By Bob Hiller –
Baseball season is finally here! I don’t care what the official calendars say; in my world, Opening Day means that Spring has finally arrived. The long, cold winter is coming to an end as the boys of summer take the field. I’ve loved Opening Day ever since my dad got our family tickets to see the very first Major League game in Colorado. Growing up in Colorado, we didn’t have a Major League team until the Rockies arrived in 1993. Coors Field wouldn’t be built for two years, so the Rox played at the old (and only) Mile High Stadium. I’ll never forget where I was sitting as Colorado’s lead off batter, Eric Young, hit a home run at his first at bat! Oh, it was like something out of a storybook! 80,000 of my closest friends and I loved every second of that game as the Rox went on to beat the Montreal Expos 11-4, and then win the most games of any expansion team (64) in their inaugural season. At this rate, I thought, they’ll have a World Series in less than a decade!
I literally shook my head and spit as I typed that.
Anyhow, this season the ol’ Rockies won their opening game on the road against Milwaukee on Monday, 10-0. So my hopes are high (please picture me rolling my eyes). The trouble is, there are 161 more games in the regular season for the Rockies to ruin what they’ve started. And, given they are in the highly talented National League West (not so fast Arizona!), their chances of doing anything of interest this year are quite small. As the season wears on, the excitement of Opening Day will fade into the mundane of the everyday. Most likely for Rockies fans, it will all end in another wasted season full of lots of home runs, but also loss and disappointment. Still, I’ll watch the scores, check the stats, lament about upper management, and correct all their problems with my friends over beers. I will love every aggravating moment of it. That is the life of a Rockies fan.
In an ironic twist for baseball fans, the long cold winter of the off-season ended this year on Easter Sunday. Easter is the highpoint in the church year, and frankly, a celebration of the high point in the history of this creation. It is the day when the enfleshed God and Lord of this creation silenced all our foes. Jesus, hands and feet bearing the scars of His victorious bout with the devil, laughs His way out of the grave and puts the reign of sin, death, and the devil to an end. The day of Christ’s resurrection is the beginning of that day when all that is sad will become untrue, as Samwise Gamgee put it. On Sunday the church militant, all the saints, all the angels, and I rejoiced and laughed as we sang, “For our Redeemer burst from the tomb, even from death, dispelling its gloom!” That day our Lord began what the whole creation is groaning to one day experience fully, the resurrection of the dead. There is nothing more glorious and joyful than Easter Sunday!
However, on Sunday at my church, the excitement of the resurrection quickly faded. After the sermon, we took prayer requests from the congregation. The message of death’s defeat was soon challenged by the people of God praying for their friends with cancer, their neighbors mourning over death, their families dealing with mental illnesses, and tragedies around the world. The great celebration of Easter’s empty grave was sobered by the stark reality of sin, death, and devil. The excitement of “Opening Day” faded as the mundane and tragic of the everyday was once again placed before our eyes.
Allow me a moment of full transparency here, but almost every Easter I get a sense of being false. I speak of joy and victory and eternity as I look out over a congregation of folks who are pretending that those words define their lives. But I know as well as they do, that they are full of sorrow, loss, and death. I know this to be true because I have the same thing going on within me. I always find it easier to preach Lent and Good Friday because those days are true to my experience. It is hard to speak of glory and victory when I experience it so little.
When I say I feel false, it is not that I don’t believe that Christ is risen. No, I just have a hard time seeing how Jesus rising is going to make your depression leave, your family heal, and your cancer disappear. I will still battle with dark hours of guilt and self-loathing. I know He lives to silence all my fears and He lives to wipe away my tears, I just wonder why I’m still crying and terrified. The message that says, “Hey, its cool, Jesus is alive! It’ll all work out in the end,” sounds as hopeful as the Rockies upper management saying they are building for the future.
I don’t mean to be a downer on your Easter week, but it is cloudy here in Moorpark today; and it’s hard to see the sun.
Let’s see if I can’t clear the sky a little bit. The reason we need Easter Sunday is not to solve all of our problems and make life better in some superficial way. Easter Sunday doesn’t promise a quick fix to the ills that weigh us down. Rather, Easter Sunday is the promise of resurrection God makes to you. It’s not just some empty promise about things being improved a bit in the future. No, because Jesus really rose from the dead, it is a promise full of hope! In the resurrection of Jesus, God acknowledges that the world is now is a complete damned distortion of His design. So, Easter is the promise God makes to you in which he announces that He hates your cancer, your depression, the brokenness in your family, and your death just as much as you do. No, that’s not quite right. He hates it more. And all the powers that brought those things about, both within you and outside of yourself, are to be conquered once and for all and you will be set free! The resurrection is the promise that God is going to take all that is broken and evil in this world and condemn it as both “damnable and false” (David Hart Bentley). The hope of Easter is not that Jesus will make everything okay…no…it is that Jesus is alive and is making all things new! And He will wipe your tears from your eyes, and fill your belly with wine and your mouth with songs of deliverance, and all that shackles you now will soon be shattered and forgotten. Alleluia!
Easter is not the opening day of an otherwise disappointing season; it is the beginning of Jesus making all things new. It is the promised end of all that opposes you and the promise that Jesus will raise you up on the last day. Easter may not remove your tears and sorrow now, but it will. Weeping will tarry for the night, and you are right to do it, for this world is worth weeping over. But, joy is coming in the morning. And we will see Him! For He is risen indeed!