Easter is finally over! The long grind of services twice a week is finally behind us with that blazing week of three services (and a Deacon's meeting, as well!). We hate to think of Easter in that way, but this year was something!
Easter came early. It hasn't been this early since 1913, and it will not come this early again until 2228. We almost didn't have a chance to catch our breath from Advent, and we were off on the Lenten season. Quite a remarkable year! Makes one think back.
I remember when Easter used to be about baskets full of candy and colored eggs, and silly stories about rabbits. My parents would hide our Easter baskets before we got up on Easter morning and we would start the day looking for them. The day before, we had colored the eggs, and each of us had written our name on a specific egg so that we could tell our basket from the others by the name written on the egg. If we found our brother's or sister's basket, we would just quietly move on and let them have the fun of discovery. When we found our basket, there was candy and giggling - and the eggs.
I have caused several of you a double-take when I demonstrated my family's practice of smacking each other over the head with our eggs to break the shells. For me, it is just part of the fun of the holiday tradition. Others seem to think it is cruel, or just a little weird. I do it because it connects me to those by-gone days of my childhood for just a moment. But those days are gone, now. Of course, we always went to church Easter morning. It isn't Easter without Easter services.
I also remember how Easter was the time for hats and new suits, and, for the ladies, new dresses and bonnets. Our culture left that behind decades ago. I don't miss the "Easter Parade" so much as I miss the importance that the day had - or seemed to have - back then. People really dressed up to celebrate. Sometimes the focus was not on Christ or the resurrection, but on the new clothes or the fancy hats, but the day just seemed more special when everyone went 'all out' to look great and meet at the church.
Customs come and customs go, I imagine. Sometimes they disappear because they lose their meaning for people. I saw an advertisement the other day for Easter baskets with themes, borrowed from movies or various toys. When the Easter basket becomes a marketing ploy for a movie studio or a toy manufacturer, I don't think I want to play any more. Every sort of civic organization hosts Easter-egg hunts for children, which kind of separates the holiday from the thing that makes it holy. I still love coloring eggs, and breaking them over my head - or my sons' heads - but I don't think the egg-hunt helps tell the story of Easter any longer.
It is a story that needs to be told, however. The media want to turn it into a rite of spring, as though someone invented Easter to celebrate the cycle of re-birth and re-awakening in nature. Perhaps God chose the spring for Easter because the world just naturally preaches a similar theme with the return of green, growing things, but no one invented it for any such purpose. Jesus rose from the grave. That is where the holiday comes from. It would still be a holiday of great importance if it happened in the fall, or mid-summer.
Easter is important. The customs are not. The season of the year is coincidental, not causative. Customs surrounding the celebration of Easter often have arisen as people find ways to express their delight in the meaning of Easter, or they find creative ways to praise God in addition to all that they do in worship services. Delightfully decorated eggs are to the glory of God. The egg is the sign of new life, and the decorations - sometimes painstakingly precise and detailed - are the glory part. The hidden basket is symbolic of Christ hidden in the grave, and when it is found, He is arisen! The new Easter clothing was simply giving our best to the Lord. Each thing had a connection to the worship and to the season, although some people forgot the connection and decided the holiday was about the candy, the decorated eggs about art, or the new clothes became some sort of competition for them - the "Easter parade."
The true heart of Easter is in the meaning of Easter. The resurrection of Jesus is the substance. We celebrate the day because He rose from the dead. We rejoice over that because His resurrection is more than just His alone. It is the resurrection of all that believe. When Jesus arose from the dead, He not only demonstrated that it was possible, He began the rising from the dead of all that believe. My resurrection, and your resurrection, are part and parcel of His resurrection. In the measure of time, they are separate. In the light of eternity, they are the same event, or group of events. He rose first, but in His resurrection, we all rise. It is as though we are connected, and when He rose, He began to pull each of us out of our graves as well.
Just as His death was 'for all', His resurrection is for all. All of mankind will rise. That is the teaching of the Scriptures. Those that believe will rise to life with their Lord. Those who declined to believe, who could not or would not receive the salvation which Jesus purchased on the cross, will also rise, but not to life. Their resurrection will be to continuing and eternal death. They will have existence, and consciousness, but not life. They will be separated from Him who is Life, and will go to that place described as "where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth", and "where the worm never dies and the fire never goes out". It won't be life, and it won't be non-existence or unconsciousness, and it won't be pleasant.
They that believe the Gospel and trust in Jesus for all that He has promised will rise to eternal life. Our loved ones who have shared the hope of salvation will be there. I suspect we will know the Easter joy of the disciples on that day, as we see mother and father, and others we have loved and lost, standing before us alive and well, and probably better than we have ever seen them in this life; more well and more alive. What we experience will be just right, and we will experience the rightness of it. All the quibbling and quailing and hedging of our sinful state will be set aside, and we shall experience things for what they are, and not merely for how they seem or how they impact us.
That resurrection, our resurrection, is part of the meaning of Easter. Another element of that meaning is the truth of what Jesus taught. When Jesus said that He would rise from the dead, people doubted Him and until He accomplished what He said He would do, it cast a shadow of uncertainty over everything He taught. Once He had risen from the grave, just as He had taught that He would, He was demonstrated to be true. It is not that He was demonstrated to be accurate, although that is part of this truth, but His resurrection proved that just because a thing was not possible for us, it was not impossible for Him. He spoke the truth, and everything He taught was shown to be true. It does not matter how it seems to us, or whether we can imagine it or not. When Jesus says it, it partakes of His truth.
While that idea is academically interesting, what makes it something to celebrate at Easter is what it is that Jesus taught. Jesus taught us that God loves us and has a good will toward us. God wants us to live. He wants us to be blessed. He had our best interest at heart. Those ideas are contrary to the common expectation of humanity. People have always imagined god, whatever he or she or it may be, to be angry, judgmental, capricious, violent, and, in short, a larger and more powerful version of ourselves — typically ourselves on a bad day. Men imagine god to have limited power, limited intellect, and limited attention. They often also imagine that he has a very weak will, so that we can manipulate him with insincere words and gaudy trinkets.
One of the things that makes Easter so delightful is that Jesus taught us that God loves us. We have no need to manipulate Him, nor any ability to do so, but He loves us. He delights in communion with us and seeks our blessing, our wisdom and understanding, and our trust, that we may live without terror and embrace life confidently, knowing that He will guide us and protect us, even in circumstances we cannot control or comprehend. Of course, we can see none of that. That is where faith comes in.
You can trust God because He loves you. Jesus taught it, so it is true, but life challenges us with situations that don't seem to reflect love and do not appear to us to bespeak love from God. Either Jesus is right, or our frightened or frustrated assessment of things is. The resurrection of Jesus proclaims that Jesus is true, and therefore right. So Easter invites us to walk by faith and not by sight. When we do, we find comfort, and contentment. This world is, after all, not all there is to life. If we do not experience the goodness of God immediately, we know that it is coming. We have eternity to find and know the goodness and love of God. In the meantime, here and now we have this blessed assurance to comfort us, to ease the pain caused by worry or the frustration of unfulfilled expectations. Our lives don't have to follow our plan, God will take care that they follow His.
But ultimately, the joy of Easter is contained in the words of Jesus, "Because I live, you shall live also!" We don't have to fit it all into this short life. And no matter how long you life is, it seems short. That is because God has built us for eternity. What we cannot achieve in this world can await the achievement of the everlasting life. There, we are promised, is no more sickness. In that life, there is no more sorrow. In glory we shall never have to do with shame or guilt of sin, and there is no more dying to do once we live in eternity with Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus speaks to the fear of death, and limitations of this life because of death, and says that it is not always going to be so. Like a student who looks forward to the end of the term, or a child who awaits the coming of a holiday, we can look forward to the promised life with our Lord where the tough stuff of sin and sorrow is over and the joys of life and peace and glory will begin in earnest.
So, Easter is precious and important for what it says about this life and our place in it, and for what it says about God's plans for us after this world and this brief life. O death where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord! It is really death and dying that makes everything stink in this world. It is too fast, too short, too uncertain. But with God, we have the promise of more time and more joy and absolute certainty - all of that demonstrated in the cross of Jesus Christ and the empty tomb on the third day. That is the wonder of Easter, a wonder that belongs to all those that believe.
But why do I write about that now? Easter is over, right? That is where we began this article. Before you can read this, Easter will be behind us. Right?
Ahh. That's the catch! Easter is never really over. Easter Sunday 2008 may be past, but not Easter. Every Sunday is an Easter celebration. That is why we worship on Sunday. We cannot let Easter out of our sight, or out of our minds. Easter will not be over until we have risen from our graves and live with Christ in glory.
I suspect it won't be over then either, but we will be so wrapped up in Easter, we won't notice or complain.
Until then, I invite you to join us in the celebration of Easter. If you live so far away that you cannot be with us physically at Shaped by the Cross, then join us at one our "branch offices" - a congregation in your neighborhood. Then when we sing or say "with angels, and archangels, and with all the company of heaven", we will merely be saying that we are worshiping right along with you.
Of course, if you can be with us, please, come and join in our celebration. If you bring the hard-boiled eggs, I'll even let you crack them on my head. A Happy and blessed Easter to you!
Yours in the Lord,
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