The cry of the rooster at Peter’s denial of Jesus is a siren ringing reminder of the sound of all our failure. But failure isn’t the end.
I have to admit; I put off Easter as long as possible. Back when we first got married, Trish and I decided that the focus of Easter would be nothing more than the resurrection of Christ. There would be no bunnies, no eggs, no Easter grass, no marshmallow peeps and no chocolate eggs (ok…maybe some chocolate eggs).
Then we actually had kids—Megan to be exact. When she was two years old, Megan came home from the sitter’s with stories about eggs and bunnies and all manner of strange things that she didn’t quite understand. I finally decided that if we were creative enough about it we might be able to focus on God’s gift through Christ as well as have some fun with a dozen eggs and some cheap dye. All in all, it worked out very well.
Megan “helped” by supervising that year. She carefully watched as I dipped each egg in a different color—calling each color by its correct name. She kept an eye on them while they dried and then carefully helped me place each egg in the basket we had bought. For the next couple of days she watched those eggs like a mother hen, not really with a sense of expectation but a sense of pride for what she had helped accomplish.
Easter Sunday came and we were busy with church and family dinner and all manner of activities. When we finally got back home I saw that the kitchen needed to be cleaned up so I started stacking dishes, putting away the clean ones and getting the dirty ones ready to be washed. The Easter basket, still full of eggs, had been left on the kitchen table, so I carefully placed it on the counter out of my way—or so I thought.
That’s when it happened. After putting away several clean dishes I turned to my side, bumped the basket with my elbow and knocked it to the floor. The eggs hit with a dozen dull “thuds.” Every one of them was cracked, broken, ruined.
I’m still convinced that under better circumstances I could have fixed them. I’m pretty good with tape and Superglue. Maybe some White-Out and colored markers would do it. Unfortunately Megan was standing right there when they hit. She saw the whole thing. There was no way to hide my mistake.
That’s when a two year old taught me about Easter. I expected tears, I expected screams and I expected loud accusations that would lead to expensive hours on a therapist’s couch for years to come. Instead, she looked up at me and said, “It’s ok, Daddy.”
And something deep inside me said, “That’s Easter.” We’ve made a mess of our lives. We’re broken beyond repair—no amount of tape and glue can put it back together. What’s worse is we did it all right in front of God’s eyes. He saw the whole thing, there’s no way to hide it. He could yell, he could scream, he could wipe us out in a heartbeat for the mess we’ve made, but instead he sent his son to bear our mistakes and sins on the cross. The death he died is the death we deserved, but Easter is there to remind us “it’s ok.”
The penalty has been paid, the mess has been cleaned up, and Jesus Christ has risen!
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.1 Peter 1:18-23
There are times when I am very aware of what I lack in faith, faithfulness and devotion. There are times when I struggle to imagine that’s God’s grace is big enough to make up for all that I lack. In those times I find my peace in those three final words from the cross, “It is finished.”
There was a lot more I wanted to do with this sermon. I had some specific issues I wanted to address. In reality I probably had a hobby horse or two I wanted to ride.
A few month ago I was listening to a radio program where a woman was explaining the doctrine of Purgatory. She explained that while Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin, sin had left something like a “ring around the collar” on our souls. Therefore, Purgatory is necessary to remove the final stain of sin.
I was angry. I really was.
I wanted to yell at the radio, “IT.IS.FINISHED!!!” Either Jesus died for all our sin or he died for NONE of it!
I tend to get a little excitable about this stuff.
In the end, though, I realized I wasn’t addressing a crowd of people who had concerns about Purgatory. Not many of them, at least.
I also realized I wasn’t addressing my usual crowd. Our attending was the typical Easter crowd; family, friends and a few extras who show up to do the Easter thing. I also realized many there weren’t accustomed to my usual delivery, so I changed things up a bit. The sermon was much more story driven than usual. In my average sermon I’m lucky if I have one illustration. This one built on two major stories, one personal and one from Jon Acuff.
All-in-all, we had a great Easter service and a very nice build up to Easter with this series. For me, though, the series (a retread of an earlier series) was supposed to provide me with some much-needed time to prepare for the next few months. Unfortunately that didn’t really happen. It’s been a busy and stressful season and there’s been no time for planning ahead.
Thankfully I am blessed with wonderful and caring leaders who insisted I take some time out of the pulpit after Easter. So, I’m spending two weeks plotting out the next six months. I’m really looking forward to where we’re going next!
When I began this series I considered titling it “7 Last Words.” However, winters in Illinois are unpredictable and I knew there was a chance we’d have at least one week where we were snowed out. Sure enough, the first weekend in March was bad enough that our attendance was less than half of our usual crowd. I preached a short devotional message that week rather than continuing with the series. That left me one week shy of being able to do all seven.
Then I began to notice the connection between Maundy Thursday and this saying on the cross, “I thirst.” While I would never get dogmatic about it, from the Biblical record it appears that Jesus didn’t have anything to drink from the Last Supper until he requested a drink on the cross. Whether that’s actually the case or not, the deep thirst he felt on the cross made for an interesting connection to our remembrance of the upper room on Maundy Thursday.
I’ve always loved the way our community approaches Holy Week. I think you can tell that from the first minute or two of my message. I love the opportunity we have to meet with the other churches in town and share the services. Maundy Thursday has always meant a lot to me. While Easter Sunrise has its pageantry and excitement, I love the mood of Maundy Thursday.
The service went well. We did our best to leave in silence. That’s difficult for our community. We certainly do enjoy our time together.
Jesus’ last words reveal much about his heart and his character. The fact that in the moment of his greatest pain he was able to forgive those who had crucified him says volumes about who he is. His concern for his mother and best friend speaks to his desire for our relationships. Even his cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” points to a depth of connection with his Father that was so intense that the separation was unbearable.
So when we come to those words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” they are more than just a prayer, they’re his very heart. They are the words he has known and lived by his whole life. They are now the words he will die by.
Of all my sermons on the last words from the cross this one might be my favorite. The reason is because of the connection to the audience.
On Tuesday before I preached I sent out an email asking for those favorite promises. The response was overwhelming. I hadn’t actually planned on providing them in print, but once I that I wouldn’t be able to use them all it seemed like a great way to keep the connection going.
I feel like the sermon not only provided a point of connection back to Jesus on the cross but also a connection to the community through the scriptures offered by others. It also offers a connection for the future, when those promises others trust in can be used in their own time of need.
I’ve spoken with others about using questions like this through emails and social media posts. I really thinks it’s a great way to connect your people to what you’re doing. They become part of the message and take ownership of it. If you get a chance, definitely do it.