Thank God for Easter!
April 5, 2015 Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Synopsis: In this sermon, preached at the Easter Sunrise Service on April 5, Pastor Cam reflects on the recent death of a good friend, and declares “Thank God for Easter!” Using a variety of Scriptures, this message explores how Jesus’ resurrection affects the way we view death as well as how we ought to live our lives.
Last Easter, we celebrated with a Sunrise Service just like we are doing today. Following the service Andy and Priscilla Wilson and Esther Ruth and I went out to a hotel for an Easter brunch along with Linda and Ed Den Beste.
In January, Ed and Linda had packed up to return to the US. On one of their last evenings in Abu Dhabi, Esther Ruth and I went out to dinner with them in one of Ed’s favorite Indian restaurants. We had a lovely evening together, enjoying the food and the always lively and stimulating conversation we had whenever Ed was involved. Afterward we stood outside on the sidewalk and gave them both a hug and said our good byes. We said what we often say when we don’t know when we’ll see someone again: “This isn’t good bye. It’s just: Until next time! Here, there, or in the air.”
This week, on Tuesday evening I received a phone call from Michelle Hait with the news that Ed had died from complications following open heart surgery.
Following the initial shock of the news, I began processing the whole variety of emotions that come with the loss of a friend; someone I have known, appreciated and loved. And as I have done so, I have become increasingly aware of one dominant thought: Thank God for Easter!
The more I have thought about it, the more I have realized that everything I have felt and experienced in these last couple of days has been colored, enlightened and influenced by the events of that first Easter Sunday, almost 2000 years ago. Thank God for Easter!
What happened on Easter? We all know the answer to that question or we wouldn’t be here on this early Sunday morning. Jesus rose from the dead! Christ is risen! That is the unanimous testimony of the eye-witnesses on that first Easter. That Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day…and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve…and so on.
Jesus rose from the dead! That is the historical fact that we are celebrating today. But it is the personal implications of that historical fact that I want to reflect on this morning. Just two simple points to my message:
1. The resurrection of Jesus gives us a different perspective on dying.
This is the truth that has so comforted me as I have thought about Ed’s death.
The passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 comes to mind:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
As believers, we do grieve for the loss of a friend or a loved one. But if that friend was a follower of Jesus, as Ed was, it is a different kind of grief. It is a grief that is infused with hope. Why? Because we believe that Jesus died and rose again! That means that those who have “fallen asleep” (a metaphor here for death) are with Jesus now, and that they will return with Jesus when he comes back to earth.
Another passage of Scripture that brings me great comfort is found in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
It is a passage rich in metaphor. Our physical, earthly body is referred to as a tent. A tent, by definition, is a temporary dwelling place. This tent, this body, is not our final home. We have a building – a permanent body, eternal in the heavens. We long to put on this eternal, heavenly dwelling. In fact, verse 5 tells us that God has prepared us for this very thing. And he has given us his Holy Spirit as the guarantee that when this life is over, we shall receive this new body, and this mortal body we now occupy will be swallowed up by life.
This changes our perspective and value system totally. Look at the verses 6-8:
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
Paul says it this way in Philippians 1:21-23
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
Friends, this perspective on dying has permeated my thoughts and feelings since I received the news about Ed. What I have felt has been sadness. But it is the same kind of sadness I felt when we said good bye to Ed and Linda on the sidewalk outside the restaurant last January. Someone I cared about has left as though on a long journey.
If there is one thing that those of us who live in Abu Dhabi are good at, it is saying good-bye. We get lots of practice. Here in the U.A.E. where so much of the population is made up of expatriates, people are constantly coming and going. We make friends and those friends move on. If you are like me, you have attended lots of “farewell” functions during your time in Abu Dhabi.
How do we feel when we say good-bye? It depends, doesn’t it, on how long we have known the person leaving, how close we were to them, how important a role they played in our lives. But when someone we care about leaves, there is a sense of sadness, a sense of loss. We are sorry to see him/her go. But there is another set of circumstances which influence how we feel when we say good-bye. Where is our friend going? Will we see him/her again? And if so, how long will it be until we meet again? We can think of our friend moving back to the U.S. or to Australia or to Nigeria. We can imagine them settling into their new home. And we can even begin making plans to visit. Like I said, those of us who live the expatriate life get used to saying good-bye.
What is our response when we hear that someone we care about has died? What is our reaction? Disbelief? Anger? Shock? Sadness? A sense of loss? All of those?
This morning, I would gently like to suggest another perspective; one that is rooted in Ed’s own beliefs and Christian commitment. It’s just a long good bye.
In a very real sense, all of us as human beings are only expatriates here on earth. None of us is here to stay. The Bible and our own experience make it clear: It is appointed to a man, once to die. Just like all of our expatriate friends will eventually move away from Abu Dhabi, so all of the people we know on earth will one day move away. The only real question is one of timing. How long will they stay? When will they move? Will they move away before we do, or will we be the first to move? That they will move and so will we, is one of the certainties of our existence.
I would suggest that March 31st was simply another moving day for Ed. He didn’t cease to exist. He just moved to another place. This belief is rooted in the promises of Scripture: to be away from the body is to be present with the Lord.
Well, now Ed is no longer “here”. He has gone “there.” He is at home with the Lord. For him it is “far better.” For us, and especially for Linda and the family, there is a great sadness. A great hole has been left in our lives. We shall miss Ed. But that sadness is accompanied by a great joy, a great peace, a great sense of hope. Ed is with the Lord. He is more alive today than he has ever been before. He is fulfilling his true destiny, the purpose for which God created him. We know and believe this because Jesus rose from the dead. He overcame death! He conquered death! As followers of Christ, we never have to say a real “good bye” to a brother or sister in Christ. It’s always just; “Until next time!” Thank God for Easter!
This brings me to a second line of thought.
2. The resurrection of Jesus gives us a new purpose in living.
What is this life all about? What are we put here on earth to accomplish? What is our purpose? The truths of Easter should not only influence the way we think about dying. They should also transform the way we live.
2 Corinthians 5:9 says it this way: So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
That’s a pretty simple but profound way to say it. I know this was Ed’s goal as he looked toward retirement. We talked about it during that last meal together in the restaurant. His first priority was going to be finding new ways to serve the Lord – to please him. Now he is doing that in heaven.
What we believe about Jesus’ resurrection and about heaven and eternity should radically affect our value system and our choices and the way we spend our resources and energies in this life. Because we realize that this life and the next life are connected.
The whole of 1 Corinthians 15 is given over to a discussion of Christ’s resurrection and the promise of our own resurrection as Christ’s followers. And it is instructive to note how Paul concludes the subject in 1 Corinthians 15:58:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
So that is why I announce to you today. Thank God for Easter! The resurrection of Jesus gives us a different perspective on dying. For the believer, death is not the end of anything. It is really only the beginning. We grieve, but it is a grief infused with hope. And Jesus’ resurrection also gives us a different purpose in living; whether here or there, a simple aim: to please our Lord, and to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that, because of Jesus’ resurrection, our labor is not in vain.
May these words and thoughts fill our hearts and minds as we reflect on the truths of Christ’s resurrection on this Easter day.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!