Background Scripture: John 20:1-23. Devotional Reading: Psalms 31:1-5.
We all probably know the story of Easter – or think we do. But if we read the accounts in Matthew 28:1-20, Mark 16:1-89, Luke 24:1-49, and John 20:1-29, we may get frustrated in putting the pieces together. Assuming that the four Easter accounts are based on original eyewitness reports, we should not expect complete uniformity. In fact, I believe that the difference of details conforms to what we have discovered about eyewitness accounts in other events. They will differ because individuals tend to see, interpret, and understand things somewhat differently.
So, the “how” of these experiences may vary, but the impact and meaning of Easter is signaled by Mary Magdalene’s testimony that “I have seen the Lord” ( Jn. 20:18) and the later responses of the disciples, “We have seen the Lord” ( Jn. 20:25). But what does it mean to “see the Lord”? Although Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ closest followers, when she first encountered him at the tomb she did not recognize him. It was only when he said to her, “Mary!” that she responded “Rabbouni” ( Teacher ). In John 12:29, Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify thy name,” and “a voice came from heaven…The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder.” Some heard the voice of God; others said it thundered. All were eyewitnesses.
CROSS AND CROWN
There has long been controversy between those who depict the cross with the crucified Christ upon it and those who argue that only an empty cross should symbolize the meaning of Easter. As in many disputes, I think both the cross with Christ on it and the cross that is bare should be the focus for all Christians. Without the crucifixion there would have been no Easter. Without Easter, Good Friday would have been the bitter end. In fact, the saga of Jesus’ life requires an Incarnation, a Palm Sunday, a Good Friday, an Easter, and a Pentecost. Take out one element and the rest become irrelevant. L.P. Jacks said, “One trouble with the churches is that too many people want to have Easter without Calvary.” It really can’t be done.
While Good Friday focuses us on the price that Jesus paid, Easter reveals to us what that sacrifice means for Christ and us. Ralph Sockman, one of the great men of the pulpit in my student days, says: “Something happened on Easter Day which made Christ more alive on the streets of Jerusalem 40 days after his crucifixion than on the Day of his Triumphant Entry.” Jesus was alive again in Jerusalem – not as before, but now in a and resplendent way – and that new life is not for him alone, but us as well. Phillips Brooks, author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” reminds us that the glory of the resurrection is more than assurance that we can live forever, but rather that we can “live life nobly now because we are to live forever.” The resurrection gives us both a promise and marching orders.
Easter is not a matter of presenting evidence that Jesus was risen from the dead – something that should not and cannot be scientifically proven – but evidence of what happened because of the experiences of those who encountered him. Today’s statistics about almost anything may be renounced tomorrow, but the transformation of Jesus’ disciples cannot be denied. The message of Easter is not just that with God we may live eternally, but that because of this promise we will live a resurrected life with him in the here and now. Easter’s proof is not in scientific litmus tests, but in the resurrected lives of those who embrace the resurrected Lord.
AFTER BLACK FRIDAY
The Easter message is not that we must forget the crucifixion, but that we are to see the crucifixion and resurrection of a two-part truth. Donald Harvey Tippet writes: “Truth does not perish; it cannot be destroyed. It may be distorted; it has been silenced temporarily; it has been compelled to carry its cross to Calvary’s brow…but with an inevitable certainty after every Black Friday dawns truth’s Easter Morn.”
I do not know when Christians first began to wish each other, “Happy Easter,” But I like to focus on Jesus’ own greeting to his disciples: “Peace be with you,” ( John 20:19,21). Knowing full well the terror that held the disciples in its grip, Jesus’ bestowal of “peace,” an ancient Hebrew greeting. William Barclay says that the peace Jesus is bestowing means “May God give you every good thing,” including the command to go and make disciples.
When you leave your church on this Sunday morning, Easter is just beginning. You have received Christ’s “Peace be with you,” not to take home as a souvenir, but as a resurrected life to share.