An Easter state of mind

Published 11:36 am Saturday, April 2, 2016

by Andrew Book

I know, I know—Easter was LAST week. I should probably find something else to write about, right? Actually, we have moved from Easter day into what Jesus Christ’s followers have celebrated for centuries as the “season” of Easter. Even more than that the usual practice of worshiping on Sundays is a declaration that, at least once a week, we need to be reminded of Jesus’ resurrection (before Jesus’ resurrection on a Sunday, the regular day for worship had been on Saturday!). Easter is not just last week. Easter is this week, and the next week, and every week after that, because Easter has changed the fabric of life in powerful ways.

Before Easter, death had the final word. Once someone died, that was the end of possibilities, hope, and future. But Jesus’ resurrection on that first Easter made it clear that death does not have the final word. Even as Jesus went through death and defeated it, we can now have hope for life beyond death—and that hope frees us to live this life fully and freely. We can easily get caught up in living to achieve power, prestige, and possessions, but the Jesus’ resurrection frees us from the need to “achieve” and releases us to live for those things that truly bring meaning to life: loving God, caring for those around us, and, as the prophet Micah wrote, “doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God” (6:8).

Philosophers have a fancy word to refer to people who live for pleasure. Their word is “hedonism.” A “hedonist” is someone whose highest goal in life is to live for their own pleasure. Hedonism is, for the most part, the dominant way of living in our country today. We work so that we can save money to buy more toys or to go on expensive vacations. If we are doing well, we save up so we can get a house or timeshare in the Outer Banks or some other destination. Our time, resources and finances, for the most part, are invested in our own pleasure, whether it be short term (vacations and new “toys”) or long term (retirement and a “dream home”). We teach these values to our children as we tell them that the most important thing is their happiness and enjoyment of life.

However, living as resurrection people points us in a different direction. Jesus did not live his life pursuing his own pleasure. Instead, he lived his life in order to be a blessing to others. In his life, his teaching, and his actions, he lived to glorify God and the death he died on the cross was the ultimate act of self-giving—dying so that we could be in relationship with God again. Out of that self-giving, self-sacrificing life, Jesus emerged victorious from the grave, declaring that the ultimate victory in life is not having the most toys, but living a life which can be celebrated from the other side of the grave. Even before his death, Jesus prayed that his followers would be “filled with my joy,” because the joy of a life lived following God surpasses anything that the Outer Banks can offer! (John 17:13)

Jesus had a knack for tricky sayings, and one of the hardest is this: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.  And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?” (Luke 9:24-25) Jesus is telling us the same truth he lived out in his life: When we try to live for our pleasure, we will end up discovering that the life we longed for is actually empty and meaningless. The stories of many musicians and actors who have made it to “the top” only to crash down through drugs, depression, and even suicide paints this picture with tragic color. The wealthiest and most powerful King of Israel, King Solomon, discovered the same truth: “Come on,” he said, “let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life. But I found that this too was meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 2:1). Chapter 2 of the book of Ecclesiastes details his pursuits of pleasure which he declares to be futile. His experience serves as a powerful reminder that true joy can never be found in the pursuit of pleasure.

In contrast we see Jesus—the one who was willing to give up his life—and the only one who has ever emerged from the grave to never die again. Jesus gave up his life to find new, full, abundant life—the kind of life that is available to those who live pursuing the joy of following a risen Savior rather than the “happiness” of a self-centered life.

My hope for you in this second week of Easter is that you would take a step towards “giving up your life” by deciding on some act—large or small—where you can redirect your resources from something designed to make you “happy” towards something you can do to serve God or love others. It might be as simple as giving up a treat you enjoy and instead sending that money to Franklin Cooperative Ministries so someone can have a meal (in case you are wondering, their mailing address is P.O Box 1214 Franklin VA 23851). It might be something larger like using the time and resources you would usually use for an expensive vacation to do a mission trip through your local church. Take one step this week towards declaring that the resurrection does show us where we can find true joy in life.

We are going to be exploring “The Joy of the Resurrection” this Sunday at Courtland United Methodist Church and would love to have you join us at 11:00 AM for our Family Worship (or 10:00 AM for Sunday School). There is joy in resurrection living, and I pray you will find it!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or