Almost two weeks ago, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In our church, as in many, there was special music, lilies, friends and family – in short, it was our finest, offered to God in praise and thanksgiving for this miracle of redemption.
And yet, this past Sunday, many churches experienced one of the lowest Sundays in the year. It always strikes me as odd. We’ve just heard the good news, the best news, that our God is triumphant over death and offers us grace upon grace to live this life faithfully. Isn’t that the kind of thing that makes you hungry for more?
Or, is it like going to a rich banquet, with all the best trimmings and all our favorite foods, and when it’s over, we push our chairs back, loosen our belts, and feel no need for anything else. Is it possible to glut ourselves on the good news of Easter, letting its stores tide us over until next year, or maybe Christmas?
I certainly hope not. In our church, as in many traditional churches, Easter is understood not as one day, but as an entire season, called the Great Fifty Days. For fifty days we celebrate the resurrection, culminating on Pentecost, when we remember how the power of the Holy Spirit has brought the church into being.
To understand Easter as one day is to make the same mistake that many newlyweds make. They get so caught up in the wedding plans – the perfect cake, the perfect dress, the perfect music, etc. – that they forget about the hard, challenging, and very rewarding work of the marriage ahead.
So, we are called to live as Easter people all year long, not just on one Sunday. That’s what our church is focusing on through the Great Fifty Days. Last Sunday we walked with Thomas to affirm that Easter people believe, even though it’s often hard and messy.
This week, we’ll see how Easter people turn around. In Scripture, there are a couple of words used for the idea of turning around. The Hebrew is shuv while the Greek is metanoia. Both words are usually translated as repentance. Repentance goes beyond asking for forgiveness. It is a complete U-turn, a life transformation, a time when we turn our backs on old ways and live into new ones.
And it’s what God asks of us. It’s re-turning to God and focusing our lives on the source of all life and goodness. This Sunday, we’ll hear Peter’s witness, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:14, 36). The crowd was “cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized’” (Acts 2:37-38a).
Baptism is the public ritual that acknowledges our spiritual death in sin and the gracious initiative of God to birth us anew. As United Methodists, the first question we ask those who come for baptism is: “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sins?” It gets at this idea of turning around. We acknowledge the path we are on is broken and misleading that no amount of repair we might attempt can ever make it right. We renounce it, we reject it, we turn and walk a different way.
God offers us new life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God offers us a new path on which to walk, the way of the Crucified and Risen One. We are baptized, cleansed, born anew by water and Spirit to walk in this new path of eternal life. And we are filled with the Spirit from that moment forward to make that path our own as we continue to turn from old allegiances or habits and learn how to live out the deliverance we have been freely given in Christ.
Easter is not just one day. If you’re looking for new life, if your ways aren’t working anymore, if you think it’s time to turn around and follow Jesus, I look forward to seeing you in church this Sunday. It’s a long road, but you have plenty of companions for the journey and a great guidebook.