In 1968, Detective Steven McDonald was shot three times when he stopped three youths to question them in Central Park. His shooting left him a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair and breathing machine for the remainder of his life. Several months after his shooting, McDonald reported to the press that he had forgiven his shooter, and in so doing found peace and purpose in his life as he lived by the message McDonald had heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. share when McDonald was a child:
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it’s a permanent attitude.” In other words, it is something you have to work for. Just like you have to work to keep your body fit and your mind alert, you’ve got to work on your heart too. Forgiving is not just a one-time decision. You’ve got to live forgiveness, every day.”
Johann Christoph Arnold wrote a book entitled Can We Forgive Like Jesus? in which he tells the story of his friend and parishioner. Together, they visited New York high schools to talk about “Breaking the Cycle,” a program designed to help students resolve conflict through non-violence. Reflecting on the forgiveness extended by Steven McDonald to his shooter as a disciple of Jesus, Arnold wrote, “Easter is far more than a holiday or a celebration; it is power.”
On this last Sunday of Easter, I invite us to reflect on the power of Easter as we consider Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in the 17th chapter of John. Particularly, I invite us to consider what it means to live by the power of belief as defined by Jesus in John 17:6-8:
I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your world. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have believed you have sent me.
The power of Easter, believing and living with the authority of Jesus. Praying we will live with the same authority Jesus gives us to be vulnerable in our faith. The power of Easter, knowing that the words God gave to Jesus as he faced the challenges of his life are the same words God gives us as we face the challenges of our lives.
What does the power of Easter look like? The power of Easter looks like Jesus praying for his disciples who have followed him in his earthly ministry and for his disciples who will follow him in his resurrected ministry. The power of Easter looks like Father Mychal Fallon Judge, an American Franciscan friar and Catholic priest, who served as a chaplain to the New York City Fire Department, being assigned to that post in 1992. His ministry reached beyond the fire department as he ministered to the homeless, the hungry, recovering alcoholics (himself being one), people with AIDS, the sick, injured, and grieving, immigrants, and persons alienated by society. Judge once gave his winter coat off his back to a homeless woman in the street, later saying, “She needed it more than me.” When he anointed a man who was dying of AIDS, the man asked Father Judge, “Do you think God hates me? Judge picked him up … and silently rocked him in his arms.”
On September 11, 2001, upon learning that the Word Trade Center had been hit by the first of two jetliners, Judge rushed to the site where he prayed over bodies lying on the streets, then entered the lobby of the World Trade Center North Tower where an emergency command post had been organized. There he continued offering aid and prayers for the rescuers, the injured and the dead.
When the neighboring South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m., debris went flying through the North Tower lobby, killing many inside including Father Judge who suffered a heart attack. In the moment before his death, Judge was heard to be praying aloud, “Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!” Shortly after his death, Judge’s’ body was found and carried out of the North Tower by four firefighters and a police officer shortly before it collapsed at 10:28 a.m. Judge’s body was placed before the altar of St. Peter’s Catholic Church before eventually being taken by ambulance and fire department colleagues to the medical examiner where he was designated as “Victim 0001” as he was the first certified fatality.
What is the power of Easter? I invite you to hear this reflection about the power of Easter from Johann Christoph Arnold.
If the cross and resurrection are not just historic happenings but present realities, which I believe they are, then what we celebrate at Easter is the healing power of God’s forgiveness at work in our world today. God’s forgiveness can transform lives on a personal level, but it can influence events on a broader scale as well.
The Greek word that identifies the power of Easter is exousia. Found in the second verse of John 17, exousia refers to the authority that was given to Jesus by the Father.as indicated by Jesus’ looking up to heaven as he prayed in 17:1-2:
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son, so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
What does the power of Easter look like? Perhaps it is time to look up to heaven as you answer that question for your life.
The Power of Easter
by Pastor Marc Brown
May 21, 2023
Accompanying Scriptures: John 17:21:11
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for May 21, 2023
Scripture Lesson John 17:1-11
The Good News “The Power of Easter”
Music “How Great Thou Art” by Stuart Hines
Closing Music “Christ Has Ascended” by David Paxton