Death and Resurrection
Frederick Buechner once said, “resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing.” I am writing this Easter message on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. March 1 marks the worst thing that ever happened to me. It’s hard to believe that 40 years ago, on this date, my father unexpectedly died while fighting a house fire in Creighton. He was 46. I was 23. In my second year of seminary at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas, I was on campus when I received the call. I was 500 miles from home, but it felt more like a million, and it was the loneliest feeling ever. I remember every move I made that day as though it happened yesterday.
I served as the Associate Pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church in Greenville, Texas, and I remember calling the church office to give them the news before I drove home. Rev. Ray Henning, the senior pastor, immediately jumped into action. He drove to Commerce, Texas, where Susan was in college at East Texas State and brought her home.
Ray met me at the door when I arrived at our small house. Giving me a big hug, he said, “We got you.” Then he prayed for me. A couple from the church helped us pack and drove us back to Dallas, where the church purchased our airplane tickets to Kansas City. Neither Susan nor I had ever flown before. The church sent those two lay leaders with us and money to “do whatever was needed.” They even stayed the week with us and walked through the process. Then, Ray flew in for the funeral. In that desperate moment, the pastor and church demonstrated grace in a way we had never before experienced.
When I think of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, I think of abundant grace. When I hear people wondering about the facts surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, I think about my vivid memories surrounding my father’s death. It happened 40 years ago, yet it seems like it was yesterday. If you ask my brothers and mother about the day our dad died, we would all share different facts. All vividly remembered, I have no doubt!
Likewise, each Gospel shares the events of Holy Week a bit differently. The Gospels were all written about 30-40 years after Jesus died, and I’m convinced that the authors’ memories of the events surrounding the Crucifixion were as clear and vivid as my own are about my dad’s death.
My dad’s death changed my view of death and resurrection, from the abstract to the personal, from theory to reality. It also taught me the true meaning of grace and love from people who barely knew us. It showed Susan and me the love and grace of God.
What is the meaning of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus to you? I agree with Frederick Buechner. “The resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last.” The Bible says that death does not have the final say. Jesus’ final act on planet Earth was lifting the lowly. Jesus identified with our pain and suffering. He died between thieves. Jesus became an outsider, an outcast, an outlaw for us. However, none of that was the last word. In His resurrection, He lifted us from the depth of loss and gave us love, joy, peace and, most of all, grace. Jesus established eternal life with God for us and demonstrated that love, light and life would definitively defeat tragedy, evil and death.
The Gospel of Luke was written to Theophilus with these opening words, “I do this so that you will know the full truth about everything which you have been taught.” (Luke 1:4). I am convinced that Jesus is from God; in fact, God in the flesh. His story could not have stopped at death’s door. Instead it demonstrated God’s amazing grace through His resurrection and the descent of His Holy Spirit onto His Church and People so that God is with us always. When I think of the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection, one word boldly shines through all the events, “grace” nothing but “grace.”
May you experience the abundance of God’s grace this Easter. God Bless.