Easter morning always brings to mind memories of previous celebrations of the Risen Lord.
This day, this first Easter for me as a pastor, has me thinking of some of my favorite Easter memories. My memories of Easter as a child are of the traditions that the church celebrated, which are much like the ones we have here today. We would gather bright and early for the sunrise service, which was conducted from the back porch of the parsonage. (Now that I think about, that’s not a bad idea for next year.) Following the service, we would gather in the church’s Fellowship Hall for a breakfast prepared by the United Methodist Men.
Of course, the fun was then going home and getting ready to go back to church for Sunday School and Easter worship. We would put on our new suits and be warned not to eat any of our new candy so as not to ruin our new clothes. After church, we would gather around my grandmother’s table for an Easter dinner that I’m sure was filled with too much ham and too many rolls, but no one complained.
I’m sure you have memories of previous Easter celebrations that are special to you. Perhaps at some point today you thought about your first Easter with your children and remembered their amazement at all the candy in their baskets. Maybe you went back to previous Easter celebrations and different memories you have had in the church on this special day. Easter is a day we celebrate with our friends and family that Christ lives!
These memories are special and are part of what contributes to our holy celebration of the Risen Lord. Yet, I wonder if these memories, and perhaps our celebrations themselves, can become a distraction. Do we see the true meaning and purpose of Easter? Can we say that we have experienced the Risen Lord on Easter morning in a way that transforms and shapes us both today and tomorrow?
Mary Magdalene experienced something new on the first Easter morning. This reality is present in her statement, “I have seen the Lord.” It’s not a statement Mary expected to make when she arrived at Jesus’ tomb early that morning. On that Sunday morning, Mary – the other gospel narratives tell us she was with Mary, the mother of James, and Salome – came with the purpose of fully preparing Jesus’ body for his burial. After his crucifixion on Friday, his body was hastily prepared for burial because of the coming Sabbath. These three women, especially Mary, expected to see a body wrapped in funeral cloths. They did not expect to see the stone rolled away and an empty tomb.
They did not expect the resurrection, especially Mary, who was grief stricken at what she believed was a raiding of Jesus’ tomb. It wasn’t until she saw Jesus that she was able to understand what had taken place. When Jesus called her name, Mary turned and saw it was Jesus, the Risen Lord, that was beside her, not a gardener. Mary becomes the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. She is the first to see and experience the new reality that came on Easter morning. This would have been shocking for the people of that time, because a woman’s witness would have been considered invalid. Her witness is valid, and we stand as witnesses of what Mary saw, what the disciples saw, and what we have seen through faith today. The tomb is empty. Christ is not here. Jesus is alive!
On Easter morning, something amazing and beautiful took place. The resurrection is the most important day in the Christian calendar and is the climax of Jesus’ ministry. We might want to believe that it is the crucifixion that is the most important day, but without the resurrection, the crucifixion is lost to history. The resurrection of Jesus Christ informs the crucifixion and confirms all that Jesus did and continues to do through the Holy Spirit. In voluntarily raising from the dead, just as he voluntarily took on death, Jesus secures the victory over our sin and redeems humanity for a relationship with the Father.
That is what is beautiful about Easter. It’s not the candy, the flowers, and the baskets that make Easter beautiful. It is that God has created something new out of the foolishness of the cross and the amazement of the resurrection. Prior to this moment of time, the world was without true hope. It was a world that was filled with despair and, even more, a world where it believed its Lord had been unfairly killed. All that changed when Christ arose from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection redefined reality and created something new. No longer would the world be in charge. No longer would sin and death have the final say in matters. God had done something new. Jesus is the head of the kingdom of God; his resurrection secures and informs this. It proves he is both Lord and Savior. But the resurrection also says that God is restoring life back to what was desired when the world was created. God has restored humanity and creation for life and a relationship with God.
When we find that the tomb is empty, it should give us hope. It gave Mary and the disciples hope when they realized that Jesus was not dead, but is alive. When they saw the Risen Lord in their presence, it gave them confidence, faith, and trust to know that God was with them. Hope was real for them, as it should be for us, because they had seen Christ in his Glory. It transformed them from living lives of doubt and fear to living lives of hope and peace in response to their witness of Jesus’ presence. As the song states, because Christ lives, the disciples knew they could face whatever would come their way.
This is the Good News Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, says brings salvation to all who hear it. Good News such as this cannot be left on the doorstep of Easter to be ignored the rest of the year. No, instead we are called to live out the reality everyday that Christ is alive. When we’ve seen Jesus alive, when we’ve witnessed his presence, that transformation from despair to hope impacts us in such a way that we can never go back to way things were. We cannot go back to a life before we knew of the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection illuminates a way forward to living in hope, to being a people of faith, and to being a people who desire to live in response to the resurrection at all times.
When we’ve seen and witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, it calls for a response from us. We are called to live each day with the recognition that Christ lives. So often, we can say the resurrection has impact and importance everyday, and leave it like that. A vague statement of truth that has no direct impact on our lives today. What does it mean to live in response to seeing the tomb empty and the resurrected Lord each day? I think this is what it means to hold in tension the here and not yet of the kingdom of God.
We have this belief in our minds that the kingdom of God is not real for us today, because Christ has yet to return. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The kingdom of God is real for us today because Jesus is alive and sits at the right hand of God the Father. The kingdom’s realities are real for us today because of the resurrection. Easter calls us to not just live as Easter people, but people of the kingdom. The mission of the church is to live out the here of the kingdom, as people of the resurrection, as we await the fullness of the kingdom. N.T. Wright says, “The church is called to a mission of implementing Jesus’ resurrection and thereby anticipating the final new creation.” As people of the resurrection, we are called to prepare the world for Christ’s return.
This happens by living out Jesus’ words, not just in our personal lives, but in our communities and world. Jesus’ words are not just feel-good statements we hang on wall decorations, and then ignore their application. They are meaningful. They are powerful. They are challenging. We can live out the reality of his words, because Jesus is alive. Jesus’ resurrection gives authority to the church, we who are witnesses of the resurrection today, to live out his teaching and desires.
Because Jesus lives, we can be a people who proclaim hope to the hopeless. Because Jesus lives, we can proclaim rest to the tired. Because Jesus lives, we can proclaim justice in a world of injustice. Because Jesus lives, we can proclaim love to the lost and forgiveness to the sinner. Because Jesus lives, we can live with the confident assurance of knowing that our sin has been forgiven and redeemed. Jesus has won!
Friends, you have seen the resurrection. You are witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, because we stand on the witness of those who have come before us. How will you respond to seeing Christ today? Will this be another Easter where we see Christ’s resurrection, but by Monday we have forgotten what we experienced? Will this be another year where we decide Jesus’ words are not that important? Or will we leave here today and realize we cannot go back to the way things where? Something is different, and it calls us to live in response and to live out our lives as people of Easter, as people of the kingdom.
Now more than ever, I believe our communities and world need to see the church – both local and universal – believe that the resurrection matters and that Jesus’ words have importance. It does not need a church who believes the resurrection – Easter – is a cute story void of power, because that is what it has seen for too long. It needs to see the church take seriously God’s love that came in its most grand way on Easter morning.
Our Lord is risen. He is alive. We have seen it for ourselves. Are you willing to live as people of the resurrection? How will you respond today?