Rising To The Occasion-Once And For All
Her name was Carol Johnson. She was the organist at her church. She was an outstanding musician, but she did something no organist or preacher should ever do. She overslept on Easter Sunday morning, and missed the sunrise service. She was terribly embarrassed. Of course, the minister and the church forgave her, and even lovingly teased her about it. However, the next Easter, her phone rang loudly at 5:00 A.M. Jolted awake by the incessant ringing, she scrambled to answer it. It was the minister in her church. He said: “Carol, it’s Easter Sunday morning. The Lord is risen! I suggest you do the same!”
Now that’s a word that will preach. “The Lord is risen! I suggest you do the same!” You see, Easter is more than just the declaration that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Easter is also the proclamation that Christ shares His resurrection with us. He rises, and so can we. We too, can have new life. We, too, can make a new start. By the miracle of God’s grace, we too, can rise out of those tombs which try to imprison us.
If you stop to think about it, it’s amazing how often we use this idea in casual, everyday conversation. For example, when we talk about facing a difficult situation with poise and purpose, with courage and confidence, we speak of “rising to the occasion.”
Do you remember the story of the young man who took a job in a large grocery store? His first day on the job, a woman came up and asked him if she could buy half a grapefruit. He said that he didn’t know, but that he would go find the manager and ask. He took the grapefruit and walked off to the manager’s office. He said to the manager: “Sir, I am sorry to bother you, but some silly woman out here wants to buy a half of a grapefruit.” Just at that moment the young man sensed the presence of someone behind him. He turned to see that the woman had followed him into the manager’s office and had heard him say: “Some silly woman wants to buy half of a grapefruit.” But quickly he rose to the occasion and said: “And this nice lady wants to buy the other half!” They sold the half grapefruit to the lady and she went happily on her way. The manager then said: “Son, I know what just happened here. You got yourself into a jam, but you worked yourself out of it beautifully. You rose to the occasion. I like that. By the way, where are you from?” The young man answered: “Lancaster, Pennsylvania. But you’ve probably never heard of it, Sir. It’s famous for its great hockey teams and homely women.” The manager arched his eyebrows and said: “Well, that’s interesting. My wife is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania”, to which the young man replied: “Which team did she play for?” That’s what you call rising to the occasion!
Another expression we use in everyday conversation is “rise above it.” When trouble strikes, rise above it. When someone hurts you, rise above it. When you feel down and discouraged, rise above it. By the grace and power of God, we can rise above those things in life which seek to entomb us. That’s the full message of Easter: Christ was resurrected—and so were His followers. He arose and exploded out of the tomb- and so did they, and so can we. On the occasion of Easter, Jesus rose once and for all. He conquered death. It’s done. But Jesus also rose on that occasion once and for all. He rose for us all, that we too may experience His death-defying, death-defeating power. Let me show you what that can mean in our lives …
We must never give out in life. Because Christ is risen, we can rise above despair.
In the Easter story, Mary Magdalene is the dramatic symbol of rising above despair. Think about it. On that first Easter, she went trudging out to the tomb, weeping and filled with despair. She was broken-hearted because she had lost someone she had loved. We can all relate to that, can’t we? We’ve all had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. No experience in life is more universal than that. Someone close to Mary Magdalene had died. She was devastated. We all know the feeling. As George Bernard Shaw once put its “Life’s ultimate statistic is the same for all—one out of one dies … but that doesn’t make it any easier.”
The fact is that we are all going to die, and an even more powerful fact is that the people we love are going to die—and that can fill us with despair. Like a heavy blanket, despair can cover us over and smother the very life out of us. Like a dark and somber tomb, despair can enslave and imprison us and choke out our vitality. It can cause us to just plain give out in life. That’s what Mary felt like as she trudged out to the tomb—despair.
But that’s not the end of the story. She came looking for a dead body, but instead found a risen Lord. And when she saw the resurrected Christ, she got resurrected too. No more trudging. No more heavy sighs. No more weeping and wailing. She burst out of that tomb of despair running and shouting: “I have seen the Lord. He is risen!”
Chuck Swindoll tells about a kindergarten teacher who was trying to determine how much religious training and instruction her students had. She found one little five-year old boy who knew nothing about the story of Jesus. She began by telling him the story of Jesus’ death on the cross. When he asked her what a cross was, she picked up two sticks and fashioning a crude cross, she told him that Jesus was nailed to a cross and that he died. The little boy, with eyes downcast, said sadly, “Oh, that’s terrible.” But then the teacher immediately went on to tell him that Christ rose again, that He came to life. Hearing that, the little boy’s eyes got as big as saucers, and he exclaimed: “Totally awesome!”
Well, it is totally awesome when you stop to think about it. The place of the skull has become a throne of victory. Evil had its best and last chance to defeat God and couldn’t do it. The victory is His, and He shares the victory with us. God is on both sides of the grave, and nothing, not even death, can separate us from Him and His love. Knowing that, we are still going to hurt when someone we love dies—oh, are we ever!—but knowing that we, like Mary Magdalene, with the help of God, can rise above despair.
And we must never give in in life. Because Christ is risen, we can rise above disillusionment.
In the Easter story, Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus are the dramatic symbols of rising above disillusionment. Disillusionment, of course, is what happens when the people or events or circumstances in life don’t measure up to our expectations. We feel let down. There is a sense of disappointment, a sense of betrayal, a sense of bitterness even. The two men walking the road to Emmaus felt just like that. They had pegged their hopes and dreams on Jesus, but now the hopes and dreams had died with Jesus. They had taken their spiritual check to the bank and it bounced—and they became disillusioned. It was Easter afternoon. They knew about the crucifixion, but they had not yet received word about the resurrection.
As they made their way down the road to Emmaus, they were feeling disappointed, they were feeling betrayed, and abandoned. There was even a trace of bitterness in their voices as they said: “We had hoped that He would be the one to save us … but now it’s all over.” They gave in to disillusionment.
But that’s not the end of the story. The risen Christ came to them and walked with them and resurrected them too. He lifted them out of the tomb of disillusionment and got them back to a life filled with joy and power.
We know about disillusionment, don’t we? The problems of this world today are so deep and so pervasive and so beyond our ability to solve that we are tempted to give in to disillusionment. There was a wonderful cartoon in The New Yorker recently. It showed a man about to be rescued after he had spent a long time ship-wrecked on a deserted island in the South Pacific. The sailor in charge of the rescue team stepped on to the beach and handed the man a stack of newspapers. “Compliments of the Captain”, he said. “He would like for you to glance at the headlines and see if you’d still like to be rescued!”
Sometimes the headlines do scare us. Sometimes it feels like evil is winning. But then along comes Easter to remind us that there is no grave deep enough, no seal imposing enough, no stone heavy enough, and no evil strong enough to keep Christ dead. He will win. Goodness will win. Truth will win. Love will win. God will win, and He wants to share His victory with us. Knowing that, we still have our dark moments—yes, to be sure—but knowing that, we like Cleopas and his friend, with the help of God can rise above disillusionment.
And then we must never give up in life. Because Christ is risen, we can rise above defeat.
In the Easter story, Simon Peter is the dramatic symbol of rising above defeat. He had been so brash, so confident, so cocky, but then “at crunch time”, he failed. He denied even knowing Jesus Christ. He was so ashamed and so defeated. But then the risen Lord came and resurrected him. He gave him another chance. “Simon, do you love me?” … “Yes, Lord, you know I love you” … “Then feed my sheep.” The risen Christ was saying to Peter: “Don’t quit on me now. You have a job to do. You are not defeated. You fell down, but you can get back up. You blew it, but you can rise above it. Don’t quit. Don’t give up!”
Ignace Paderewski rose to prominence as Poland’s most famous pianist. At the height of his illustrious career, Paderewski scheduled a concert in a small out-of-the-way village in hopes of cultivating the arts in rural Poland. A young mother, wishing to encourage her son’s progress at the piano, purchased front-row tickets for the performance. In all the buzz of excitement prior to the concert, the mother fell into conversation with a friend, and failed to notice her ten-year-old son slip away from his seat. Suddenly the house lights lowered, the spotlight came up, and there, seated at the concert piano, was this little boy innocently picking out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” His mother gasped in horror, the stagehands started out to grab the little boy, but suddenly the great Paderewski appeared on the stage and waved them away. Paderewski then walked over, stood behind the little boy and whispered in his ear: “Don’t quit. Keep playing.”
Leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in with the bass part, and with his right hand stretching around the other side of the boy, he added a running obligato. Together then the old master and the young novice held the crowd mesmerized with magnificent music in a magic moment.
Nothing transforms life more than hearing the strong voice of the master surrounding us with His love, and whispering in our ear: “Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Keep on playing.” And then He goes on to weave into our work His magnificent obligatos and to supplement our melody with His entrancingly beautiful harmony. What is created then is a glorious and victorious life enhanced by the touch of the Master’s hand. Knowing that, we still have tough times to face—you bet we do—but knowing that we, like Simon Peter, with God’s help can rise above defeat.
Well, my beloved…
It’s Easter Sunday morning!
The Lord is risen!
I suggest we do the same …