Hidden. With Christ. In God.

The other day I went for my annual pre-Easter haircut. The days before Easter go at roughly 124 miles per hour, so I do not have time to think about setting appointments or anything else. So when I realized I needed my hair cut for today I visited several barber shops around town-- four, in fact. I couldn't get in to any of them. I finally settled on one-- two days ago, inbetween services on Thursday and Friday.

Barber shops are known for their conversations, and in this one the topic of the minute was the sorry state of education today (truthfully, there are only a handful of barbershop conversation subjects; they rotate round and round like a carousel. Education is one of them). They hit all the hits:

  • Teachers only teach to the test
  • Teachers who don't teach to the test get fired
  • Students are learning
  • Kids don't want to work hard enough
  • Parents aren't supporting the kids
  • No one cares about the school board
(And no, the school bond issue didn't come up.)

But then the conversation shifted in a strange direction. One of the guys waiting either works for or runs a local funeral home. So he started sharing stories. This guy died in this place... The body was there this long... The smell was this bad... I couldn't believe it. This was not on the barbershop play list. Plus it was Good Friday, and I was already thinking about Jesus' death on the cross. By the time I was finished I paid my bill quickly and bolted out the door. I had had enough of death.

Which, of course, leads us to today. It is true that death is smelly and messy and gross. It is true that death is one of the things we fear the most. It is true that we spend lots of time, energy, and money to avoid death. And it's also true that try as we do we cannot avoid it. The good news of Easter is that God's story does not end with Jesus' death on Good Friday. His resurrection, which we celebrate today, liberates us from our fear of death and gives us hope for our lives.

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, a holy day for Christians, who celebrate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Here at Grace, and at just about every other church, we waved palm branches and yelled, "Hosanna! Lord save us!" Christians in Egypt joined in that celebration as they have since the 5th century. Then two suicide bombers attacked churches, killing 44 people. ISIS claimed responsibility. What began as a day of celebration ended with profound grief, anger, and horror. The Coptic Church in Egypt has been persecuted for many years. Christians in Egypt comprise only 10% of the country. The government has promised better protection for them. But here's the thing: those same changes are open today. Christians are gathered to worship the Risen Christ on Easter just as we do. They are doing this despite their fear and grief, witnessing to their faith. How is such a thing possible?

Two Marys went to the place where Jesus' body was placed following his crucifixion. It had been two days. We aren't told why they went there; only that they did. As they approached an earthquake shook the place, caused by an angel descending from heaven. He moved the stone from its place at the tomb and sat down on it-- no big deal. The powerful guards, placed there by the religious leaders, fell to the ground, unable to move. To the women, the angel said, "Don't be afraid. You're looking for Jesus; you won't find him here. Check it out for yourself. He's gone ahead to Galilee." As they were leaving the cemetery, they saw Jesus: "Greetings!," he said. "Don't be afraid. Tell the others I will see them in Galilee." And they run away to share what they had seen. They leave behind their fear, grief, and brokenness. How is such a thing possible?

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have 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

If you have been raised with  Christ, your focus changes: you set your mind on things that are above, where Christ is, not on the things that are below. In other words, you are a new person in faith, and when this change happens your life has a new direction. The things of the earth are behaviors like fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language. Setting your life on things above doesn't mean turning away from bad things like injustice or human suffering on earth-- it's individual, destructive behaviors. If our lives are set on Christ, then we are hidden with Christ in God. Meaning only God, and only godly things, are visible in our lives.

So the Coptic Christians can worship on Easter Sunday without fear, even though they have been persecuted. I read a couple of very brave quotes yesterday: "Egypt's Copts put their trust in God, not in security measures." One woman said, "We do not fear terrorism." Jesus promised: "I will turn your sorrow into joy, and no one will take your joy from you." They can live in to the hope of their faith because their lives are hidden with Christ in God. The two Marys leave the graveyard with hope and joy to share their experiences of seeing the angel and the rock and the statuefied men and seeing Jesus himself resurrected from the dead because their lives are hidden with Christ in God.

This way of living is possible for the one who believes Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. This is the heart of the Easter message.

All of that may sound crazy and impossible. I get it. In a way we are all the women of the story. It's Sunday morning. We've come to see Jesus. But we're not in Jerusalem; we're in Sherman, Texas. We're in a church building, not a cemetery. Where will we find him? This is what he said:
  • "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there amongst them." We find Jesus in the community of believers, not on our own.
  • "Whenever you feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, welcome someone, visit the sick and imprisoned, and clothe the naked, you do it to me." We find Jesus by sharing his love with those in need.
  • "This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, poured out for you." We find Jesus at his table, where he invites us to share communion with him and each other.
May you live your life in such a way that your focus is above-- where Christ is; not below, where you've thrown off your fears and superstitions and prejudices and worries. May you live your life in such a way that your life is hidden with Christ in God. So that all people see is your witness-- what you believe-- as you serve the needs of others in the name of the Resurrected Christ. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.