There is no other day quite like Easter Sunday!
Easter Sunday my wife and I rose early to attend the Sunrise Service at Mulder Church (UMC) in Elmore County. There we heard a forester, our son Tim, deliver the sermon for the 11th year in a row. The pastor, Craig Carter, has made it a tradition to have Tim deliver the message. Later I preached in two services at our church, Saint James UMC in Montgomery. Like millions of Christians around the world we eagerly celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Every Easter the Church declares on every continent the greatest of all good news: Christ is risen! Those three words are the most important declaration ever uttered because it gives us hope that the grave is not the end of life. No event in history has impacted the world more than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Since I was a child Easter has been the greatest day of the year for me. Even Christmas is no match for Easter. I owe my love of Easter to my parents. Every Easter morning they got the family up at 4 o’clock and drove from Elmore County to Cramton Bowl in Montgomery. Never one to be late for anything, Dad got us to the stadium early. Spreading blankets on those cold concrete seats we waited for the excitement to begin.
As I recall we sat on the eastern side and on the other side of the football field there was a replica of the sealed tomb. Men dressed as Roman guards marched back and forth in front of it. Soon we watched as three women walked slowly from the south toward the tomb. There was an eerie quietness about the scene before us. There was no music being played. It was like watching one of those old silent movies.
Suddenly the silence was erupted by an explosion. We were all startled as smoke covered the tomb. We could hear a rumbling sound, like the beating of drums, designed evidently to simulate an earthquake. Slowly the smoke drifted away to reveal an angel, in dazzling white, standing at the tomb. The stone sealing the tomb had been rolled away. The frightened guards had fallen to the ground as though they were dead.
The three women had been startled also. Now they resumed walking toward the tomb and as they arrived the angel began speaking to them. Over the speaker system we heard the shocking words of the biblical story:
“Do not be afraid; I know why you are here,” the angel said. “You are seeking Jesus who was crucified, but he is not here. He is risen, as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he will meet them in Galilee.”
We watched the women look quickly inside the empty tomb and leave in a hurry. The women, according to the Bible, were afraid but filled with joy to know that Jesus was alive. As they walked away from the tomb suddenly a man in a robe appeared before them. We realized it was none other than Jesus; he had been raised from the dead. Shocked once again, the women, awestruck, fell down before him.
The angel had told the women that Jesus was alive. Now they knew it was true. He was standing before them, alive! Repeating the message of the angel, Jesus calmed their fear. Then he sent them on their way to share the news with the disciples and tell them that he would meet them in Galilee.
This was the drama I witnessed several times as a child in Cramton Bowl. Though the resurrection seemed incredible I saw no reason to doubt it. It never occurred to me that it might be a myth as some believe today. I believed it. Years later I would begin to wonder. Is it really true? I struggled with that question for several years.
Finally I decided the story could not be a myth for this reason: It is impossible to explain the Christian movement unless Jesus was actually raised from the dead.
Could Jesus’ disciples have stolen his body from the tomb while the guards were sleeping and then convinced people that Jesus was alive? Saying that it was so surely would not convince anyone. Could a lie be perpetuated for two thousand years? Surely not!
If Jesus had not been resurrected we would have never heard of his apostles. But we did hear about them; they were so convinced that Jesus was alive they were willing to suffer and even die for this new faith. The evidence is overwhelming. The early Christians were willing to be martyred rather than renounce their faith in the resurrection of Jesus. I am persuaded that few people would be willing to die in defense of a lie.
Christians have no faith to proclaim if the resurrection is not true. Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God; that is the lynchpin of Christianity. The resurrection is the great deed of God in history, the most important event in the history of the world.
If the resurrection is believed to be a myth there is little else in Christian faith that makes sense. If Jesus was not raised from the dead then Peter’s letters are a pack of lies. Had Jesus not been resurrected, we would have never heard of the Apostle Paul who wrote a great portion of the New Testament. The New Testament would not even exist had not the early disciples believed God had raised Jesus from the dead.
Some say there is no need to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. His great moral teachings are what matter; his spirit lives on like that of Socrates or Lincoln. But to believe this one must ignore what Jesus taught about himself. He believed that his death on the cross was God’s plan and that the shedding of his blood was necessary for people to receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Can anything else he taught be true if this teaching is a hoax? Absolutely not!
Sunday morning I heard my friend Nathan Hamilton sings “He’s Alive!” My heart said “Yes He is!” I listened as our choir declared that the tomb is empty! Again my heart said “Yes it is!” I asked the congregation to sing with me “Up from the grave He arose” because He did! Then I loudly proclaimed “Christ is Risen!” And the people replied with gusto “He is Risen Indeed!”
No other day on the calendar can match the excitement of Easter Sunday! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! + + +