Kimberly and I took a day hike on the Appalachian Trail this summer on our trip to New England. We hiked in the Franconia Range, including our high point to the pinnacle of Mt. Lafayette. Our hike actually began not on the AT, but on a side trail. We hiked up to the top of the ridge where the AT follows, then bagged three peaks on a gorgeous exposed ridge on the spine of the Appalachians, and then hiked down on another side trail back to the car.
We started the day in peaceful, shaded woods, surrounded by bubbling brooks and quiet waterfalls. The climb was steady, and we were able to pause to catch our breath and sneak views of overlooks between the trees.
But then we got to the Appalachian Trail, and it was like merging onto the highway. That part of the AT in the Northeast in the summer is incredibly busy. There are folks who get to the AT from different directions, hiking up on day-long or overnight. And there were some who used our trail loop. There are through-hikers, backpacking through a longer portion of the trail. Needless to say, it was a crowded place. As we paused for lunch at the first of three peaks on the ridge, we had to work to find a place to sit! There we were, on the top of the world, trying to find a moment to rest from our exhaustion, and it felt like lunchroom in a crowded high school cafeteria!
After lunch, we followed the spine up toward Lafayette, and it stayed just as busy. By the time we got to the very top, it was like we walked into a party. Someone had brought up a guitar and was singing with a group of friends. Another group was smoking something that has not quite been legalized in the state of New Hampshire. And selfies were being taken at the rate of 15 per second! For someone like me, looking for solitude and silence when I hike, it was a little unnerving. The amazing view was still worth it, as was the sense of accomplishment. But we were not completely disappointed when we cut back on our second side trail and found some quiet hillsides once again.
Over the last 40 days, we have been on a trail of our own. Throughout the 40 days of Lent, we have been on a spiritual journey, asking the question, “What would it look like if I actually lived like Jesus?” We have been confronted again and again by the radical nature of Jesus, the person that many of us purport to follow and emulate. But it has been powerful to ask how we can actually live like him. Over these last weeks, we have wrestled with some elements of Jesus’ nature, and have asked how indeed we might live according to that nature. Like the trail that Kimberly and I took this summer, it has been a long, steep climb, and now we stand on the top of the pinnacle of Easter. Here we are, in the middle of the party, and so we stop and ask, “Where to now?”
On top of that pinnacle, Kimberly and I were ready to get back down the mountain. We had enjoyed the party, marveled at the view, taken our own set of selfies. But now it was time to circle back to our car, to return through the quiet hills, to go back to our old life. It was time to go back to the way things used to be.
What a helpful metaphor for Easter Sunday! The intensity of Holy Week is past. The joy of Easter is almost behind us. For those of us who have done eleven worship services in the last eight days, we are ready for a nap. We are ready for a slower schedule. We are ready to go back to normal. And for those of us who have given up something for Lent, it is time to binge! Time to go back to the life of dessert or chocolate or Diet Dr. Pepper or whatever we have given up for Lent. We are ready to go back to the way things used to be!
But Marcus Borg and J.D. Crossan tell us “not so fast!” In their book on Holy Week, The Last Week, they write that the point of Easter is to put us on track for a new path. The point of Easter is to give us an alternative journey. If we are to ask ourselves for 40 days what it might look like to live like Jesus, what is the point if we are not going to live like that afterwards? Jesus will not leave us alone so easily. A little dessert and a nap are fine, but then what? The message of Easter is one of transformation. And Jesus doesn’t want 40-day disciples. He wants those who are willing to live a new life, to walk a new path, to stay on the Jesus journey. Easter demands that we ask the question “which journey are we on?”
Borg and Crossan ask the question, and demand that our answer come in two realms: the personal and the political.
Our personal transformation means that we choose an alternative journey in which we actually try to live like Jesus. A new way to pray, to own, to forgive. Ella has given us a phenomenal picture of that transformed life with her baptism this morning. Baptism is a powerful symbol of the personal journey with Jesus! We come into the waters on one side, and come out washed clean on the other! Baptism is about transformation.
After all this is what Easter is all about. If Jesus was simply a great teacher with some great ideas, his story would not have survived. But the Resurrection shows that these ideas, these teachings, this life that he calls us to, is divine. The Resurrection tells us that the Jesus Way has received God’s validation. In campaign season terms, the Way of Jesus has received God’s endorsement: “This message has been endorsed by the Creator of the Universe.” The message of Jesus, the Way of Jesus, is not just a collection of good ideas…it is the way we were created to be. It is THE way for us to live.
Nancy Claire Pittman says it this way: “Resurrection, after all, is not some buoyant ideal, unconnected to the real world. It is an invitation to live as Jesus lived, a doorway to a life in which meals are shared with enemies, healing is offered to the hopeless, prophetic challenges are issued to the powerful. Only now it is not Jesus who does these things — it is we ourselves who see at last the subversive power of the resurrection in order to live it now.”
The Way of Jesus transforms us, in deeply personal ways.
But the Easter transformation is not only about personal transformation, but also what Borg and Crossan call political transformation. God’s vindication of the way of Jesus in Easter is meant to transform not just us as individuals, but the whole world, too. Easter is a reversal. On Good Friday, the world demonstrated what it is all about. On Easter, God demonstrated what God is all about. Good Friday shows us what the world’s injustice looks like. Easter shows us what God’s justice looks like. And unless we are ready to shrug our shoulders at the world, and accept the rules of Good Friday, then we have to submit ourselves to the political transformation of God’s Easter Reversal. When we say “Jesus is Lord!” we also mean by definition that the (little l) lords of this world are not. According to Borg and Crossan, Easter is the beginning of “God’s Great Cleanup of the World.”
Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch Gospel, writes this about Easter: “The resurrection of Jesus was simply God’s unwillingness to take our ’no’ for an answer. He raised Jesus, not as an invitation to us to come to heaven when we die, but as a declaration that he himself has now established permanent, eternal residence here on earth. He is standing beside us, strengthening us in this life. The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirty, sick prisoner brothers with him.”
Easter is about our transformation – for ourselves and for the world. It is about us acknowledging what it means to confess that Jesus is Lord, and celebrating that the way of Jesus is the way of the God who created us! Easter demands that we ask that question: “which journey are we on?”
The Gospel of Luke is the story of a journey. Look at all of the time the “road” or the “trail” or the “journey” are mentioned in the book:
- Mary and Joseph journey to Bethlehem, where baby Jesus is born.
- Jesus and the disciples travel around Galilee to various towns and villages, teaching and healing.
- In Chapter 9, Jesus “sets his face toward Jerusalem” and leads the disciples to the city.
- He enters the city on a prophetic ride on a colt.
- He travels the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha to be crucified.
- On Easter afternoon, Luke’s very first story of the Risen Jesus is on a journey – on the Road to Emmaus, as he teaches and provides hope for a couple of grief-stricken disciples.
- And if you remember that the author of Luke also wrote Acts, you quickly realize that the journey continues! In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus sends the disciples on an extended journey, “to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
- According to Luke, the life of faith is a dynamic journey, the road trip of a lifetime, an adventure to be joined!
When Kimberly and I stood at the pinnacle of Mt. Lafayette, we had a choice. We didn’t have to take a detour back into the quiet hills and back to our car. We could have stayed on the Appalachian Trail for much longer than our day hike. We could have stayed on the AT for another 350 miles up to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, or turned the other direction and hiked another 1800 miles all the way to Springer Mountain in Georgia. To stay on the Appalachian Trail would have been more than a little terrifying. We didn’t have enough food, shelter, clothes. It would have been a ridiculous decision. We had no provisions. We had no shelter. But think of the sites that we would have seen! To tiptoe across the spine of the East Coast, viewing peak after peak and gorgeous view after gorgeous view!
And that is the point that I want you to hear this morning. We do indeed have provision. If we make the choice to follow this alternative path, we will be sheltered and cared for. Once we have seen the view from the top, we cannot simply settle for a trip back to the car and the parking lot and “the way things were.” The journey of Jesus is not a 40 day journey, but a lifetime of adventure, living the way we were created to live.
Throughout this whole series, there is a hymn that I have been ruminating on. Unfortunately, it is not in our hymnal, but it lives in the memories of my childhood. And perhaps some of yours. It is a fitting end to the series and invitation to our adventure of a life with Jesus. May it be our call this morning:
Living for Jesus a life that is true,
Striving to please Him in all that I do;
Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,
This is the pathway of blessing for me.
O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee,
For Thou, in Thy atonement, Didst give Thyself for me;
I own no other Master, My heart shall be Thy throne;
My life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone.