Today is the day we celebrate Easter. So, as we finish our sermon series on spiritual exercises, we're going to talk about the spiritual exercise of celebration.
Now, granted, on that first Easter Sunday they really did not celebrate. In fact, they did not know what to do. They knew Jesus was no longer in the tomb. The women had been told that he'd been raised from the dead. But most people, even the disciples, did not believe it. We're told that the women's words “seemed to them like nonsense”, and you can understand why. If you did not know the story, it would seem like nonsense that Jesus, who they knew had been killed, had been raised from the dead.
Peter went and checked things out for himself. He saw the grave cloths sitting there, but he did not know what to make of it. Neither did anyone else. If we were going to choose one word to describe the emotions of that first Easter Sunday, it would probably be confusion, not celebration.
Eventually, though, Jesus appeared to them, and the confusion went away. We're told the disciples were “overjoyed when they saw the Lord”. Even “overjoyed” probably understates it. They were thrilled, happy, amazed, all sorts of things. That's when the celebration started.
And we should still be celebrating. Because as Paul says, Jesus Christ being raised from the dead is really the defining event of our faith. It's the proof that Jesus Christ really was the Son of God. After all, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, if he died and stayed dead and that was it, then Jesus was just a human being. Maybe he was a good human being, maybe he was a wise human being, but still, he was just a human being. And while we may like a human being, and we may respect a human being, we're not supposed to worship a human being. We're supposed to worship God.
The way we know that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God is that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. The way we know that our sins can be forgiven is that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. The way we know that eternal life is available to all of us through our faith in Jesus Christ is that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. That's not just something to celebrate today, on Easter Sunday. It's something to celebrate every day of our lives.
But as Christians, that's not the only thing we should celebrate. After all, celebration is a spiritual exercise. And as we've said throughout this sermon series, the reason we call them spiritual exercises is that we have to do them regularly and consistently, just like physical exercises, if they're going to do us any good. But there's one more thing about exercises, whether physical exercises or spiritual exercises, that we've not talked about yet, and it's something that comes into play here. In order to do them regularly and consistently, we need to do them intentionally.
That's important for all of our spiritual exercises, but I think it's most important for the exercise of celebration. The thing is that life does a lot of things to us. We get busy. We get distracted. Sometimes bad things happen to us, and we don't feel much like celebrating. Sometimes nothing bad in particular has happened, but we're just kind of depressed and down. We don't feel much like celebrating then, either. And then we turn on the news, and we hear about all the bad things that are happening in the world, and we start to think that maybe there's nothing in the world that's worth celebrating.
That's why celebration is a spiritual exercise. That's why we need to be intentional about it. God gives us all kinds of things to celebrate, but a lot of times we don't even notice them. We'll only celebrate them if we're looking for them.
God gives us things we can celebrate every day. We all woke up this morning, right? That's one thing to celebrate right there. Most of us had the option of eating something, if we wanted to. That's something to celebrate. Most of us had the ability to take a shower this morning. Most of us did not have to go outside to go to the bathroom. Those are all things to celebrate. There are people who cannot count on being able to do those things.
Did you notice the sunset last night? Did you see how beautiful it was? How about the sunrise this morning? Those are things to celebrate. Do you look at all the birds and animals that we have around here? That's something to celebrate. Every time we see God's creation, we see something to celebrate, if we just look for it.
Did you notice that you did not have to fight a traffic jam on your way here this morning? That's something to celebrate. Did you notice that you did not have to lock your car when you left it this morning? And you probably did not lock your house, either? That's something to celebrate. There are all kinds of things to celebrate about where we live, if we just look for them.
Do you have somebody important in your life? Maybe it's a spouse, maybe it's kids, maybe it's relatives, maybe it's good friends, but do you have somebody? That's something to celebrate. If you needed someone, do you have someone you could call? If so, that's something to celebrate. And you do, because each person here has this church and its pastor and all the people in it if you need someone.
Did you notice the number of kids up here for the children's sermon this morning? And did you notice that they're pretty awesome kids? That's something to celebrate. Did you notice that we have nine kids from our parish in confirmation class this year, and that they're pretty awesome kids, too? That's something to celebrate.
I could go on and on, obviously. But I hope this gets us thinking. I hope it helps us notice all the good, wonderful, incredible things that there are in the world. I hope it helps us decide that we're going to make celebration a spiritual exercise in our lives, and that we're going to practice it regularly.
God has given us so much. No, our lives are not perfect. I know that. I know there are lots of people here who have serious stuff going on in their lives. In fact, pretty much everyone here has some serious stuff going on in their lives. I know that. In some cases, I may know what it is, and in some cases I may not. If you want me to know, I'll be happy to listen, but if you don't, I respect your privacy. But I know that pretty much everyone here has some serious stuff going on in their lives. If it's not you personally, it's somebody you know, somebody you care about. I'm not trying to sugarcoat things or pretend life is something that it's not.
But no matter what's going on in our lives, there are still things we can celebrate. Every day we get on this earth is a new day. Every day we get on this earth is another chance, a new chance to finally get it right. And when we no longer get days on this earth, that's still a reason to celebrate, because if we've accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior we'll go to heaven and spend eternity in the presence of God.
And in fact, that's the greatest reason to celebrate there is. Because it's such an incredible gift that God gives to us. We talked last week, on Palm Sunday, about how Jesus would not have had to go through with his death, that he could've stopped it at any moment. We talked on Maundy Thursday about how the fact that Jesus did go through with it was an act of love, love for each one of us. We talked on Good Friday about how this act of love means that we don't worship a warrior God or an angry God, we worship a loving God. What an amazing reason to celebrate!
And it's all validated by Easter Sunday. This is the ultimate proof. A human being would not have been raised from the dead. He would've stayed dead. But Jesus did not stay dead. They opened the tomb, and he was not there. He had said he would be raised from the dead, and he was.
The disciples were confused at first. Sometimes we get confused, too. Sometimes our faith starts to feel like nonsense to us, just like it felt to the disciples did at first. Sometimes we we wonder what it all means, just like Peter did at first. It seems too good to be true, and so we wonder if it really is.
That's why we handed out bracelets today. When those times come when our faith becomes a struggle, let's take a look at them. When times come that we have doubts, when we wonder if God hears our prayers, let's take a look at them. And when times come when we cannot find a reason to celebrate, let's take a look at them then, too.
Look at the message it has there. It's a simple message. Two words. “He Lives”. Two words that mean everything. If you're looking for a reason to celebrate, there it is. “He Lives”! That's the greatest reason to celebrate there could ever be.