A student, asked to summarize the gospel in a few words, responded: in the Bible, it gets dark, then it gets very, very dark, then Jesus shows up. I’d add to this affirmation, Jesus doesn’t just show up; he shows up for us.

As the psalmist declared:

Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?If ascend to heaven, you are there;If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. (Ps 139:7-8)

I was visiting a man as he lay dying, his death only a couple of days away. I asked him there at the end what he was feeling. Was he fearful?

“Fear? No,” he responded, “I’m not fearful because of my faith in Jesus.”
“We all have hope that our future is in God’s hands,” I said, somewhat piously.
“Well, I’m not hopeful because of what I believe about the future,” he corrected me, “I’m hopeful because of what I’ve experienced in the past.”

I asked him to say more.

“I look back over my life, all the mistakes I’ve made, all the times I’ve turned away from Jesus, gone my own way, strayed, and got lost. And time and again, he found a way to get to me, showed up and got me, looked for me when I wasn’t looking for him. I don’t think he’ll let something like my dying defeat his love for me.”

There was a man who understood Easter.

To the poor, struggling Corinthians, failing at being the church, backsliding, wandering, split apart, faithless, scandalously immoral, Paul preaches Easter. He reminds them that they are here, ekklesia, gathered and summoned by the return of the risen Christ. Earlier, God declared, “I will be their God and they will be my people.” That’s the story that, by the sheer grace of God, continues. That’s what this risen Savior does. He comes back—again and again—to the very ones (I’m talking about us!) who so betray and disappoint him. He appears to us, seeks us, finds, grabs us, embraces, holds on to us, commissions us to do his work. In returning to his disciples, the risen Christ makes each of us agents of Easter. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus says, “so I send you” (John 20:21).

Will Willimon 

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