It’s hard to believe Easter has come and gone; yesterday morning my wife and I listened to a powerful sermon about the reality of the resurrection, faith, and the ways our minds tend to create a reality that meshes with what we want to believe vs. what is actually true. It was a very timely word, and one I needed to hear. I’ve grown up with the Bible all my life, but do those words impact and shape the totality of my life?
The answer - sometimes yes, sometimes no. One of my biggest weaknesses is my tendency to let my experience and feelings determine if something is true. There was a time not so long ago when I became quite disillusioned with Christianity, largely because of sinful downfall of some prominent Christian leaders to whom I was connected and the hurtful actions of close Christian friends and family. The problem should be immediately apparent - my gaze was fixed on people, and not on Christ.
Probably the most difficult event to process has been my journey through chronic pain. It started during a time when I was at a spiritual low, feeling like a burnt-out, empty failure - despite years of efforts my non-Christian friends in Seattle seemed to want nothing to do with Jesus, and I thought it was my own fault. When the pain started in 2009, I prayed, my wife prayed, friends and family prayed - and the pain only got worse. By the end of 2011 I was nearly an invalid, in so much pain I could barely move. My job was gone, my ability to provide for my wife and soon to be first child was gone, and everything around me seemed to falling apart. Black clouds of depression followed me everywhere I went, and my wife often wondered if she would come home some days and find my dead body. When the healing we all had prayed for didn’t come, doubt and fear took the place of faith. Was God real? Did he care? Why this? What had I done? So many questions, so few answers… eyes fixed on circumstances, and not Christ.
I wonder if Mary Magdalene could relate - that Sunday morning of the resurrection, she went to the tomb and found it empty. Now if I were Mary, the last thing in the word I would have expected to see was Jesus alive - I mean, she had seen Jesus die on the cross, and experience you could never forget. However, Jesus had indeed risen; after first talking to angels, Mary turns and talks to Jesus, but at first doesn’t recognize who he is. Her beliefs - Jesus IS dead - shaped her perception of reality; that is, until her eyes were opened and she saw that Jesus WAS alive!!!
My pastor asked a great question Sunday morning - do I really believe what I believe? Does my experience shape my belief, and in the process limit my ability to see the work of the living Jesus - both in my life and in the lives of others - right here and now? Or is my belief shaped by unshakable truth, and does that truth in turn shape how I interpret my experience?
The bad times can shake our faith - or they can actually be windows into seeing Jesus at work and strengthen our walk with him. That’s the encouragement Max Lucado gives in his short devotional about Mary at the tomb titled “God’s Surprises.” It’s often in the darkest moments that we’re able to see our Savior most clearly; he loves to surprise us that way! Max put it this way: God is at his best when our lives are at their worst. Easter was more than just a moment in history; it was God’s biggest surprise - and the reason we have hope today.
Jesus is risen - he is risen indeed!