Prayer is Experiencing the Risen Christ

‘There was a cantankerous old man who lived with his wife in the backwoods. He was so ill-tempered, bad-mouthed, and in all other ways obnoxious and annoying that hardly anyone could stand being around him. One day the old man fell and struck his head against a rock.

‘When his wife found him, he appeared to be dead. [Now,] this all happened before morticians dared to venture up into the hills, and so there was no embalming. The widow merely summoned a few neighbors to her home. They helped her dress the body and put him in a simple casket.

‘As the dead man was being carried from the house by four men, one of them caught his foot at the gatepost and stumbled. This caused all of them to drop the coffin. The crash somehow revived the old man, and he started screaming at everyone and raising a terrible fuss.

[Well,] ‘[o]ne year later, the old man became very ill and died (again). Once more the neighbors came and prepared the body for burial. As the men picked up the simple coffin and made their way out of the house, the widow yelled at them, “Watch out for that gatepost!”’

we don’t expect to see life out of death

That poor woman was apparently not too excited about the prospect of resurrection. She didn’t want that husband of hers coming back again. Sure, it’s a funny story, but the point is serious. Do we expect to see life out of death? And, the answer is “No, we don’t expect to see life out of death.”

Let’s think about it this way: for those of our loved ones who have gone to their eternal reward, do we ever expect to an empty grave when we visit them in the cemetery or mausoleum? Do we expect to see our loved ones who have died, alive again on this earth, and empty tomb where they were? And, the answer is “No, we don’t expect to see life out of death.”

Well, for these six posts we’ve discussed prayer. We’ve asked: What does prayer mean? How does prayer make a difference for us? Can we learn to pray better, pray more, or pray with faith-filled hearts?

What does prayer mean? How does prayer make a difference for us? Can we learn to pray better, pray more, or pray with faith-filled hearts?

As we’ve talked, we’ve heard wonderful stories that confirm and reinforce the power of prayer, the need for prayer in our lives. Those stories really help us understand prayer as we have talked about prayer being protection and covenant and provision and forgiveness. The last two weeks, we talked about prayer being great  joy and great travail.

As we mentioned last week, through the travail in the dark days of our lives, the deep joy we experience reveals the fullness of God in Jesus Christ — the risen Savior; and God is waiting on the other side of travail in love and grace and mercy, waiting for us to see that risen Savior, and know that unbelievable joy. The great surprise of this joy is seeing someone raised from the dead. No one really expects to see life out of death.

Well, neither did Mary or the disciples. They did not expect to see life out of death even though they heard Jesus talk about it. “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again,” Luke 24.6. They’d heard about the life they could have in Jesus — that he was the resurrection and the life (cf. John 11.23-7) — but all they could see was death. Well, at least until they saw that empty tomb.

For whatever reason, these followers of Jesus have not remembered what Jesus told them was to happen to him, they have not remembered his words of life, they have not remembered the power of God in the Holy Spirit in Jesus. Simply put, they have not remembered who God is, that he is a God of the living, not the dead (cf. Matthew 22.29-33). So, they go looking for the living among the dead.

How often do we do that in our lives? How often do we look for the wrong things despite what we’ve been told? How many of us put things away so we can find them later? Sometimes we may not remember where we put that thing, but most of the time we do remember. We find ourselves looking for something because we know where it is.

looking for him

That’s what they were doing. They had put someone away, and they knew exactly where he was. They were looking for that Jesus they had laid in the tomb a couple of days ago. They did not expect to see life out of death. And neither do we. We don’t expect to see life where there was death. We just don’t.

When we think about praying, what we must realize is that the real challenge of prayer is conducting business with someone who is really alive, really able, really present. So often, when we think about prayer, we think about it as just something we do, rather than a way to live. And, so we go looking for answers to our needs, a kind of prayer to-do list – rather than finding him.

When we talk about prayer, we experience all the things we have discussed in prayer: protection, covenant, provision, forgiveness, great joy and great travail. We experience all those things in prayer. What we’re really experiencing is the fullness and the richness of the life of Christ. We experience the risen Christ when we take the time to pray, when we take the time to live with him.

Prayer is an experience; prayer is a life. He is not what we expect to see, though. We go looking for answers, and we discover him. The women went looking for a body in a tomb, and they discovered a living Savior.

Prayer is an experience; prayer is a life. He is not what we expect to see, though. We go looking for answers, and we discover him. The women went looking for a body in a tomb, and they discovered a living Savior.

Truth is, we find life when we find him. And the craziest thing about it is that we allow ourselves to get sidetracked on everything else – whatever is happening in our lives – but we miss the truest, fullest, deepest life we can have in him. All we really need to do is turn to him.

the incident with Jesus

There’s a story of a young lady named Laura who had spinal meningitis. Her parents were advised to leave the hospital because her death would be particularly painful. Laura heard those words, but was helpless to do anything. As her pain increased over the next two days, she felt very alone. Her eyesight began to fail. On the third day, she heard a voice on the other side of the bed telling her to turn over, but she replied she couldn’t, it was too painful. “Yes, you can, it won’t hurt,” she heard from the other side of the bed.

She turned over, and it didn’t hurt. Jesus was standing there. He touched her legs and told her things would be fine. A nurse came in later, and Laura remarked how pretty her red hair was – and of course, the hospital went into a tizzy. Doctors poured into her room to ask her questions, but she couldn’t talk to them. She knew the only one who would understand was her good friend Reverend Lang. As she told him the story, he wrote down every part. She had been told she wouldn’t live, but she did everything she wasn’t supposed to.

Several years later, she noticed in the paper that Reverend Lang was preaching at a church nearby. She went to hear him and slipped in late to the service. He was speaking about a miracle child he had known. He told about the light that encompassed the child for many days — something Laura had never known. He was telling hundreds of people about her story — a story that she had been scared to share.

Laura’s family didn’t speak about the ‘incident with Jesus’ for whatever reason — Laura says that people just didn’t speak about those things. But that’s the whole thing about the empty tomb — God in Jesus Christ told us he was going to do something, but when it happened folks were unprepared, looking for the dead among the living. Laura and her family were unprepared that life Jesus offered. And, when that life came, they were certainly thankful, but they did not expect to see life.

We must learn to look for the living Christ among the living, and expect Jesus to be alive, even in the simplest places or we will miss him. We will miss our risen, living Savior and Lord who walks with us in all things simply because we are expecting something else. We don’t expect to see life.

You know, those who experienced the risen Christ were the ones who’d spent time with him. Though challenged by a risen savior, someone who should be dead, they were the ones who got to see him. The ones spending time with Jesus are the ones who got to see him.

We are challenged by that same life we find in Christ; challenged because Jesus is more than all we can ask or imagine; challenged because so often he just wants us to turn to him; challenged because prayer is not a moment in time, prayer is time full of moments with Christ — that is, prayer is a continual experience of the life of Christ present to us, present in us. But, it’s so easy for us to miss — even when it’s right in front of us.

the child was irritating

‘Jeremy was born with a twisted body and a slow mind. At the age of 12, he was still in second grade, seemingly unable to learn. His teacher, Doris Miller, often became exasperated with him.  He would squirm in his seat, drool, and make grunting noises. At other times, he spoke clearly and distinctly, as if a spot of light had penetrated the darkness of his brain. Most of the time, however, Jeremy just irritated his teacher.

‘One day, she called his parents and asked them to come for a consultation. As the Foresters entered the empty classroom, Doris said to them, “Jeremy really belongs in a ‘special’ school. It isn’t fair to him to be with younger children who don’t have learning problems. Why, there is a five-year gap between his age and that of the other students.”

Mrs. Forrester cried softly into a tissue, while her husband spoke. “Miss Miller,” he said, “There is no school of that kind nearby.  It would be a terrible shock for Jeremy if we had to take him out of this school. We know he really likes it here.”

‘Doris sat for a long time after they had left, staring at the snow outside the window. Its coldness seemed to seep into her soul. She wanted to sympathize with the Foresters. After all, their only child had a terminal illness. But it wasn’t fair to keep him in her class. She had 18 other youngsters to teach, and Jeremy was a distraction. Furthermore, he would never learn to read and write. Why waste any more time trying?

‘As she pondered the situation, guilt washed over her. “Here I am complaining when my problems are nothing compared to that poor family,” she thought. “Lord, please help me to be more patient with Jeremy.” From that day on, she tried hard to ignore Jeremy’s noises and his blank stares.

‘Then one day, he limped to her desk, dragging his bad leg behind him. “I love you, Miss Miller,” he exclaimed, loud enough for the whole class to hear. The other students snickered, and Doris’ face turned red. She stammered, “Why…why that’s very nice, Jeremy. N-now please take your seat.”

‘Spring came, and the children talked excitedly about the coming of Easter. Doris told them the story of Jesus, and then to emphasize the idea of new life springing forth, she gave each of the children a large plastic egg. “Now,” she said to them, “I want you to take this home and bring it back tomorrow with something inside that shows new life.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Miss Miller,” the children responded enthusiastically, all except for Jeremy.  He listened intently; his eyes never left her face. He did not even make his usual noises. Had he understood what she had said about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Did he understand the assignment? Perhaps she should call his parents and explain the project to them.

‘That evening, Doris’ kitchen sink stopped up. She called the landlord and waited an hour for him to come by and unclog it. After that, she still had to shop for groceries, iron a blouse, and prepare a vocabulary test for the next day, and she completely forgot about phoning Jeremy’s parents.

‘The next morning, 19 children came to school, laughing and talking as they placed their eggs in the large wicker basket on Miss Miller’s desk. After they completed their math lesson, it was time to open the eggs. In the first egg, Doris found a flower. “Oh yes, a flower is certainly a sign of new life,” she said. “When plants peek through the ground, we know that spring is here.” A small girl in the first row waved her arm. “That’s my egg, Miss Miller,” she called out.

The next egg contained a plastic butterfly, which looked very real. Doris held it up. “We all know that a caterpillar changes and grows into a beautiful butterfly. Yes, that’s new life, too.” Little Judy smiled proudly and said, “Miss Miller, that one is mine.” Next, Doris found a rock with moss on it.  She explained that moss, too, showed life. Billy spoke up from the back of the classroom, “Daddy helped me,” he beamed.

‘Then Doris opened the fourth egg. She gasped. The egg was empty. Surely it must be Jeremy’s, she thought; and of course, he did not understand her instructions. If only she had not forgotten to phone his parents. Because she did not want to embarrass him, she quietly set the egg aside and reached for another.

your egg is empty

‘Suddenly, Jeremy spoke up. “Miss Miller, aren’t you going to talk about my egg?” Flustered, Doris replied, “But Jeremy, your egg is empty.” He looked into her eyes and said softly, “Yes, but Jesus’ tomb was empty, too.”

‘Time stopped. When she could speak again, Doris asked him, “Do you know why the tomb was empty?” “Oh, yes,” Jeremy said, “Jesus was killed and put in there, then his Father raised Him up.” The recess bell rang. While the children excitedly ran out to the schoolyard, Doris cried. The cold inside her melted completely away.

‘Three months later, Jeremy died. Those who paid their respects at the mortuary were surprised to see 18 eggs on top of his casket, all of them empty.’

That has to be one of my favorite Resurrection Sunday stories. I never get tired of telling about Jeremy; and I know this young man has impacted all kinds of folks by bringing an empty egg to school for show-and-tell.

When we don’t pray, we don’t really live. When we don’t pray, we’re like Mrs. Miller — we miss the truth right in front of us. We really miss him, the risen savior.

Yet, this is the truth that is the foundation and hope of our lives. All the times we kill ourselves working the land, building our houses, missing church because of work or play, giving over prayer time, Bible study — all these times mean nothing set up against the truth of the empty tomb — set up against the truth of what is not there. It’s not practical; it doesn’t make sense. It takes a crippled kid, a wonderstruck teacher, and 18 students paying tribute to tell us the truth. It takes a risen Savior saying, “Turn to me” or calling us by name.

We can mistake Jesus for the gardener, we can mistake our lives for something that resembles the truth, we can mistake the work of the Lord like that teacher did — or we can know the truth, we can know Jesus. It’s the kind of truth that sends us running from the tomb to proclaim, “He’s alive.”

Those who experienced the risen Christ were the ones who’d spent time with him. Though challenged by a risen Savior, someone who should be dead, they were the ones who got to see him.

That’s the great challenge, to spend time with him. We are challenged because so often he just wants us to turn to him; challenged because he doesn’t want us to miss him; challenged because prayer is not a moment in time; no, prayer is time full of moments with Christ. Prayer is a continual experience of the life of Christ present to us, present in us.

It’s the kind of truth that challenges us everyday. It’s the kind of truth that should rule our lives, but so often we won’t let it. We can know the truth, we can know Jesus, we can know his voice just like Mary did. And it’s this an empty tomb and all that is not there. There is nothing to see but life, nothing to experience but this risen Christ.

A text for the table: John 20.1-18.

Credits: “Resurrection of Jesus,” “Cemetery Tombstones in Colorado,” “Children’s Ward,” and “Jeremy’s Empty Easter Egg.”