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EASTER 2021
Luke 24:1-12     Colossians 1:13-18
April 4, 2021

A couple of years ago – when we actually met face-to-face – we were setting up the Stations of the Cross in Fellowship Hall.

Someone who was helping greeted me with a cheery, “Happy Good Friday”

Then she paused and awkwardly asked, “Is that what we should say, ‘Happy Good Friday’”?

What’s “happy” about Good Friday, the day Jesus was tortured and executed?

Of course, we know that the good wasn’t revealed until Sunday … that Jesus’ resurrection was only possible because of his death on Friday.

For there to be resurrection, there first has to be death.

John 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.

It’s easy to miss as we sit here in the mid-day sun, but notice that the Good News of Easter begins in what feels dark, defeated and deserted.

Most likely it was cold as Mary walked the dark path to Jesus’ tomb – that deep shivery cold we get when we’ve not slept, when we’ve been sweating with fear, or when we’ve been exhausted by grief.

Your hope and redemption through Jesus begin in the dark places of your life.

We all have corners of our life that feel dark – failures you’d like to forget, resentments you can’t shake, addictions and shame that seem to have lives of their own – places that seem beyond our ability to fix.

Long ago, when we actually tried to repair electronic devices, I had a television that went completely blank one evening.

I carried it into the local repair shop for an estimate, but when I returned the next day, I saw that the technician had taped a tag on the screen that said, “Damaged beyond repair.”

That’s how Jesus found this earth – so fundamentally out-of-whack that the world was “damaged beyond repair”.

So, Jesus didn’t come to just tinker with the world – he did not come to solder in a substitute component like I’d hoped would be a quick fix for my broken TV.

Jesus didn’t come to make a few political realignments like changing one emperor for another.

Nor was he here to just drop a few thought-provoking parables.

Jesus came to give us a totally fresh start, to turn everything upside down, beginning with the power of death itself, and then to offer a new, intimate and living relationship with God.

I understand that many people today – including many Christians – ask why God would need to send His son to suffer and die.

It seems more barbaric than loving.

And, frankly, the traditional arguments about Jesus being the perfect sacrifice to pay our debt (essentially for being imperfect humans he created) don’t make a lot of sense.

Can’t an all-powerful, all-loving God just forgive my imperfections today without Jesus being executed by a long-defunct oppressive world-power?

Even the words in the refrain of the lovely song we just sang might not feel right:

With Your blood, You bought my freedom
Hallelujah for the cross

Why must Jesus be butchered so that I can be free?

Well, here’s the thing: To really get our head around this we have to remember that up to this time – for millennia – essentially all religions were built around blood sacrifices.

Everyone, everywhere, forever had made animal sacrifices to win the favor of or to appease their gods.

They made sacrifices in hopes of good crops, sacrifices for the fertility of their wives, and sacrifices before heading into battle against neighboring tribes.

It was even a common practice to select a particularly healthy animal – maybe a goat or a lamb – onto which people would symbolically place their sins and then drive the sacrificial animal into the wilderness to die … carrying their sins to die with it.

The Jerusalem Temple’s primary purpose was offering animal sacrifices to God.

No one gave it a second thought: blood sacrifice was the way people interacted with God … always had been, always would be.

This is the world into which Jesus came.

So, God used the only way possible to connect with that worldview to get across the radical idea that all of that was changing … that God was no longer interested in the never-ending flow of blood from animal sacrifices.

To get that across to that world, God took the ancient idea of animal sacrifice to the extreme so that that chapter of religious life could be closed.

He went to the extreme to say we’re done with what you’ve always thought about how to please me through blood sacrifices, and He did this by making his own son the once and for all sacrifice.

It’s like God said, “Now the biggest sacrifice anyone could ever conceive has been made … so there’s just no point in anything less … that old system of blood sacrifice has run its course, so now move on”.

Now move on and live the kind of life Jesus taught while he was here.

Now move on because the living presence of Christ remains with you.

Jesus was offering a new kind of relationship with God where your starting point is not your most recent blood sacrifice, and your stopping point is not your latest mess up.

Colossians 1:13-14 (Message) God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the Kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating.

Now your starting point is that you are unconditionally loved, and all of your misdeeds, mistakes, and shame are already forgiven.

There’s nothing you need to do to appease God – so forget about it.

On Good Friday, Jesus stepped into darkness and death so that through Easter he erase (the slate so we can begin fresh once and for all.

Yesterday, I sat down at the computer and scheduled payments of all our bills for the month.

After I’d sent my payments to DWP, Discover and Visa I didn’t sit around and worry about them any more.

They’re done.  They’re paid.

It is the same for your sins, your regrets, your shames – through God’s will and Jesus’ sacrifice they’ve moved from accounts due to accounts paid.

From being a corrupt political operative in the Nixon administration to the founder of a nation-wide Christian prison ministry, Chuck Colson’s life is a testimony to the power of God to change lives.

Reflecting on the truth of the resurrection, Colson wrote, “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because twelve men testified that they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it.

“Every one of them was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled twelve of the most powerful men in the world – and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me twelve apostles could keep a lie for forty years? Absolutely impossible.”

But it doesn’t end there.

Through the living presence of Christ, we have a life partner from now on.

The living presence of Christ can do what we cannot do on our own.

Jesus promised to be our Advocate – to give us words and guidance throughout life.

Jesus will help you forgive what may feel like unforgivable offenses against you.

Jesus will release you from guilt and shame that you’ve not been able to move beyond by yourself.

Through acts of unearned grace, Christ can do what we cannot do on our own.

In November 2010, Weld County, Colorado Deputy Sheriff Sam Brownlee was shot and killed by a domestic violence suspect after a lengthy high-speed chase.

His son Tanner was fifteen years old and idolized his dad.

Heartbroken, he was able to claim some mementos of his dad, like his department-issued leather jacket.

But what he most wanted was the 2010 Dodge Charger that his dad drove on that fatal day.

Five years later, Tanner was told that the department would be auctioning the car.

It had 146,000 miles on it and had a Kelly Blue Book value of $12,500.

Tanner created a GoFundMe page to supplement his savings, but on auction day he was quickly outbid.

His mother tried to comfort him as he heard the bidding soar beyond the Blue Book value … largely because the proceeds from the auction were to go to a national organization called COPS, the Concerns of Police Survivors, that provides emotional support services to the families of fallen officers.

The winning bid was from local rancher Steve Wells who wrote a check for $60,000.

Tanner had done his best, but his best just wasn’t enough.

But as Steve Wells walked across the room with his new car keys, he stopped in front of Tanner and simply said, “Here are the keys to your car, son”.

To that moment, Steve Wells was a stranger to Tanner Brownlee, but he did for Tanner what he could not do alone.

This was pure grace – the kind of grace Jesus brings to help you do the things you cannot do alone.

God often comes to us in dark moments, in the moments when the world is failing us, in the moments when we’ve failed ourselves, in the moments when we struggle to do the opposite of our destructive instincts.

Our dark Good Fridays are tough, but we hang on because we know that Sunday is coming.