Sunday, March 30, 2008

John 20:19-31 - “ESPN Classic”

Second Sunday of Easter
(Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, March 30, 2008

This weekend’s other services feature the cantata, a service of music and Scripture. It is sung by our Family Singers with additional voices, and in this contemporary version, also features drama clips shown on the screens. This year’s cantata called The Sacrifice: Greater Love Has No One Than This... retraces the Passion and Resurrection of Christ—from Palm Sunday to the Last Supper to the arrest to the cross to Easter morning. In that way, today’s cantata is a bit like ESPN Classic, the cable channel that replays the greatest moments in sports.

(Play video of “NBA Classic Finals Weekend” promo courtesy of Perception NYC; click on picture to see their Website)

Today’s cantata is like ESPN Classic: it goes back to THE classic, game-winning moment in salvation history. In fact, Easter is like ESPN Classic: it’s a replay, a rerun, archive footage of the day Jesus conquered death and rose again.

When I first heard about ESPN Classic, I didn’t really understand the concept. Who was going to watch reruns of sports? Part of the excitement of sports is not knowing how it’s going to turn out. Anything might happen to change the outcome of the game.

Same with Easter, I guess. Does it make much sense to repeat the same story every year? You know who’s going to win the game. There’s no suspense. You know how the story ends. Jesus is rejected by His people, nailed to a cross and dies. Everyone figures it’s over for Jesus. Then on Sunday morning, the tomb is open, Jesus is back from dead, back and better than ever. There’s certainly some great suspense in that story the first time you hear it, but where’s the excitement when you’ve heard it before?

Well, I was certainly wrong about ESPN Classic. Sports fans like to watch classic games, reliving those moments or seeing the games they never saw in the first place. In fact, it became such a popular concept that now other channels like the NFL Network have copied the idea. Sports fans like to watch those classic games again to see what happened and how it happened.

Which is exactly why we have Easter in the Church, why we replay the Passion and Resurrection of Christ in our worship. We have the Easter Classic, because we want to go back to see what happened and how it happened.

First of all, Easter is about remembering what happened. With ESPN Classic, it’s interesting to watch a game when you can’t remember who wins. If you don’t have every season of every team memorized, watching a classic game takes you back to a pivotal moment, one which you might not know the outcome.

Sort of like ESPN Classic, some of the suspense of Easter comes because we forget the outcome; we forget who wins.

Of course, with Easter, you never really quite forget. You know it’s about Jesus. What we forget is that this victory is a truly big deal, and it means everything for us. The victory on Easter means that our sins are forgiven, we can be God’s children again and that after we die, we will live again. We forget that the outcome of Easter gives us hope in our daily lives.

That’s why we replay the Passion and Resurrection, that’s why we have Holy Week and Easter every year, that’s why we mention Jesus dying and rising again every week in worship, that’s why we have the cantata today that takes us through the whole Gospel story. It’s not that we really forget, but we forget that it changes everything about our lives.

Because of the Easter Classic, we no longer wander around in fear, confusion, and hopelessness. The Easter Classic has meant that death is defeated and victory is ours. We can have life again after we die.

Satan would love for us to forget why Easter is important. The world would rather have us focus on the Easter bunny than on the Easter Classic victory on the cross. Our sinful nature would rather spend time thinking about our own thoughts, our own problems, our own desires.

But then like a suspenseful, charging, heart-pounding, intriguing promo ad for ESPN Classic, God’s Word brings us back to the Easter Classic, back to our senses, back to the Truth that Easter changes everything about our lives, our futures, and our purpose in life. When we go back to Easter and watch again what happened, we see that Jesus dying and rising again is what gives meaning to our lives now and gives us the hope for life after the grave.

But sometimes you sit down to watch ESPN Classic, and you already know who won the game—but you want to watch those amazing last minute shots, that game-ending goal-line stand, the persistence of certain players, the game changing events that made the game a Classic. That’s the other reason we repeat the Easter story; we watch the Easter Classic just to see again how Jesus was able to pull off that victory.

So whether it’s each year going through Lent and Easter, or whether it’s today’s cantata, or whether it’s in a Bible study, worship service, or talking with friends, we go back to the Easter story, watching the story unfold again to see what makes it a classic story of divine proportions, see again just what Jesus went through, see how Jesus saved us.

We watch to see how Jesus didn’t fight back when they arrested Him, when they put Him in the penalty box. He didn’t get angry, let His disciples start a fight, didn’t try to escape; He accepted the penalty even though He did nothing wrong; He did the time in the box for the penalties of everyone else; He was arrested for our crimes.

We tune into the Easter Classic to see how in the trial Jesus admitted that He is the Son of God. It’s like a locker room interview with hard-hitting reporters pressing Jesus to talk, but Jesus only says the truth, only says a little, doesn’t try to explain it to everyone, doesn’t expect that anyone is really listening to understand anyway.

We see how the leaders had to make up stuff, in other words, cheat, in order to have Jesus put to death. They didn’t really have any indisputable evidence to overturn the ruling on the field; they didn’t really have a case against Jesus to say that He had taught falsely. So they doctored the videos, stirred up the media, started a smear campaign, got the sports talk hosts on their side, and they brought him down. So the leaders got the crowds stirred up, got some people to make false testimonies, and threatened Pilate with fears of a Jew claiming to be king.

In the Easter Classic, we see how everyone thought the game was over, the fat lady was singing, as Jesus said, “It is finished,” and breathed His last on the cross. We see how the followers of Jesus buried Him in the tomb, huddled up with no time on the clock, feeling like there wasn’t a desperation play to win the game.

But we tune in to watch this every year, watch this every Sunday, watch this over and over again, because we love to see how Jesus rose again from the dead on Sunday morning, the crowd shocked and hushed for a brief moment before exploding with cheers, excitement and hysteria. We love to see how much Easter is a true miracle, a true buzzer beater, a stupendous, unbelievable, exhilarating, tremendous, unexpected, Cinderella finish.

It’s the 16 seed beating the Number 1 seed. It’s the car 5 laps down coming back to take the checkered flag. It’s the Hail Mary pass caught for a touchdown, but of course, it should be called the Hail Jesus pass! It’s the over-the-fence catch to stop a game winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. It’s a comeback from the dead that conquers sin, death, and the devil, so that all of God’s people have the promise of eternal life through faith in Jesus—our captain, coach, team leader, superstar, first-round draft pick who used to be a walk on, practice squad member, club reject, carpenter-turned-athlete, waterboy. Yes, that’s right, the Easter Classic victory was brought to you by the One that no one thought capable of even playing the game, and yet, now He has given you the ultimate victory.

Watch the ESPN Classic promo again, and see how the narration could all apply to Jesus and Easter.

Where dreams become reality
Where teams become dynasties
Where all it takes to become a champion is just one play.

Where dreams become reality—the dream of salvation becomes a reality in the cross and resurrection, God’s hope to have His people with Him forever, our hope to escape death and eternal punishment, that dream becomes a reality in the Easter Classic.

Where teams become dynasties—the team of Jesus, His disciples, His apostles, they are the dynasty. The Church has become the dynasty, the legacy, the continuing, reigning world champions. Of course, on this team, it’s not because of anything we’ve done. We’ve just been sitting on the bench. Worse than that, we don’t even show up for practice, we’re stuck in contract negotiations, we’re hold outs from training camp, we’re suspended for breaking team rules, we’re under investigation by Congress for lying under oath. We’re sinners, and it takes Jesus to make us into a team, into the Church, into His people who carry out His mission.

Finally, the promo says, Where all it takes to become a champion is just one play. Bigger than any miracle in sports, any classic moment in the NBA Finals on ESPN Classic, bigger than all that, Jesus rose from the dead. That’s the play that makes Him THE champion. That’s the play that makes us champions. He rose from the dead so that we too can have life after death. That Easter morning is “where dreams become reality, where teams become dynasties, where all it takes to become a champion is just one play.” The Easter Classic—that’s the only Classic moment you ever truly need.