There is more to life than life and death.  So much of our cultural attention is focused on squeezing the most out of life and easing one’s death that Easter always comes as a welcome shock.  The first simple sermon “He is risen” was a game changer.  It was so shocking Jesus’ disciples could not believe it at first.  When the truth settled into their hearts, they became cultural misfits.  The truth they knew changed the way they experienced life and changed what they feared.  Before this truth took hold of them they feared death.  They feared being ostracized and persecuted by people they had grown up to respect and love.  But this truth set them free from worldly fears and frustrations.  Jesus had risen from the dead.  Death was defeated, eternal life was true and available to Jesus’ disciples.

Their world view changed.  Their paradigm shifted big time.  Describe it any way you like.  This news changed their hearts and drove all the behaviors that flowed out of their hearts.  This is new life.  Those of us who call ourselves Christians struggle to live fully in the new life. We seek to find our way into the mystery of living in the world but not being of it.  We often find ourselves betwixt and between and so the message of Easter hits us like a sweet shock.  The further our hearts and behaviors reflect the truth of Jesus’ resurrection the less surprising the message of Easter is.  The degree to which we have settled into the world’s understanding of life and death is the degree that the message of Easter is alien to our lives. It comes as a shock.  Like an unexpected light shower on a scorching day, it intrudes into our life with a refreshing promise of a better life.

The Apostle Paul wrote of this tension in his own life.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.  (Romans 7:21-25)

Paul’s distinction between flesh and spirit is another way of describing the tension that we know so well.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the message of Easter would take such total root in our hearts and minds that we could live in complete freedom and joy, unburdened by the temptations to an earthly life that call to us daily.  The ever present rich irony is of course that the degree that we are free in Christ is the degree that we truly enjoy God’s created world and our time in it.  Our faith is not magic.  We are changed and transformed by the renewing of our minds.  The truth of Jesus’ resurrection sets us free, but we must learn to live freely.  The struggle with temptation is the training we receive for eternal life.  We must learn to both believe and act in belief.  As Paul writes later in Romans 10:10, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

If our lives do not conform to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection we live a sort of Christian half life.  And so we have Lent, a season of repentance for the myriad ways we choose death over life.  Why do we choose the pleasures of this earthly life over the joy of a life lived with God?  We choose to do the things we know God does not want for us.  We are driven by dreams of fulfillment that offer temporary satisfaction but always disappoint us.  We live compromised lives.  Lent reminds us that we have a choice.  We can choose to grow more Christlike. We can choose life.  We can live more into God and really enjoy the fruit of God’s Creation.

This is Easter Preparation: to honestly examine the truth of our lives in the light of the hope of a life lived with God, and choose to love God more than life.