We, as Americans, love sports. It is really amazing how much we as a whole enjoy them. It does not matter what kind of sport you like, you can probably find one to be a fan of. As an example, Indianapolis has a professional team in football, basketball, baseball, women’s basketball, soccer, and even flat track roller derby. The city has also hosted professional tournaments in golf, bowling, tennis, gymnastics, swimming, and diving. That does not mention anything about the fact that the city is the racing capitol of the world. How much we love sports is shown by how much we spend on it. The NFL as a whole for instance, makes around $9.5 billion annually. Major League Baseball is not far behind, pulling in $9 billion a year. This does not even mention the appeal of college sports, and if your bracket got as busted as mine this year then you know how exciting and how much of a fan base sports at that level has. We love sports. Last summer, I went with a friend to Buffalo Wild Wings in Columbus to watch USA play Germany in the world cup. The place was packed. Every seat was full and the bar had standing room only. Every single one of their 30 some TVs had the game on, and everyone was there for the specific purpose to watch that game. I do not know if you have ever been in that kind of environment, but that atmosphere is electric. Every person in that room was cheering for the same crowd. Every big play, every bad call, every moment of excitement ignited the room. This experience helped me realize one of the reasons why we love sports so much. Sports give us a reason to celebrate. When a team wins, their fans go wild, they celebrate, and they are swept up in joy. There are a lot of reasons why we might be drawn to a particular sport, but I think the reason we pick teams to cheer for is because we like to celebrate.
Of course, sports is not the only thing we celebrate. We celebrate birthdays, we celebrate life accomplishments, and if you are meteorologist Jim Cantore you celebrate thunder snow. Thunder snow, a thunder clap during a snow storm is a fairly rare weather occurrence. Cantore happened to be broadcasting when this happened this past winter, and his reaction perfectly captures what it means to celebrate, have a look.
Celebrating is an outburst. We celebrate when an overwhelming joy escapes us and overtakes us. We are quick to celebrate when our team wins the big game, but we are less quick to celebrate more important things. For instance, when we says “Christ the Lord is risen!” why do we not go bananas like we would if a 3 pointer buzzer beater just won the game? There is a stereotype that Christians are super serious, dour, and no fun. Unfortunately, we have reinforced this stereotype a bit too much. There is a time and place in approaching worship as a time of solemnity and quiet awe. However, we should worship with joy just as much with reverence. On the night that he gave himself up for us, one of the last things that Jesus told his disciples is recorded in John 15:11. Jesus said “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
For the past several weeks we have been considering spiritual disciplines. Practices that enhance and deepen our faith. We have focused on growing deeper on God through bible study. We lifted giving thanks as a spiritual discipline. We recognized that confession is an important spiritual act. We noticed that times of silence and solitude are important to our faith lives, and we declared that intentional worship is necessary for us. Today, we consider one final spiritual discipline, and that is celebration. As an Easter people, who claim a risen Lord, celebration is vital to having a vibrant and abundant life.
In many ways Easter Sunday, should be the height of Christian celebration, so it is a bit ironic that on that first Easter morning there was very little celebration. Did you catch what happened in this morning’s scripture? The women show up at the tomb, they find the stone roll away and they see honest to goodness angels. Even better, the angels tell them that Jesus is not there, that he is risen and has gone ahead of them back to Galilee. Given this amazing sight and this incredible news? What do the women do? Do they celebrate? Do they run through the streets overwhelmed with joy? No. They are bewildered, and they tell no one because they are afraid. If celebration is an outburst of joy, then what the women do early in the morning is the exact opposite they suppress the good news out of fear.
What I find really interesting, is that this is how the gospel of Mark ends. It ends with “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. Now it is true that if you look at your Bible, Mark continues until verse 20. However, you will also find footnotes that say the “earliest manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not contain verses 9-20.” Most biblical scholars believe that the second or third generations of Christians were uncomfortable with Mark ending on a down note, so they tacked on verses 9-10, and then later 11-20 to give Mark a happy ending and line up more with the ending found in the other gospels. However, the gospel originally ended with verse 8 on purpose. From a literary standpoint, ending with the women saying nothing out of fear is a challenge to the reader. We are challenged with the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news that death has lost its sting, and that sin has been defeated. We are challenged with what we are going to do with that good news? Do we suppress it out of fear or do we celebrate, do we proclaim our joy?
Which do you do? Do you suppress or celebrate the good news? How quick are you to share the good news that we are saved by faith through Jesus Christ? Are you quick to celebrate, does the joy that good news create in you just burst out of you? Or are you more likely to be silent, to keep it to yourself because you do not want to offend, you do not want to be ridiculed for your beliefs, or you do not want to “start something?” The story goes that a young boy had a stuffed bear that he loved very much. Since he was the youngest baby, this boy had the bear with him everywhere he went. As the boy got reached the age of 6, his parents were a bit concerned that he may be getting to old for such a toy, but at the same time knew how much joy it brought their son and they did not see any real issue with it. One day, the boy was sitting on the porch playing with his bear while the mom was inside on the phone. When the mom finished her phone call, she went back outside to discover her son crying quietly and the stuffed bear missing. She asked “What happened?” The boy motioned to the neighbor boy, a few years older walking away, and said “he took it away.” Getting angry the mom asked “He took your bear?” “No”, the boy replied and motioned to the bush where the stuffed bear had been discarded into. “He laughed at me and told me that only little babies played with stuffed animals. He made fun of me.” The boy wailed as he continued, “he took my joy away! “
On that first Easter morning, the women who came to the tomb allowed the Romans, and the religious leaders who crucified Jesus to take their joy away. Instead of celebrating the risen Lord, they were still fearful. In the same way we have allowed the culture to take our joy away. Instead of celebrating the grace and love that saves us, we keep it to ourselves because we are told it is old fashioned, that our beliefs are simply superstitions, or that we are closed minded. Growing up, one of the biggest lessons that my mom taught me is that no one can control how I feel. Other people can do things and say things, but how I choose to feel and react to those things is in my control. When I was little and another child would say something to get a reaction out of me, my mom would tell me that it was my choice to get angry and do what they wanted or let their insults roll off my back. In the same way we have a choice. In light of a culture that is somewhat belligerent to our faith, we have the choice to be fearful or celebrate.
Thankfully, the Easter story does not end in the morning with the women leaving fearful. The other gospels give a more complete picture with Mary Magdalene returning to the tomb, the disciples going to the tomb, and Jesus appearing on the road to Emmaus. After that fateful first resurrection day, the disciples did indeed celebrate. They proclaimed the joy the good news they had brought them with boldness, not timidity. Compare the attitude of fear present from the Mark scripture, with Peter’s declaration of the gospel to a gentile and unbelieving audience. From Acts 10:34-43:
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
That is the good news of the gospel! That is what we believe! Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to celebrate that good news. We need to celebrate that death is no longer the end, we need to celebrate that by the blood of the lamb, and we are saved! We are reunited with God and surrounded by his great love. We need to celebrate that there is nothing (absolutely, positively NOTHING) that can separate us from that love. We are forgiven, our sins and regrets wiped clean forever. How wonderful is that? How much joy does that cause in your heart? That joy should be bursting out of us. We should be celebrating because Christ the Lord is risen today!
We need to celebrate the good news because our souls and hearts need celebration. In his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction Eugene Peterson writes, “We try to get [joy] through entertainment. We pay someone to make jokes, tell stories, perform dramatic actions, sing songs. We buy the vitality of another’s imagination to divert and enliven our own poor lives. The enormous entertainment industry in America is the sign of the depletion of joy in our culture.” There is nothing intrinsically wrong with entertainment, but I think Peterson has a valid point. Life is hard and life is not fair. There is so much that can deplete joy, which can make it hard to celebrate. We get pulled down by financial difficulties, we get pulled down by broken relationship, and we get pulled down by a bleak medical diagnosis. We need joy. This is why celebration is a spiritual discipline. It is a practice that we need to be intentional about in our lives. We need to regularly be reminded that Christ, not death, is victorious, and that the grave has lost its sting. We need to be reminded that no matter how hard life gets, we have a reason to celebrate, and we have a reason for joy. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes about celebration that “celebration can be an effective antidote for the temporary sense of sadness that can constrict and oppress the heart.” When we take time to celebrate the fact that God loves us so much that he paid the ultimate price to redeem us, how can we not feel joy. When we celebrate it puts everything in perspective. Even though we may be walking through the valley of darkness, celebrating reminds us, that there is a Light of the World that no amount of darkness can snuff out. We are reminded that no matter how hard the difficulty, no matter how bleak the outlook, no matter how hopeless we may feel we always, always have a reason to find joy. That is this: God loves us and he proved this love through Jesus his son, the risen Lord.
In Philippians 4:4 Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” As Christ followers, as an Easter people, may we be joyful. May we not let people, the culture, or our circumstances take our joy away. Instead, may we choose to celebrate. May we celebrate the gospel, and may that outpouring of joy flood all aspects of our lives. May we be known, as an Easter people, as enthusiastic followers of Jesus the Christ, and may that enthusiasm lead us to proclaim the good news whenever and wherever we go.