For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light - for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
What a perfect theme for a Lenten devotional. We walk through this life half-asleep, barely conscious of the glories all around us. The darkness seems to wrap us up, and we drowse through the sunrise.
The wonderful thing about this passage from Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus is that it has the potential to remind us that worship precedes Scripture; that the assembled church comes before the Bible, living into the Living Word even before the words of God are put down on papyrus or vellum or paper or pixels.
Most students of the New Testament agree that Paul is quoting an early hymn of the church, and one that emphasizes baptism, at that. It could be a reference to Isaiah, and the Koine Greek doesn't have handy punctuation to make us as certain as the NRSV or ESV might that this is a quoted passage, but the consensus is there. "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." It reads and feels like a familiar hymn Paul knows he can quote to the Ephesians the way he could have to Ohioans "calling to you, and to me, come home, come home.” We'd know what he's talking about.
The waters of baptism, which some fortunate few will experience at Easter, are a participation in the death of Jesus, and the resurrection of the Christ. Laid down in the waters like one going to sleep, and raised up like someone whose alarm is going off on the bedside table, sitting up to face the day. Awake, alert, and ready to get going.
The light is shining, the birds are singing, Christ is opening up the door to new life, and it's time to get out of bed. There are always so many reasons to stay in bed: giants outside, evil kings and faithless princes rule, wanton dancers ask for the head of our friends while our own friends betray us. Pull up the covers and stay asleep.
But if we know someone is coming to pick us up at 7:30; if there's a friend who has promised to stand with us in court; when people are counting on us and we know what has to be done – you get up. You get out of bed. You make your dang bed. And you find the inner resources to get up and get going.
"Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine . . . in, and on, and through you.” Before doctrine and theology and memory verses and textual criticism, the gathered Christian community came together and sang as someone beloved of God who had come to realize that they are indeed beloved is raised up out of the waters, and with one voice they, we, all of us sing: "Sleeper, awake!”
And shaking the water from our ears, rubbing the sleep from our eyes, stretching out our arms and standing up, if wobbly, on our own two legs, we arise. Each new day is a resurrection, and a down payment on the promise of new life yet to come in full. When we, with Jesus, will die; and so shall we, with Christ, rise again.
Pastor, Newark Central Christian Church
The full Lenten Devotional Booklet can be downloaded by clicking HERE.