We need hope. We need more than a martyr. We need a Savior!
Easter can be about bunnies, candy, flowers, bonnets, having your son or husband in a suit once a year, taking a photo, getting a new dress or having family over and getting your favorite dessert. But for many of us this year, we simply need more. We need a God who makes a difference. Who gives “a care,” about the real pain down here for real people with real-problems. Jobs gone. Retirements vanished. Cancer strikes. Teenagers, toddlers and infants die tragically, unexpectedly. We need an Easter that means something! We need a God with power and passion, and some pizzazz would be nice.
The Christian tradition since the 300’s A.D. claims in her creeds that Jesus “was crucified, dead and buried; and descended into hell. The third day Jesus rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” On Holy Saturday, our tradition tells us that Jesus goes to hell to rescue all those who are separated from God. This tells us much about the heart of God. Namely, that there is no place on earth, above or below the earth that God in Jesus has not or will not go to love His children. What is interesting to me is how uncomfortable many of us in the church have become with heaven and hell talk. The Apostles’ creed we use in our tradition dropped the “descended into hell” in the 1900’s. What is compelling is the hunger and thirst of everyday folk for exactly that which makes so many of us church-goers queasy. A skeptic and unbelieving world still wants answers about death and what happens next.
A few years ago, I was at the check out at a drugstore when I saw two New York Times Best Sellers and bought them both. The titles of the books intrigued me, “23 Minutes in Hell” by Bill Wiese and “90 Minutes in Heaven” by Don Piper. Wiese writes 24 percent of Americans polled did not believe that either heaven or hell existed. He says that on Nov. 23, 1998, at 3 a.m., God allowed him to experience hell for 23 minutes. Wiese describes hell in this way, “This place was so terrifying, so intense and so hostile that it would be impossible for me to exaggerate the horror.” When Wiese returned to his body from hell, he writes, “as long as the Lord was with me, the fear and torments of hell left me. But when He left, the fear returned.”
Don Piper writes of his experience of heaven in this way, “I died Jan. 18, 1989. Paramedics reached the scene…found no pulse and declared me dead…Immediately after I died, I went straight to heaven. While I was in heaven, a Baptist preacher came upon the scene of the accident…despite the scoffing of the emergency medical technicians, he refused to stop praying. At least 90 minutes after the EMT’s pronounced me dead, God answered that man’s prayers. I returned to earth. This is my story.” Piper writes, “I didn’t see Jesus, but I did see people I had known.” He writes of being greeted first by his Grandfather Joe and then his friend Mike killed at 19 in a car wreck and by a classmate Barry who drowned in a lake. “Everyone continually embraced me, touched me, spoke to me, laughed and praised God. This seemed to go on for a long time, but I didn’t tire of it…Never, even in my happiest moments, had I ever felt so fully alive. Over and over I heard how overjoyed they were to see me and how excited they were to have me among them…They embraced me, and no matter which direction I looked, I saw someone I had loved and who had loved me…I felt loved – more loved than ever before in my life.” How’s that for pizzazz? This is our story of everlasting, joy-filled-life, celebrated at Easter! Jesus conquered hell and death Easter morning!
God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God – Romans 5:8-9.
Easter is for real! It is for real-life today for each and every one of us because the world still needs Jesus – the Hope of the world!