Easter and CSI
APRIL 5, 2017
Last night we watched a CSI: Miami episode. There was a scene that took place in the old Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key along the Rickenbacker Causeway out to Key Biscayne. It used to be a premier venue for concerts, boat races and special events. From the almost 7,000 seats you can look out at the Bay and see the magnificent Miami skyline. In that episode, the camera captured the dilapidated state of what was once a breathtaking and beautiful place.
In 1992, right after Hurricane Andrew, the stadium was declared unsafe and abandoned. While there has been an engineering study showing the stadium is sound, nonetheless it has remained closed to the public since the hurricane, becoming a haven for vandals and graffiti artists. Everywhere you look, there is rust, decay, graffiti, garbage and dirt. I understand that there has been an effort on the part of some Miami leaders to restore the stadium; but so far, it stands there forlorn, sad and broken-down.
As we watched CSI, I couldn’t help but remember the many times I had sat in those seats. For a number of years the church I then pastored sponsored the annual Greater Miami Easter Sunrise Service. We were in the background and only a few knew we were the sponsors, but we found the speakers, hired the musicians, handled the finances, provided the ushers and support, and rejoiced at what God did in those services. It was a perfect setting for a sunrise service where we could watch the sun slowly rise over Miami, during the service, as we worshiped the risen Christ.
In those days the sunrise service was aired live on television and radio. I remember one particular Easter morning when Dr. Francis Schaeffer—a well-known Christian theologian, philosopher, best-selling author and founder of the L’Abri community in Switzerland—was the speaker. At the time, Dr. Schaeffer was struggling with cancer. Anna and I visited Dr. Schaeffer in Switzerland when his physical issues were so difficult that he was mostly bedridden. For a period, Dr. Schaeffer recovered and we persuaded him to come to Miami to speak for the sunrise service. We advertised it as “A man who came back from the dead will talk about another man who came back from the dead.”
The stadium was packed. I’ll never forget Dr. Schaeffer walking over to the television cameras broadcasting the service, pointing to them, and saying, “If those cameras had been there that first Easter morning, they would have recorded a gigantic stone being rolled away from a tomb and a dead man walking away.”
That’s true. I love Easter because first, it hasn’t been co-opted by pagans; and second, it stands at the very center of the Christian faith. The evidence shows that it really happened the way Dr. Schaeffer said. Paul put it this way: “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 19-20).
Why so much emphasis on the Resurrection?
The Resurrection is an exclamation point for everything Jesus demonstrated and taught. It really isn’t a big deal when a religious figure talks about religious things. That’s what religious people do. But if that person got out of a grave after he was stone cold dead, only very shallow and silly people will ignore what he taught. Jesus said that we are loved by God (Oh yeah, it doesn’t feel like it sometimes), forgiven (You don’t know what I’ve done) and valuable (Nobody else thinks so). But aside from our feelings, what he taught is true.
I’ve told you before how my late mentor and friend, Fred Smith, showed for his own funeral. Just before I got up to speak, I looked up and there was Fred grinning on the big screen. (He had recorded the video shortly before his death.) “Seeing as how there are so many people here,” Fred said, “it would be a shame for me not to say something.”
Fred was an incredible communicator; but I don’t think I could remember a time when people listened more intently to what he said than after he died. Jesus too! Only, in the case of Jesus, it wasn’t a video. It was the real deal.
But there is more. If Jesus isn’t providing fertilizer for flowers outside Jerusalem, then the darkness and meaninglessness that we all encounter dissipates in the light of an “echo of eternity.” Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Camus—the late French atheist and existentialist—said that the only issue for the thinking person is the question of suicide. He subscribed to the “men must work, and women must weep…and the sooner it’s over, the sooner to sleep” philosophy. But Camus was also fascinated by Christ, as well he should have been. It is the only place where men don’t just work and women don’t just weep. It’s the place where they laugh and dance in the dark, aware that they are valuable and their lives have meaning.
And then, of course, Jesus didn’t just die and come back from the dead. He said we could too! “And everyone who lives and believes in me,” Jesus said, “shall never die” (John 11:26). You can hang your hat on that because the only One who has been there and come back to talk about it said so. If you want to know about the law, talk to a lawyer; or about religion, talk to me. If you want to know about philosophy or engineering, talk to a philosopher or an engineer. But if you want to know about death, there is only one place you can go…and that’s to the dead man, Jesus, who got out of his grave and came back to talk about it.
Yeah, Christians make a big deal out of Easter. That’s because in a very dark world, that’s where the light is. Throughout the world, persecution of Christians is on the rise. The world is divided by war, hatred and devastation. In America they have given social media microphones over to incredibly loutish and hate-filled rhetoric. Moral absolutes have been turned on their head, and the definitions of right, wrong, good, bad, hate and love have been revised and updated. As Cyprian, the third century bishop of Carthage, wrote to his friend: “It really is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. Yet in the midst of it, I have found a quiet and holy people…They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians…and I am one of them.”
As I watched CSI and saw the dilapidated stadium, it became almost a metaphor of the dark and corruption in the world. And then I thought about an old song from the 50’s, “This Ole House,” written by Stuart Hamblen and made popular by Rosemary Clooney.
The lyrics apply to the stadium, the world and, of course, to us…especially at Easter:
This ole house once rang with laughter
This ole house heard many shouts
Now she trembles in the darkness
When the lightnin’ walks about
Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer
Ain’t a-gonna need this house no more
Ain’t got time to fix the shingles
Ain’t got time to fix the floor
Ain’t got time to oil the hinges
Nor to mend no windowpane
Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer
She’s a-getting’ ready to meet the saints
So this Easter in the dark, there is light…clear, bright and reassuring.