The human spirit has within it an irrepressible longing for a better life. We were originally intended to live in a garden paradise and enjoy God every day forever. But when our ancestors, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God the world was plunged into sin. As a result, we often have an odd hybrid within ourselves of genuine spiritual longing and just plain selfish desires. We are primarily motivated by our vision of what the “good life” is. For example, if we believe that power, control, and recognition constitute the good life, we will seek to gain whatever titles and positions we can to leverage and live that good life. If we believe that health, safety, and security are the best means of the good life, we will work hard to make as much money as we can in order to pad our bank accounts for the feeling that all is well in my world. If we believe the good life centers in faith and family, we will make sacrifices on behalf of church and family members in order to have some sort of satisfaction of a life well-lived.
All of these options concerning what we understand as the good life motivate us to do what we do, and say what we say. However, in the process of pursuing our vision of the good life, we might discover we been pursuing a pipe dream that has not produced what we thought it would. What is more, in order to achieve our vision of the good life we may have did or said some bad things that have left us ashamed and holding secrets that we hope no one will ever know. Our lives can feel like some sort of prison where we are locked behind bars of shame and despondency. Deep down we know there is more to life than paychecks and obtaining more and more stuff. We feel the sense that there really has to be something more than just sitting in a church pew. There has to be more to rolling my eyes at family re-unions. We might feel trapped in routines and rhythms of life that only re-enforce our constant ruts and habits.
Actual prisoners, probably more than anyone, feel the longing for life outside the penitentiary which is the reason for prison breaks. In the history of failed prison breaks, maybe the one that ranks as the worst attempt was a prisoner years ago at the old San Quentin prison. His plan for freedom involved hiding in a dirty laundry bin, and when the laundry company came to empty the bins they would empty him along with the laundry and he would drive right through the prison gates in the laundry truck to the outside world. There was only one problem with his brilliant plan: the laundry trucks never left the prison property; they just shuttled back and forth between the prison buildings. After a stinky ride, the prisoner went back to his cell and continued his sentence, having gotten nowhere.
We might think we are going somewhere in our pursuit of the good life only to find that we are still imprisoned, locked away in a cell of shame, doubt, and fear, afraid of what others may think if they knew our past or our current struggles.
But what if someone really did break out of prison? And what if that someone not only broke out but came back as a liberator? God in the person of Jesus Christ became a prisoner with us. He entered this world with all of humanity’s misguided ideas and failed attempts at the good life. Jesus talked about a different place, a beautiful kingdom in which there was love, forgiveness, and healing – a garden paradise of peace and satisfaction. And he didn’t just talk about it – he lived it. Jesus actually loved unlovely people, forgave sins, and healed people.
But then something horrible happened. This Jesus who provided his followers with a beautiful vision of the good life was sent to the electric chair. All the talk of breaking out and taking them with him just died, literally. This is exactly how the disciples felt in those three days after the death of Jesus. Their dreams of the good life were dashed, and they didn’t know what to do.
But that isn’t the end of the story. With complete humility in facing death was an equal authority over death itself. Jesus rose from the dead! The prisoners can hardly believe it; he’s alive! There really is new life beyond these prison walls of sin, evil, shame, and death. Broken lives can be healed!
The whole wonderful story hinges on three words in our English translations (Matthew 28:6) – he has risen (which is actually one word in the original Greek). One little word has completely changed the course of history – and of our individual lives. There is freedom in Jesus Christ!
It meant freedom for people like Mary Magdalene. Mary was delivered from seven evil spirits (Luke 8:2), and had lived a life far from God and was imprisoned in shame and dishonor. The deliverance she experienced changed her life. It was Mary who was there when Jesus died. It was Mary who was there early Sunday morning at the graveside of Jesus. Two women and no one else were there (Matthew 28:1). Why them? Because God wants to prove once for all that he relates to us all by grace and not by our achievements.
The power of the resurrection means that broken lives can be restored; no one need live in a cell of shame and insecurity any longer. There is a little Mary Magdalene in all of us; we all carry secrets that we are ashamed of that leave us feeling vulnerable and afraid. The issue is whether we will let Jesus free us from our prison, or instead go about pursuing our vision of the good life that believes if we just get into a laundry bin we can get outside the prison gates and into freedom by our own ingenuity.
For spiritual prisoners who have been set free, nothing can prevent God from being with them in the person of Jesus – not failure, not sin, not other people’s evil, and not even death itself. There is victory in Jesus Christ.
We no longer need to be defined by our past sins. We no longer need to worry about what other people will think. It doesn’t matter because Christ’s resurrection has changed everything. So, let Jesus lead us into his agenda of the good life – a life of unconditional forgiveness and radical openness; and, a life of joyful obedience to all of Christ’s teaching. It is all possible by giving our lives unreservedly to him.
May Easter be for you and me a powerful reality to live into every day.