As a kid, the first hints of warmer weather made this mid-April holiday feel different than Christmas. I was excited for this "other church holiday," but I still had the residue of Christmas on my brain; images of gift-wrapped boxes placed meticulously under multi-colored lights still beckoned me. The schedule was familiar: Easter suit, Easter speech, Easter dinner. But the joy that radiated from the grown-ups in the pews and the octaves produced by their vocal cords marked this Sunday as a celebration sanctified from the rest.
The Jesus they praised on Resurrection Sunday and the Jesus they worshipped on Christmas was altogether the same yet somehow entirely different. Over thirty three years, Mary and Joseph's babe had grown in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and men. He had opposed the religious leaders, ardently exposing their hypocrisy as he compassionately healed the sick and forgave the sinners. Fully God and fully man, he had come to divide human allegiances and graft the nations into one eternal family. This Word made flesh was crucified, buried, and raised with all power in his hands. The newborn baby of Christmas now demands undisputed Lordship over our lives. We peek into the manger with wonder, but we must choose to bow before the throne in submission. Easter makes claims on the autonomy of my life that Christmas does not imply, for if Christ has conquered death, so too will we who trust in Him.
This year eighty percent of Americans will celebrate the holiday and spend a collective $20.8 billion, down slightly from last year's forecast of $21.6 billion. While the nostalgia of Easter egg hunts, family dinners, and Cadbury bunnies have their place, the risen Messiah is worth more than any treats, trinkets and traditions on memory's shelf. The resurrection, the fact that we serve a living Savior, makes his prophesied birth worth celebrating. Without that glorious morning, Jesus would be like every other impotent god humanity has fashioned in his own likeness. At best, he would be a good teacher and, at worst, a deranged lying lunatic worthy of damnation.
The meaning of Easter should never be reduced to a story for moral motivation toward good works. In fulfillment of over 300 prophecies, the death, burial, and resurrection of God incarnate is the most critical event in world history. In going to the cross, Jesus bore in his body the cumulative sin of humankind, his substitutionary death satisfying God's just consequence for transgression, and his resurrection paving the only way for men and women to come to the Father. If he had not completed this work, appearing to more than five hundred people after the tomb, we as believers are of all men to be most pitied! It is the resurrection that not only gives us hope for eternity but power in the present and forgiveness for the past.
As I reflect on the indescribable significance of Resurrection Sunday, four powerful words press deeply into my consciousness. In the disciple Matthew's account of that early morning 2000 years ago, we are told that an angel with an appearance like lightning came and rolled away the stone that had sealed the tomb three days before. A group of brave women came with spices to anoint Jesus' body, only to be greeted by this glorious messenger from heaven. "...He has risen; JUST AS HE SAID", the angel proclaimed. The resurrection was no accident or last-minute decision. Though he was seldom understood or believed by the masses, Christ predicted his death, burial, and resurrection numerous times. Even those closest to him doubted, as evidenced by their varied reactions to the tumultuous events of that weekend.
Closing my eyes, I can imagine myself beside these women, face bowed in trembling awe, shielding my eyes as the angel spoke those four words, "JUST AS HE SAID." Not an indictment of our unbelief but as an eternal decree, silencing the skeptics and reaffirming the shaken faith of his followers. After the joyous "He has Risen," these four spoken words poignantly remind me of my lack of faith, my doubt that contradicts God's proven faithfulness. Though my confidence fails at times, we have full assurance that His promises will be realized, not because of who we are but because of who He is!
Whether in churches and cathedrals, open fields, prisons, persecuted secrecy, or in languages and epochs long forgotten, followers of Christ throughout history have anticipated or remembered this day as the cornerstone of our faith. The power of the resurrection is what makes the hope of glory a certain reality and assures us of our salvation and redemption. We are sealed in Him, for He is RISEN indeed!