I can’t tell any of you anything about Easter that you don’t already know. (Laughter.) I can’t shed light on centuries of scriptural interpretation or bring any new understandings to those of you who reflect on Easter’s meaning each and every year and each and every day. But what I can do is tell you what draws me to this holy day and what lesson I take from Christ’s sacrifice and what inspires me about the story of the resurrection.
For even after the passage of 2,000 years, we can still picture the moment in our mind’s eye. The young man from Nazareth marched through Jerusalem; object of scorn and derision and abuse and torture by an empire. The agony of crucifixion amid the cries of thieves. The discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world — that the Son of Man was not to be found in His tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen.
We are awed by the grace He showed even to those who would have killed Him. We are thankful for the sacrifice He gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.
And such a promise is one of life’s great blessings, because, as I am continually learning, we are, each of us, imperfect. Each of us errs — by accident or by design. Each of us falls short of how we ought to live. And selfishness and pride are vices that afflict us all.
It’s not easy to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption. But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered — by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope.
Of all the stories passed down through the gospels, this one in particular speaks to me during this season. And I think of hanging — watching Christ hang from the cross, enduring the final seconds of His passion. He summoned what remained of His strength to utter a few last words before He breathed His last breath.
“Father,” He said, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, but they can just as truly be spoken by every one of us here today. Their meaning can just as truly be lived out by all of God’s children.
So, on this day, let us commit our spirit to the pursuit of a life that is true, to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. And when we falter, as we will, let redemption — through commitment and through perseverance and through faith — be our abiding hope and fervent prayer.
I wanted to host this breakfast for a simple reason -– because as busy as we are, as many tasks as pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there’s something about the resurrection — something about the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ, that puts everything else in perspective.
We all live in the hustle and bustle of our work. And everybody in this room has weighty responsibilities, from leading churches and denominations, to helping to administer important government programs, to shaping our culture in various ways. And I admit that my plate has been full as well. (Laughter.) The inbox keeps on accumulating. (Laughter.)
But then comes Holy Week. The triumph of Palm Sunday. The humility of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. His slow march up that hill, and the pain and the scorn and the shame of the cross.
And we’re reminded that in that moment, he took on the sins of the world — past, present and future — and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection.
In the words of the book Isaiah: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
This magnificent grace, this expansive grace, this “Amazing Grace” calls me to reflect. And it calls me to pray. It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I’ve not shown grace to others, those times that I’ve fallen short. It calls me to praise God for the gift of our son — his Son and our Savior.
Now, I have to be careful, I am not going to stand up here and give a sermon. It’s always a bad idea to give a sermon in front of professionals. (Laughter.) But in a few short days, all of us will experience the wonder of Easter morning. And we will know, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Christ Jesus…and Him crucified.”
It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the triumph of the resurrection, and to give thanks for the all-important gift of grace. And for me, and I’m sure for some of you, it’s also a chance to remember the tremendous sacrifice that led up to that day, and all that Christ endured — not just as a Son of God, but as a human being.
For like us, Jesus knew doubt. Like us, Jesus knew fear. In the garden of Gethsemane, with attackers closing in around him, Jesus told His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He fell to his knees, pleading with His Father, saying, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” And yet, in the end, He confronted His fear with words of humble surrender, saying, “If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
So it is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection. It’s only because He endured unimaginable pain that wracked His body and bore the sins of the world that He burdened — that burdened His soul that we are able to proclaim, “He is Risen!”
So the struggle to fathom that unfathomable sacrifice makes Easter all the more meaningful to all of us. It helps us to provide an eternal perspective to whatever temporal challenges we face. It puts in perspective our small problems relative to the big problems He was dealing with. And it gives us courage and it gives us hope.
We all have experiences that shake our faith. There are times where we have questions for God’s plan relative to us — (laughter) — but that’s precisely when we should remember Christ’s own doubts and eventually his own triumph. Jesus told us as much in the book of John, when He said, “In this world you will have trouble.” I heard an amen. (Laughter.) Let me repeat. “In this world, you will have trouble.”
THE PRESIDENT: “But take heart!” (Laughter.) “I have overcome the world.” (Applause.) We are here today to celebrate that glorious overcoming, the sacrifice of a risen savior who died so that we might live. And I hope that our time together this morning will strengthen us individually, as believers, and as a nation.
In these sacred days, those of us as Christians remember the tremendous sacrifice Jesus made for each of us –- how, in all His humility and His grace, He took on the sins of the world and extended the gift of salvation. And we recommit ourselves to following His example –- to loving the Lord our God with all our hearts and all our souls and with all our minds, and to loving our neighbors as ourselves.
That’s the eternal spirit of Easter. And this year, I had — I think was particularly special for me because right before Easter I had a chance to feel that spirit during my trip to the Holy Land. And I think so many of you here know there are few experiences more powerful or more humbling than visiting that sacred earth.
It brings Scripture to life. It brings us closer to Christ. It reminds us that our Savior, who suffered and died was resurrected, both fully God and also a man; a human being who lived, and walked, and felt joy and sorrow just like us.
And so for Christians to walk where He walked and see what He saw are blessed moments. And while I had been to Jerusalem before, where Jesus healed the sick, and cured the blind, and embraced the least of these, I also had a chance to go to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. And those of you who have been there know that entering the church is a remarkable experience, although it is a useful instruction to see how managing different sections of the church and different clergy — it feels familiar. (Laughter.) Let’s just put it that way. (Laughter.)
And as I approached the Altar of the Nativity, as I neared the 14-pointed Silver Star that marks the spot where Christ was born, the Patriarch of Jerusalem welcomed me to, in his words, “the place where heaven and Earth met.”
And there, I had a chance to pray and reflect on Christ’s birth, and His life, His sacrifice, His Resurrection. I thought about all the faithful pilgrims who for two thousand years have done the same thing — giving thanks for the fact that, as the book of Romans tells us, “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
I thought of the poor and the sick who seek comfort, and the marginalized and the forsaken who seek solace, and the grateful who merely seek to offer thanks for the simple blessings of this life and the awesome glory of the next. I thought of all who would travel to this place for centuries to come and the lives they might know.
And I was reminded that while our time on Earth is fleeting, He is eternal. His life, His lessons live on in our hearts and, most importantly, in our actions. When we tend to the sick, when we console those in pain, when we sacrifice for those in need, wherever and whenever we are there to give comfort and to guide and to love, then Christ is with us.
So this morning, let us pray that we’re worthy of His many blessings, that this nation is worthy of His many blessings. Let us promise to keep in our hearts, in our souls, in our minds, on this day and on every day, the life and lessons of Christ, our Lord.
So this Easter Week, of course we recognize that there’s a lot of pain and a lot of sin and a lot of tragedy in this world, but we’re also overwhelmed by the grace of an awesome God. We’re reminded how He loves us, so deeply, that He gave his only begotten Son so that we might live through Him. And in these Holy Days, we recall all that Jesus endured for us — the scorn of the crowds and the pain of the crucifixion, in our Christian religious tradition we celebrate the glory of the Resurrection — all so that we might be forgiven of our sins and granted everlasting life.
And more than 2,000 years later, it inspires us still. We are drawn to His timeless teachings, challenged to be worthy of His sacrifice, to emulate as best we can His eternal example to love one another just as He loves us. And of course, we’re always reminded each and every day that we fall short of that example. And none of us are free from sin, but we look to His life and strive, knowing that “if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us.”
For me, the celebration of Easter puts our earthly concerns into perspective. With humility and with awe, we give thanks to the extraordinary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Savior. We reflect on the brutal pain that He suffered, the scorn that He absorbed, the sins that He bore, this extraordinary gift of salvation that He gave to us. And we try, as best we can, to comprehend the darkness that He endured so that we might receive God’s light.
And yet, even as we grapple with the sheer enormity of Jesus’s sacrifice, on Easter we can’t lose sight of the fact that the story didn’t end on Friday. The story keeps on going. On Sunday comes the glorious Resurrection of our Savior.
“Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day,” Dr. King once preached, “but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter.” Drums that beat the rhythm of renewal and redemption, goodness and grace, hope and love. Easter is our affirmation that there are better days ahead — and also a reminder that it is on us, the living, to make them so.
Through God’s mercy, Peter the Apostle said, we are given “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” It’s an inheritance that calls on us to be better, to love more deeply, to serve “the least of these” as an expression of Christ’s love here on Earth.
And Pastor preached on this this weekend, and I know all of you did, too, as I suspect, or in your own quiet ways were reminded if Easter means anything, it’s that you don’t have to be afraid. We drown out darkness with light, and we heal hatred with love, and we hold on to hope. And we think about all that Jesus suffered and sacrificed on our behalf — scorned, abandoned shunned, nail-scarred hands bearing the injustice of his death and carrying the sins of the world.
And it’s difficult to fathom the full meaning of that act. Scripture tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Because of God’s love, we can proclaim “Christ is risen!” Because of God’s love, we have been given this gift of salvation. Because of Him, our hope is not misplaced, and we don’t have to be afraid.
And as Christians have said through the years, “We are Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!” We are Easter people, people of hope and not fear.
Now, this is not a static hope. This is a living and breathing hope. It’s not a gift we simply receive, but one we must give to others, a gift to carry forth. I was struck last week by an image of Pope Francis washing feet of refugees — different faiths, different countries. And what a powerful reminder of our obligations if, in fact, we’re not afraid, and if, in fact, we hope, and if, in fact, we believe. That is something that we have to give.
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