Awake, O sleeper

Easter's wakeup call brings us back to life

Mar 26, 2018 by

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When a congregation has a lot of funerals in a short time, the shadow of death looms large. At the same time, the light of the Resurrection shines. Darkness and light, sorrow and hope, compete for power over our hearts and minds. Which will win?

Easter holds the answer.

First Mennonite Church of Newton, Kan., recently had funerals for nine members in nine weeks. “Celebrations of life,” we sometimes call them. To be honest, we are mourning, too.

But most of all, when we gather to celebrate and grieve, we are learning how to live. Memories of the life that has ended teach us how to find light for our own path.

There’s something about a funeral, the culture of the occasion, that brings out the best in us. We become the kind of people who go out of our way to tell others how much we appreciate, even love, them. Who reconnect with friends we haven’t seen in years and catch up on what’s happened in our lives. Who tell a man a story about his father and hear him reply, “I can’t get enough of stuff like that.”

Within this funeral culture, death’s dark shadow transforms into a bringer of light. Surrounded by people being the best versions of themselves, we experience a way of living that draws us closer to others and to God. Coming face to face with death, we see the way to live more fully.

The event of Easter — Jesus Christ’s Resurrection — is the source of this light. In Eph. 5:14, we read that the early Christians had a saying — perhaps it was a song — that poetically expresses how the light of Christ animates us: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”

In other words, Scripture’s alarm clock says it’s time to wake up. Taking part in “the unfruitful works of darkness” is like being asleep, or even dead. It’s time to come alive to the world in which the risen Jesus Christ is Lord, the sun is shining, and it’s a beautiful day to “walk as children of light.”

What’s more, the wakeup call is urgent. Time is running out. Those who walk in the light must “redeem the time, for the days are evil,” the Apostle Paul goes on to say. Sooner or later, for each of us, the clock will stop ticking. No one likes to think about our own death, but at a funeral it crosses our mind: Someday, people will gather to remember me. What will they say? How much time do I have? Am I making the most of it?

It would be a terrible waste to spend our limited days in a deadly sleep. Easter is the wakeup call. It’s the time to sing some Alleluias and let Easter revive our life. If we gave something up for Lent, why not take something up for Easter? Something that brings us back to life — a life that’s moving into God’s hopeful future, the reign of Christ, present today and yet to be fulfilled.

One person who died during First Mennonite’s extraordinary run of funerals this winter was a man who lost his son to cancer a few years ago. The tragedy led him to claim God’s promises in a way he never had before. “I want to see my son again,” he said, and requested baptism. The story of his late-in-life renewal of faith became a testimony to those who gathered to remember him. Today we believe Rich Denno is indeed reunited with his son Neal. We believe this because the God who raised Jesus from the dead has promised to do the same for each of us.


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