What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Do: An Easter Symphony In Four Movements
I Peter 1:3-12
As far as I can tell, I haven’t got a musical bone in my body, but still I love to sing. Especially do I love to sing the songs of our faith. But then, we as Christians, have always had a singing faith, and with good reason: we have a faith worth singing about.
I don’t know about you, but I love the great variety of music which arise out of our faith. I love the majestic harmonies of Bach and the Gospel songs of Fanny Crosby. I love the exuberant music of Mozart and the powerful hymns of Charles Wesley. I love Handel’s Messiah and Newton’s “Amazing Grace”. I love the camp songs and the folk songs, and the French carols. I love the great hymns of our church’s yesterdays and I love the praise music of our modern day. And I dearly love those powerful expressions of faith found in the poignant spirituals arising from our African-American culture; those spirituals, often written in painful and debilitating circumstances, convey the full range of the human emotions—joy and sorrow, confidence and despair, praise and lament, victory and defeat—yet through them all is the dominant and recurring theme of hope in Jesus Christ.
Yes, of all the faith systems in the world, our Christian faith is the only faith which sings. Little wonder! Our faith is the faith which has the most to sing about. Perhaps that’s why on this Easter, as I look at this passage from 1 Peter, the words, though written in prose, take on the stirring chords of an Easter symphony. And like most symphonies, it is written in four movements.
The first movement is played by the full orchestra and it is a powerful melody. It is a song of hope.
Listen to Peter’s words: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By His great mercy He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” There is in all people, a desire for something beyond this life—a yearning for some ultimate meaning and purpose in life.
Some years ago, in the graduate department of Psychology at Duke University, some researchers were trying to determine what are the basic dynamics of life, and in one experiment they took two rats of comparable age and size and placed them in vats of water that were filled to exactly the same level. There was only one difference in the two—one of the vats was sealed shut at the top and the other was left open. As the two creatures began to swim, the creature in the sealed vat quickly sensed the hopelessness of it all—sealed top, limited oxygen, no way of escape. In less than four minutes, that little creature gave up swimming and sank to the bottom. But the other creature, sensing the possibilities—open top, unlimited oxygen, hope for escape—swam for an incredible 36 hours before the experiment was stopped. Now the finding of that experiment is obvious. The old aphorism says: As long as there is life, there is hope. But this experiment reverses that: As long as there is hope, there is life.
I think that is true. Look at what happens when people try to deny that this eternal hope beats in every human breast. Hitler tried it. Ronald Lewen in his book, Hitler’s Mistakes declares that his biggest mistake was in letting his own atheism remove from his Third Reich any notion of heaven. As a result, over time, the people of Germany became sullen, alienated, and in the end they incinerated Hitler’s body in a Berlin bunker. With no promise beyond the struggle of this life, they became self-destructive. The Communists tried to do the same thing. They closed congregations, they silenced the bells, they shut down the cathedrals, they shipped believers off to what was called the Gulag Archipelago. They ridiculed the notion of an eternal hope, but now, before our very eyes, that Red religion is dying, and dying quickly. Why? Because people are born with the yearning of hope in them, and while you may quell that hope for a time, you cannot stop it forever. As long as there is hope, there is life.
And so the music in this first movement of the Easter symphony begins softly like the sound of a breeze blowing through a garden on an April morning. But then the instruments are added, one after another, building to a crescendo, as the stone is rolled away, and then, with a crash of cymbals, Jesus Christ steps forth, alive forevermore and with Him eternal hope is born. Because He lives, we too shall live. As no tomb could hold Him, so no tomb will hold us. As there’s no shroud could encircle Him, so no shroud will finally encircle us. As no grave was deep enough to contain Him, so no grave will be deep enough to contain us. Jesus Christ is alive. He is our eternal hope.
The second movement of the Easter symphony is much softer in sound. It is an adagio. It is the song of heaven.
The tone of Peter’s words moves now toward beauty, serenity, and peace. Listen. “He has given us an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” What is being said here is that heaven awaits us—you and I in Christ are heaven-bound. Now listen to the description of what that means. First, the violins sing, “We have an inheritance”. That word “inheritance” in the Bible refers to the promise God made to His people to give them a land flowing with milk and honey. By choosing this word, Peter is saying that heaven will be for us a place of great bounty and beauty, the ultimate “promised land.” Next, the second violins begin to play, announcing that this place is “imperishable“. In Scripture that word means “free from all invasion”. In this life we have strife and discord, hatred and enmity, but no such thing shall invade the Kingdom of Heaven. It will be a place of ultimate peace and absolute security. Now the violas enter, bringing with them the word “undefiled“. The word means not polluted. Those things which stain and tarnish and infect and pollute the earth will never touch heaven. Purity, not pollution will pervade the atmosphere. Healing will be the order of the day, not hurt or illness. Love will be the only law. Finally, the cellos bring in the announcement that heaven will be “unfading“. On earth everything ages and fades away. The loveliest and grandest things of earth eventually pass away. But this adagio from the Easter symphony declares that heaven will never pass away.
Scripture uses figures of speech like that because the language of earth is incapable of describing the beauties of heaven. Yet one day, Peter tells us, we shall be there. As inevitably as April defeats winter, so inevitably will heaven defeat the winter of the world, and then all the peace and power and purity and perfection of heaven will be ours. Yes, the second movement of the Easter Symphony is the song of heaven.
The third movement of the symphony is a rather harsh march full of the shriek of woodwinds and the rattling staccato of snare drums. It is a song of hardship.
Peter’s words match the music. “Even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials…” Here is the note of discord, a note of dissonance, just as there is dissonance and discord in life. In other words, being a Christian is not going to spare us the uglinesses, the difficulties, the hardships, the heartaches of life.
Arturo Toscanini had taken the NBC Symphony Orchestra to Chicago to play a great concert. The first work on the program was Beethoven’s Overture #3, and at two places in that piece, a trumpet call sounds from offstage in order to create the illusion of distance. Well, as the overture began, it came time for that first trumpet call, and Toscanini gave the signal, but there was no response. So the overture continued, and they came to the second place where the offstage trumpet was to sound. Toscanini gave the signal. No trumpet call. Finally, when Toscanini brought the overture to its end, he didn’t even pause to take a bow. Instead, he rushed off the stage to see what was happening. He found the trumpeter wrestling in the arms of a big burly stagehand and the stagehand was saying: “I don’t care who you say you are, you can’t play that trumpet out here. There’s a concert going on in there!”
Well, there are times in life when we find ourselves wrestling with the big, burly pains and hardships of life, and we can’t seem to play beautiful music in our lives. But the message of Easter is that when our lives are filled with the shriek of woodwinds and the snarl of snare drums, we must hold fast to Jesus Christ. For the time will come when these things are seen as that which strengthens faith and thus makes heaven for us even more sure.
Now, the fourth and final movement of the symphony. It’s the shortest of them all, but it focuses on all of the instruments, particularly the brass- the trumpets, the trombones, the horns. It is the song of salvation.
Listen to these triumphant words of Peter: “Although you have not seen Him, you love Him, and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy for you are receiving the outcome of your faith; the salvation of your souls.”
Several years back, I had an unusual experience at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem . Our group came one morning to that marvelous spot, the place where some say the resurrection happened. It was exhilarating to be in that sacred place. We walked around the beautiful garden. We went inside the empty tomb. We touched the massive stone which had been rolled away from the door of the grave. We celebrated Communion. We prayed for loved ones. We sang “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” It was a powerful spiritual experience for me. After that, some of our group began taking pictures. I noticed a man sitting alone on a bench nearby. He had been watching us. I walked over and sat down beside him. He said: “You know, I love this place. It’s so serene and quiet here. I come here two or three times a week to enjoy it all.” I said: “Ah, you must be a Christian.” “No, no”, he protested, “not at all. I’m not a Christian. I just think it’s real pretty here.”
That’s the temptation we face at Easter, isn’t it? To visit the shrine, to enjoy the beauty, and yet not really experience the risen Christ personally. Easter, you see, is not Easter until it becomes a real, genuine, powerful, authentic, life-changing part of your experience. We have a God who sent His Son to a manger in Bethlehem and who delivered His Son from a tomb in Jerusalem, and He did it all for the salvation of your soul and mine, but Easter isn’t Easter until you make the life-changing death-defeating Christ of Easter your very own.
Let me finish with this…Steve Salley tells the story of Karen, an active member of the Panther Springs Methodist Church in Morristown, Tennessee. When Karen was expecting her second child, everything seemed to be progressing well. Her three-year old son, Michael, began a relationship with his unborn sister by singing to her every night, night after night. He would snuggle up close to his mother and he would sing his new sister a song. Every night, same song. When it came time for Karen to give birth to the baby, there was a problem during delivery. Michael’s baby sister was in serious condition. She was rushed to the neonatal unit at St. Mary’s Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee. As the hours crawled by, the infant grew weaker. The pediatric specialist told the family that the situation was grave and that they should prepare for the baby’s death. Michael kept asking about seeing his baby sister. He wanted to sing to her, he said. Finally, after a week, the end seemed very near, and so the parents dressed Michael up in an oversized scrub suit and took him into the neonatal unit to see his baby sister. The medical personnel there were upset that the parents had brought little Michael in, and they asked him to leave. Karen protested. She said: “He’s not leaving until he sings to his sister.” And so while Karen held Michael up in her arms, he reached out and touched his baby sister. He began to sing this song:
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
You make me happy when skies are gray,
You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
Later on, Woman’s Day magazine, which carried the story, called it “The Miracle of a Brother’s Song”. The doctors just called it a miracle. Karen called it a miracle of God’s love. You see, the very next day, when they thought they might be planning a funeral, they wound up taking Michael’s baby sister home. She had responded immediately to the voice of her brother. He literally sang her to life with his song of love.
Let me ask you something: this Easter, will you let God sing you back to life with the message of Easter hope and victory through Jesus Christ? And once you’ve heard the music, will you then sing other people back to life and faith? Do you see why I say that our faith is the only faith that sings because our faith has the most to sing about? And at Easter we sing best of all…