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Seeking the Things Above

Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. Think about the things above and not things on earth. You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.  (Colossians 3:1-4 CEB)

I was in Nashville with colleagues, and a few of us had made our way to the Bluebird Café, which might be called the mother church for country music songwriters. A quartet of men and 
women sang and played guitar for about 80 people from 9 PM to around 11. The music was beautiful, and I wandered out of the café with the honest testimonies of human nature and destiny stirring within me. Later I reflected on the recurring themes 
in the songs: missed opportunities, love taken for granted, the grind and monotony of work, failed relationships, the destruction of substance abuse, broken hearts.

The themes in the best of our indigenous music—blues, country, jazz—have a way of flowing from Saturday night into Sunday morning, as the Saturday night crowd brings its stories into the Sunday congregation. The hope is for a word that transcends all the pain, confusion, and boredom, or at least makes some sense out of it. The Christian story offers that hope as it carries us along this same continuum, from Saturday night to Sunday morning, from the descent into hell to an empty tomb and a risen Lord.

"So if you have been raised with Christ," Paul writes to the Colossians and to us, "seek the things that are above." The church reads this passage at Easter for at least two reasons: first, it seems to be rooted in baptismal instruction, which was embedded in the vigil of the ancient church; and secondly, it is filled with the imagery of resurrection. In a concise way it connects the reality of the first Easter with the necessity of a present Easter. The past flows into the present moment, and all of this is located in the word above.

We Christians believe that there must be an above. If there is no above, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, if the dead are not raised, then we may as well "eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." If there is no above, life is nothing more than a series of missed opportunities, failed relationships and refrains from our favorite blues or country songs. It is difficult to seek the things that are above, but the alternative is more challenging: to make our way through life as if there were no above. If that's the case, then nothing computes: not the broken hearts, not the grind and monotony of ordinary work, and not the passage of time.

I am aware of the danger posed by seeking the things that are above: the reader may worry about my cosmology or wonder if it's escapist. I hear you. But whenever I am around pastors in mainline Christian congregations and the devout women and men who sustain them, a recurring set of stories emerges—testimonies about missed opportunities, failed relationships or the rapid pace at which their children grow up.

We who make our way to sanctuaries on Easter morning might not have articulated these experiences with music accompanying us, but we have likely, in our own ways, descended into hell.

The hope of Easter sunrise is found at the tomb amid the darkness and disbelief. The shocking turn of events leads the disciples out of their grief and despair, and Paul claims this reality not only as apostolic testimony but also as existential promise: "When Christ who is our life is revealed, then you also will appear with him in glory."

Across 28 years of ministry I have learned that Easter is not only theologically essential, it is pastorally necessary. I am drawn to the hope, once again, that there is simply more to life than this life. Although I am attuned to politics and culture, to strategies and outcomes that are somewhat within my own control, I hear the words of Paul as a corrective to my own instincts. "Seek the things that are above," he insists. C. S. Lewis put it this way: "Aim at Heaven, and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither."

On Easter morning we will sing the words of the best theologian in my own tradition, Charles Wesley. Before we reach a particular stanza, one that's buried deep within the hymn, a momentum is building with the affirmation, "Christ the Lord is risen today." I imagine the hymn sung in country churches where a young teenage boy is playing the trumpet, and I can see the relief on his face when he's finished; I can also imagine a small orchestra of professional musicians accompanying a large city congregation, with every seat filled. In either setting, singers come to the midpoint of the hymn and declare, "Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!" Then comes a phrase that reminds me of our true human nature and destiny: "Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia! Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!"

This Holy Week we have been to both the cross and the grave. Some of us are carrying heavy crosses. Some of us, in this season, have been to the grave. But now it is Easter, and once again there is a miracle: we have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ in God. Look! The stone is being rolled away, and we hear the promise of the Risen Lord: "Because I live, you will live also." We will set our minds on the things that are above. Yes, ours is the cross and the grave, but yes, ours too are the skies.

Bishop Kenneth Carter, Florida Conference
Easter Sermon, 2011
The Risen Savior Meets Our Needs
By now, I pray that you and your families had a blessed Holy Week and Easter Season. I praise God that on Easter Sunday, over 200 persons from our community attended either the Easter Sonrise Service on the River or the Traditional Easter Service at 10:30 AM. It was an honor and privilege to meet so many familiar, returning, and new faces on Easter morning.

I was blessed and honored to be able to visit the Holy Land some 19 years ago now. I was able to walk where Jesus walked, and that has truly made a wonderful difference in my life ever since! Certainly, visiting places mentioned in the Bible was a highlight, but nothing compared to being in the places where Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead. Beautiful churches have been erected to mark the spots where these events took place, and nowadays people stand in line sometimes for hours to visit these sites.

I will always remember the natural setting of the Garden of Gethsemene where olive trees hundreds of years old mark the place where our Lord struggled as he faced His death on our behalf. Then there is the “Garden Tomb” which overlooks a mountain with the appearance of a skull. The natural beauty of the trees and flowers around that tomb add to the reflective atmosphere of the place where Jesus may have arisen from the grave.

However, more important than knowing the exact places where the Easter events all happened is knowing for certain that Jesus died and was resurrected from the tomb.

He met people in a wonderful way at the very point of their need. Consider Mary Magdalene, standing outside the tomb weeping—overcome with sadness and hopelessness. She came to spend time at the tomb, but looking in, she finds that it empty. Her first thought is that someone has stolen Jesus’ body, a thought that merely reinforces her grief. Then Jesus meets her in her pain and sorrow. Thinking that he is merely the gardener, she shared the reason for her concern. It was only when Jesus spoke her name—“Mary”—that she was able to recognize him. What a moment of shear hope and joy!

My friends, Jesus is still alive, and he wants to meet us as well—in our times of grief, sorrow, discouragement, pain, despair or hopelessness. He wants to be with us not just in the Easter Season, but all year long. He is calling each one of us by name. He says to us “You are precious in my eyes and honored in my sight, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4)

Perhaps we are more like Thomas than Mary, and we struggle with doubts about the truth of Christ’s resurrection. Thomas boldly asserted that he would not believe unless he personally felt the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and the piercing wound in Jesus’ side. Jesus meets Thomas at his point of need and provides the proofs that encourage Thomas to believe. Maybe we find ourselves facing doubts today. Just know that our Risen Lord still lovingly encourages us to believe in Him with every detail of our daily life.

Or, perhaps we find ourselves identifying with Peter, who probably experienced the greatest failure of his life when he denied Jesus three times. We read how Peter wept bitterly after he realized what he had done. We can only imagine that sense of defeat that Peter experienced. Once again, our Lord, with care and tenderness, offered Peter—as he offers each of us—the opportunity to escape from his failure and to experience true forgiveness and real freedom.

Jesus meets each of us when he need Him most, and He does so just at the right moment. Jesus loves us so very much, and His love never fails! I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer, and I know that anytime I need Him, He is always near.

In the Risen Savior’s Love and Service
Pastor Merritt

Getting a Fresh Start

Easter is a fantastic time in the Church. We are reminded of Christ’s rising from the dead, of the promise of Spring, and of getting a fresh start. Why not let this be the start of “new directions” in both your personal life and in your relationships with others?

We might be spending so much time on living our real lives, that we are not able to work on the changes we need to make our real lives more productive and meaningful. If we concentrate on looking only at the daily tasks before us, we are unable to look at our lives in perspective. We shouldn’t forget to evaluate and adjust our direction in response to God’s purpose for our lives.

Here is a practical approach to getting a fresh start.

  • Take a break every day. Set some time aside so that you can stop what you are doing and get away. Free yourself from your routine and familiar surroundings to allow God to speak to you and allow a fresh perspective. Your daily “set aside” time might include readings from a devotional, meditations on scripture, or silent prayer.

  • Make a list of areas you want to improve. This requires an honest evaluation both of personal life and your relationships with others.

  • Pray about the one specific item on which you want to focus and ask God’s guidance on this one specific area.

  • Develop an action plan on this one specific area. What can you do today to make a meaningful change in this area? Make this action plan your number one priority for the day.

  • Repeat daily, evaluating what works and what changes result as you go along.

Easter and the Springtime are a great time to implement these steps. You have an opportunity to make a course adjustment to ensure that you reach your personal and relationship goals this year.

Mark Lubbock,
General Commission of United Methodist Men