that your Kingdom would be a completed “melting pot.” But recently, I read the Revelation passage, which presumes that the framework of nations remains for all eternity. And I ran across a confirmation in Kings & Presidents, Politics and the Kingdom of God. I’ve long assumed that after your (Jesus) return all national identities would cease such that your Kingdom would be a completed “melting pot.” But recently, I read the Revelation passage, which presumes that the framework of nations remains for all eternity. And I ran across a confirmation in Kings & Presidents. So, here’s my current understanding, which I offer for your review and revision.

In very early history, politics was the power of the few over the many. Over time and in some places, the concept of justice emerged, initially for the male noble class, and then it slowly progressed to other classes. Later came the idea of tolerance that protects individual rights. Tolerance envisions a collection of people who don’t need to have much to do with one another, so long as they respect one another’s space and rights. Perhaps we can hope for no more this side of your return. Today, all these political philosophies continue in various parts of the world.

But politics in your Kingdom goes beyond tolerance. It goes to reconciliation. The Revelation teaches that eventually, all people and nations will live reconciled with one another.

Until you return, Saint Paul says to live as reconciling agents even if we live in a part of the world where politics and culture remain at the more primitive stages. Living this reconciling-agent life began with our personal reconciling with you and inviting your Spirit to help us reconcile with all other Christians. It continues as we offer reconciliation beyond the Christian community, and as we encourage others to reconcile with you and with each other.

So we gather with other believers, empty ourselves, lovingly deliberate, humbly discern, and live reconciled lives. Then we engage the world according to your ways. We do so in the power of your Spirit, taking our vision from the ancient stories of our faith, which informs the internal dynamics you want in multicultural churches and across Christian traditions.

Thank you, Christ Jesus, for this understanding and for offering me this purposeful role in your creation. But is this understanding good enough? If there is more, please show me.

A couple of days after writing the previous paragraph, when I wasn’t looking for it at all, you showed me in the Old Testament that both Isaiah and Micah saw the same vision as John described in Revelation. I’ll take that as confirmation that “this understanding is good enough, for now, anyway..” I’ve long assumed that after your (Jesus) return all national identities would cease such that your Kingdom would be a completed “melting pot.” But recently, I read the Revelation passage, which presumes that the framework of nations remains for all eternity. And I ran across a confirmation in Kings & Presidents. So, here’s my current understanding, which I offer for your review and revision.

The heart of God has been revealed

Easter - The Heart of God is a song by Alana Levandoski

Alana Levandoski’s music often encapsulates large swaths of theology into a few lines of beautiful music. I presume you (God) give this ability to artists for precisely this purpose. “The Heart of God” is a song that captures the core of the Easter season.

(To listen, click the link above and dwell on the lyrics as you listen to Alana sing):

The Heart of God has been revealed x2

    To bring love not hate, pour out not dominate

The Heart of God has been revealed x3

    To forgive not blame, to make whole not shame

The Heart of God has been revealed

    Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

During the Easter season, you reveal your heart to us more clearly than any other time.
I realize that you could hate us for our betrayal enough to destroy us. Or, you could dominate us into submission. But that is, clearly, not who you are. You are much more patient. And throughout history, your people loved you for your restraint in the use of power. Psalms 86.15 says: “But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.” Clement of Alexandria wrote: “God does not compel since force is hateful to God, but He provides for those who seek.” Irenaeus wrote: God works “by means of persuasion... [God] does not use violent means to obtain what he desires.” The Epistle to Diognetus states: “Compulsion is not God’s way of working.” Tertullian wrote that obligatory worship is false worship: “No one, not even a man, will wish to receive reluctant worship."1

And throughout history, your people loved you for pouring out yourself to offer us life present and eternal with you.
I love who you are and for your sacrifice. And I like sharing my everyday life with you within your habitus.2

Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Alan Kreider, p119
The deeply ingrained habits, character, and reflexes that we possess due to our life in the Christian community. A concept developed in Patient Ferment.

Paschal Mystery

Easter - Pentecost, John 12.23-24

It’s the last week of the Easter Season, and tomorrow is Pentecost. For many years in this season, you (Holy Spirit) steered my thoughts to the Paschal Mystery, which you provided through Ronald Rolheiser’s book. Tomorrow morning I will try to explain it to a class - please help me do so with clarity.

I finally internalized that the Paschal Mystery occurs when something dies, then receives a new life, which is followed by the gift of a new spirit to go with that new life. This mystery threads its way through the accounts of Adam/Eve, Noah, Abram/Sarai, the Exodus, the fall and rebuilding of Jerusalem, and to the New Testament story of Jesus. The word “Paschal” originates from the “passing over” in Exodus at the culmination of the 10th plague when you freed your people from Egyptian slavery and launched their new life as a nation. And the word “mystery” indicates a religious truth that we know only by revelation and cannot fully understand through reason or science.

The Paschal Mystery framework derives from the five elements in the Easter season:

  • Good Friday – Jesus suffered and died.
  • Easter Sunday – Jesus received a new life.
  • 40 Days – Jesus finished his work on this earth, and the disciples adjusted to the new reallity. 
  • Ascension – The disciples let their past years with Jesus bless them as he bid them “farewell.” 
  • Pentecost – The disciples received a new Spirit to go with their new life.

In life, we all suffer our own interim “deaths,” such as:
The death of our youth – Some of the happiest people in the world are 72, and some of the unhappiest people in the world are 72. The difference is not in who has kept themselves the most youthful-looking, but whether they have embraced the Paschal Mystery and received the new spirit of someone their age.
  • The death of our dreams...
  • The death of our wholeness... 
  • The death of a relationship...
  • The death of our job/career...
  • The death of our honeymoons...
  • The death of the church of our youth...
  • The death of our innocence…

You convinced me long ago that my soul-satisfaction in this life depends on undergoing the Paschal Mystery - multiple times. Thank you for this truth, as well as for so many opportunities to share it.

The last bullet on the “deaths” list - the death of innocence - reminds me when I mourned the deaths of my innocence from previous decades, going back to my youth. Nobody took my innocence. Unlike Jesus in the desert, I gave it away. In the process of mourning those old sins, I remember acknowledging that even if I could return to relive those years, I’d succumb again.

The temptations came faster than my spiritual formation grew. I was a “sitting duck” for Satan, and I realized that you knew this was the case all along. Indeed, it’s been the case for all of us since Genesis 3.

Despite this dismal realization, you responded to my mourning by lifting the weight of those years and expanding my identity in Christ. Your Spirit blessed me with the understanding that, even during those troublesome years, I was your beloved. This greatly enlightened my relationship with you.

In hindsight, I realize that you used this whole process to outfit me to empathize with and minister to others who burdened with the death of their innocence. Of course, the temptations came faster than our spiritual formation - falling to temptation and receiving your redemption through the Paschal Mystery is how you grow and form all of us!

Thank you for patiently extending the Paschal Mystery to me and for the privilege of sharing it with others.

Blessings, Tim

End Notes

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