A transforming experience
Lent is nearly over. In the Christian calendar, Lent is a 40-day period (excluding Sundays) of repentance, self-examination, and amendment of life. Lent may include fasting, giving up undesirable habits or activities, increased spiritual devotion, and adopting a host of attitudes and practices deemed beneficial. Lent, however, is not an end in itself. Lent is a journey that has a destination.
That destination is Easter Sunday. Easter is the highest day in the Christian year. Christians throughout the world and throughout the church’s history have observed and celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
To the unaware or the non-believer, it all seems like so much fable. Yet, the disciples of Jesus, who were not transformed in their behavior and thinking by the crucifixion of Jesus, were radically changed men after they encountered the risen Christ.
Followers who were timid and cowardly when their leader was arrested became willing witnesses and martyrs after their post-resurrection encounters.
Tradition says that, of the Twelve Disciples (Judas, the betrayer, having been replaced by Matthias), eleven met a violent end proclaiming the faith across their known world while one died an old man who exhausted himself in proclaiming the Gospel.
Such was the power of the encounter with the resurrected Jesus. Such transformation would not end with the Twelve. Paul, an opponent of the early Church, was himself transformed by a post-resurrection encounter with Jesus and became an ardent follower, theologian, and martyr.
Lent, if practiced correctly and devoutly, prepares one for Easter — for an encounter with Christ who, as scripture teaches, is alive and at the right hand of God Almighty where “he ever lives to make intercession for us.” Evangelicals speak of a “personal encounter with Jesus Christ” and, indeed, that was and is the norm both in scripture and for today.
Easter proclaims that Christianity is not so much a religion but an encounter. The Christian faith is not about following a set of rules and rubrics but about turning from one’s own destructive, sinful ways and committing to following a person — a living, genuine, person — who desires to have a profound relationship with every human.
In the earliest days of Christianity, the people referred to themselves simply as “followers of the Way.” The Way meant the teachings and examples of Jesus but it also meant following Him — the literal, personal “Him” — who was described as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” It was later that they were called Christians, or “followers of Christ.”
Is Church necessary? Yes, as flawed as it is, because it was founded and built by Jesus himself. It is the means by which the message of Christ is proclaimed and it is where people are prepared to live out the Way. It is the gathering of the family of God, although that family is a broken one.
Easter beckons. It calls out to all — including the least, the lost, and the lonely (although the call also goes out to those who are not) — to encounter God in a personal and profound way through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Easter promises the possibility of transformation — to become all we were created to be. “Come to me ...”Jesus said.“I stand at the door and knock,” he said. Be in church Easter. It could be a transforming experience.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship, Savoy, IL.]