Nielsen Spirit of Santa Maria

Pastor Carl Nielsen is one of the honorees of the new Spirit of Santa Maria Award from the All-America Committee. He is shown in his front yard with his cat Willie Nielsen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! These are the words Christians have been proclaiming for 2000 years.

The apostle Paul reminds us that this Easter message is “of first importance.” In his letter to the Corinthians he wrote: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. These words of Paul contain three important themes of Easter.

The empty cross. We cannot truly celebrate the joy of Easter without first remembering Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross on Good Friday. The empty cross reminds us of the price Jesus paid for our sins which gives us the joy we feel today.

John Wesley reportedly saw a drunken man lying on a London street. Looking at him compassionately, he remarked, “There, but by the grace of God, am I.” How true for all of us! Where would we be without the love and mercy of God, which He has showered upon us through His Son, Jesus, our Savior. We have been saved by God’s grace.

The empty tomb. As the women came to Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter morning, they expected to anoint a dead body with spices they brought. Instead, they found an empty tomb and life-giving words, “He is not here, but has risen.” The women ran to the disciples, breathless with the unbelievable news. The tomb is empty! Jesus is risen from the dead!

The fact that women were the first eyewitnesses is remarkable. Women were not considered reliable witnesses in the first century. Like the shepherds in the Christmas story, God chose the women who were also low on the status ladder to be the communicators of the Good News. It seems God likes to use people who are considered weak or unworthy to do His work. Those who are nobodies in the world become somebodies when God uses them.

The empty heart. The women’s words were so amazing that the disciples did not believe them at first. In Luke’s account of the resurrection, the disciples thought what the women told them was “an idle tale.” They had trouble believing it. But eventually, as the risen Jesus Himself began to appear to the disciples, He made room in their empty hearts for faith, hope, joy, and love.

God can do that for you and me as well. God can redeem the tragedies, trials and failures in our lives and use them for good. God can take the Good Friday moments in our lives and make Easter miracles of them. What horrible things have happened to you that haunt or hurt you? You can give them to God and ask God to bring something good from them. God can do that. God is always doing that. Romans 8:28 tells us: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purposes.” Give your life to God and see what happens!

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast” Ephesians 2:8-9. It’s not about what we do. It’s about Christ and what He did for us. Happy Easter!

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Carl Nielsen is the Pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Santa Maria.