Easter, 2019 — Eternal life AND abundant life
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” John 11:25–26
Do you believe this?
The above scripture is from the story of the resurrection of Lazarus in which Jesus is talking to Martha, the sister of Lazarus.
Sunday, April 28, is Easter Sunday celebrated by Macedonian Orthodox faithful around the world, and other members of the Orthodox Church. While I am a member of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, I was baptized, as an infant, in the Lutheran church, grew up in an Evangelical church, and now attend a Nazarene (also Protestant) church in my home town. As such, I celebrate Easter Sunday, this year, on both April 21 and April 28. And since this April 28, Easter Sunday, is a pause between two rounds of voting in Macedonia’s presidential elections, I thought it would be good to also pause, and reflect, on Easter.
As a starting point, I take the recent fire at the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. While that Cathedral is a symbol of the Catholic Church, it is also, to my mind at least, a symbol of the Church as in the body of Christian Believers. In one of the first photos to be released from the interior of Notre Dame as the fire was still being put out, one observed an intact and unharmed gold cross above the alter at one end of the Cathedral with firefighters in the foreground. It was a poignant photo — among the charred remains of the Cathedral there was a powerful symbol of Christianity: the cross, originally a Roman symbol of death that was changed, on that first Easter Sunday, into a symbol of life, and not just life, but eternal life.
Macedonia has many beautiful churches and monasteries, a number of them much older than Notre Dame and while I have celebrated Easter many times in Macedonia, one of my favorite memories is from several years ago, celebrating Easter at Sveti Pantelejmon (built in 1164) at the village of Gorno Nerezi on Vodno. Celebrating Easter in the tradition of the Macedonian Orthodox Church is a beautiful reminder as to why Jesus died and rose again and what that means for Believers on an eternal basis.
But there is a second point about Easter that I want to emphasize here: beyond believing in God, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit — which guarantees Believers eternal life and eternal life with God in Heaven — beyond this, shouldn’t there be more to “Christian living” than just waiting for Heaven? Shouldn’t there be more to life, on this side of Heaven? I think the answer is a resounding, and powerful “Yes, Amen!”
In addition to the beginning quote from the Apostle John, above, we also remember Jesus’ words as recorded in John 10:10 before he raised Lazarus from the dead: Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
What, exactly, did Jesus mean by this “abundant life?” I’m glad you asked!
First of all, “abundant life” is not about material wealth though it might include material wealth. Anyone who preaches that material wealth (the so-called “prosperity gospel”) is found in Christianity is simply wrong. That’s not what Jesus or Scriptures teach. Instead, “abundant life,” properly understood, should be compared with the life of unbelievers — those who remain lost and apart from God. Their life is, to be honest, hopeless. But the life of Believers — abundant life — is something more than a hopeless, empty life. It is a life that can — and should! — include peace, joy, and contentment when properly understand and practiced. And here’s a practical word of advice from a middle-aged Believer who has spent a lifetime studying Scripture: it can take a long time to learn this in order to experience this abundant life: blessed is the man or woman who learns it while young!
On the flip side, I think it is important to remember — and avoid — things that can rob Believers of an abundant life — worry (also fear and anxiety) is the number one thing that will rob you of that abundant life and true peace. Jesus also said that worrying will not add a single day to your life and modern science shows that worry will probably lessen your life span. And let’s be honest: most of the things we worry about are things we have no control over.
Even, however, as Believers remember and have been promised both eternal life and abundant life while on this earth, it is vital that we remember the cost as Believers. Christians are still one of the, if not the, most persecuted faiths in this world and this fact is brought home by the April 21 Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka which specifically targeted Christians and in which over 350 people were killed and over 450 injured by Islamic terrorists. And while most Believers will never have to give up our lives for Christ, Christians, around the world, experience in persecution in other ways — whether it is in Western Civilization where Christians, increasingly, are told they cannot practice their faith in the public square, or must pay a physical price for that practice through the loss of a job or in other ways.
Jesus made this clear in yet another verse from the Apostle John, in 16:33 in which he said “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
As Macedonians and Orthodox faithful celebrate Easter 2019, my prayer for you and for Believers around the world is that you remember what God has done for you in this life, and in the next life, and that you are thankful for that, and share it with others.