As many of you know Johann Christoph Arnold passed away yesterday after a full life of service to God and humankind. As he had been in poor health for some time, and unable to write much, he wanted us to reuse his Easter message from 2008 for this year. We are happy to share it with you. Over the past few weeks, he repeatedly told his family and congregation that this would be a very special Easter. Now it truly is, as he celebrates the Resurrection in the Heavenly Kingdom. For all of you who’ve grown to love and respect Pastor Arnold through his writings, thank you for your support and prayers for his family and community in this time of loss. But as he’d want us to say to you all, Happy Easter! Jesus is risen! —The Editors
Today is Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead. To fully understand what that means, we have to see it in light of the whole life of Jesus. There’s an interesting parallel between the birth of Jesus and the death and resurrection of Jesus. We all know the story of Christmas, how multitudes of angels came and announced the good news to the shepherds. Only God knows how many angels there were, but there must have been thousands and thousands. But it’s clear that in the heavens, God and the angels knew that Jesus was being born. Yet here on earth, only a very few people recognized what was happening: the shepherds, the Magi, Joseph and Mary. Such an important event, and only a very few people recognized it.
During his life, Jesus performed many miracles. In the gospel of John it says if everything that Jesus did would be written down there would be so many books that the whole world could not contain them. But in spite of that, Jesus had only a handful of disciples: the twelve that we read about, one of whom betrayed him. There must have been others, but there were very few committed disciples. Of course on Palm Sunday he had many followers; the multitudes came out and shouted “Hosanna, Son of David!” But a week later they also shouted “Crucify him.” So the number of people who knew – really knew – Jesus was very small.
Then came Easter Sunday: angels came down and rolled the stone away. It was so bright, so intense, that the soldiers who were guarding the tomb fell down as if dead. Yet in spite of all of this, not too many people knew. As at Christmas, God and his angels must have watched, prayed, hoped that everything would go according to God’s will. But the disciples – those who knew of the resurrection – were afraid, hiding behind closed doors. And some – those on the road to Emmaus – did not even know. Again, we see the small number of those who knew that Jesus was walking the earth again.
So how did the word of Jesus spread? How did we end of up with so many believers today? It happened only at the end of his stay on earth. Before Jesus ascended into heaven he gave the great commission to his disciples: go out into all the world, proclaim the good news, and call people to repentance and baptism. That’s how news of Jesus spread then, and how it still spreads today. John the Baptist baptized many people, but he told them something very important: “I baptize you with water; someone else will come and baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
That someone was Jesus. And it happens again each time we baptize someone: we pray that they may be bestowed with the powers from on high, that they receive the Holy Spirit. I have to think of my own baptism, now almost sixty years ago. I was eighteen, and very immature. But when I was able to confess my sin, Jesus took my life over, and I felt as if I was walking on clouds, as if nothing was impossible. I was willing to run around the whole world – which I could not do – to undo my sins.
A few years ago I was giving a Bible class at a drug rehab center. We were reading from the crucifixion story, where Peter wept because he denied Jesus. One of the men said, “You know, I have read this many times and I feel the need to weep for my sins but it has not yet happened. What shall I do?” A few of the other men said, “You know, we have been brought up thinking that it is wrong for men to weep.” All I could tell this man was, “Look, Jesus sees your longing to weep. Keep asking for it. It will happen, and when it happens, embrace it.”
The wonderful thing, the fantastic thing, is that when you really weep for what you have done wrong it cleanses your soul. It makes you a new person, a different person. This should be our Easter prayer: that God’s Holy Spirit fills our hearts and we know Jesus. At his birth, at his death, and at his resurrection, very few people knew him. But today, all of us can know him. That is the mystery of the birth of Jesus, the crucifixion of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus. That is the power of Easter.
This post has been condensed and edited from remarks delivered on Easter Sunday, 2008.Comments
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