My wife, Ione, and I were the first passengers to board our flight. I was wearing clerics since I was on my way to preach. Someone must have forgotten to alert the crew that passengers were boarding because a flight attendant was sound asleep in my seat. I leaned over him and with a loud voice commanded, "Arise from the dead."
He shot up out of the seat. He wasn't sure if he was dreaming as the next words would be "earth to earth, dust to dust."
In Ephesians 5:14 we read: "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
This is the good news we proclaim and believe — God is always waking us, bringing us to life. In Christ we are always being made new.
What is life? It may sound like a question for philosophers. But I believe it is a question we ask for ourselves and often use to make judgments about others.
We say "that is no life" or "that is no way to live." Certain Scriptures give us words of warning. "Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise ..." (Ephesians 5:15).
But what about those searching, sometimes haunting, moments when we say about our lives, "This is no way to live. This is no life"? Perhaps it is when competing responsibilities and demands become overwhelming. You find no time or energy to tend to your faith, family, friends or future. You fall into bed exhausted, thinking "this is no way to live."
Or perhaps your life is empty. You long for some responsibility but your life has had losses — death of loved ones, the burden of unemployment, chronic illness, exclusion because of your age, race or gender. You, too, find yourself lamenting: "This is no way to live."
What does it mean to live wisely as the writer of Ephesians instructs us? Is such wisdom common sense, spiritual insights or accumulated knowledge? Ephesians says it is understanding God's will. God does God's good and gracious will in Jesus. Wise living is living in Christ. It is the baptismal life in the promise of Jesus' death and resurrection.
Jesus was very clear when he addressed the crowd gathered for worship in Capernaum: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51).
Jesus was not describing some mystical, spiritual life. Jesus was talking about a real flesh and blood life, a fully human life, lived in and for this world — his life.
What got Jesus into trouble, and finally crucified, was that he constantly offered this life to those whom religious people were judging as having no life and those who recognized that about their own life — Nicodemus at night, the Samaritan woman at the well, Lazarus in his tomb.
God raised Jesus from the dead. The very God who has claimed you for life in Jesus Christ. The God who mercifully forgives you when you make mistakes. The God who steadfastly loves you when your life seems empty.
Waking the flight attendant from a dead sleep led to interesting conversations. He talked about a recent change in vocation. Other flight attendants began to talk about sin and guilt and why they had left the church. It was clear they had not gotten the message that God is not in the sin-accounting business. They had not heard or believed that Jesus brings them to life — a life of faith. Two brought me slips of paper with sins for which they asked for forgiveness.
I began to think about the people each of us encounters in daily life, maybe in our congregation. Perhaps we ourselves are longing for a life of mercy and meaning, a life of forgiveness in faith, a life restored and reconciled. We know the feast for the famished to which all are welcome — where all are fed the bread of life, Jesus the Christ.
Oh yes, may the good news be our resounding witness — "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you."
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers