For Christians, this is one of the most religiously significant weeks of the year. This Sunday we will celebrate the Messiah’s victory over sin, death, and hell. Along with that, we will celebrate our participation in that victory by the grace of God.
The truth and power of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection for the world is the most important reality that Christians have to communicate to the surrounding world. My hope for myself is that I will allow myself to live in this moment of remembrance and demonstrate the truthfulness of the most significant fact of available redemption for all of creation, including those who believe. The challenge is to keep the cares of the world from choking out this all important message at this very focused time.
The Superlative Reality
Many pastors begin their weekly sermon by commenting why this week’s passage is “the most important” or “my favorite” more than occasionally. No doubt after the pastor has labored over the text that week, there is a sense of familiarity and appreciation for it that makes a regular lapse into superlative language forgivable. Likely the label simply means that the pastor is excited by the content or that this is a truth that should press home to the congregation. This is a foible that can be quickly passed over.
However, when the apostle Paul, who was not prone to abuse the superlative, declares something to be of first importance it should cause us to sit up and listen.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. I Cor 15:3-8
Paul’s message that is of first importance is simply that the atonement has come and that due to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection humans can be freed from the penalty of their sin.
The Trap of Complacency
For those of us that have been in church, the Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday (maybe), Good Friday, Easter Sunday pattern can seem mundane and repetitive. In fact, if a congregation is not careful, the celebration of these events can become mundane. Complacency is a real human danger, where we fail to recognize the importance of what we are doing.
In the years that I worked in nuclear power, complacency was a constant enemy and a visible concern. There were signs posted around the training building that declared, “Complacency will kill us.” Working in an industrial environment, and with powerful technology like nuclear power, made that truth especially valid. But everything becomes routine when we become familiar with it.
At times, we have to intentionally focus on the special nature of a particular truth so that its power comes home to us once again. That’s what the week leading to the celebration of Easter is supposed to do.
Making it Special
Leading up to this Easter season, our family has been focusing on the names of Jesus using a series of daily devotionals that my wife wrote. This has helped keep Christology at the heart of our discussions for the past weeks.
We will likely read and watch parts of the Jesus Storybook Bible in the coming days. We will read passages of Scripture from the passion accounts. All this to make the season memorable and worshipful, as much as we are able.
Even these things can become another flourish in an already-too-busy life, though. The challenge for all of us is to find a way to make the celebration significant and focus on the powerful reality of it without making it just another thing to do.
The world seems to seek ways to distract from the gravity. This week already, we’ve seen a terrorist attack. There is an ongoing political spectacle that has dragged on for eternity and seems like it will go on forever. If history repeats itself, there will be a well-timed controversy over religious revisionism—both through articles rejecting the historicity of Scripture and from voices seeking to protest traditional Christian morality on some hot-button topic.
The pattern of these events is all too regular for them not to be timed, if not by humans, then perhaps by some of the spiritual forces that we forget about sometimes.
Whether these are simply more notable distractions because they occur during a time of more intentional religious devotion or somehow orchestrated is irrelevant. What is significant is their power to pull our gaze away from the cross, its power, its meaning, and its historicity.
The reality of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is of first importance according to Paul. Do not allow anything to tear your focus away from pondering that profound truth this week.