All around the world this weekend, Christians are celebrating Good Friday and Easter.
Good Friday is sorrow remembered. Easter is joy experienced.
Several years ago while travelling through Israel I had a chance to go inside a first-century tomb that had been discovered when road crews widened a highway. They were carving away a hillside and found the tomb hidden under layers of dirt. It even had a rolling stone near the entrance, just like the famous tomb of Jesus described in the Bible.
I was all alone as I grabbed my camera, went inside and took some shots. It was so quiet. I laid down on the cool stone slab. With eyes closed, I thought about what Jesus might have felt and smelled and seen, in a tomb much like this, at the moment of resurrection.
Then I heard a tourist bus pull up. And some people walking toward the cave entrance. And, well––I couldn’t resist. I waited until they were just inside the door, before their eyes adjusted to the darkness, and then I jumped up, waving my arms, shouting:
And after they beat me up, I was so glad I’d had that experience. I got the rare chance to sense a little of the shock of the disciples––and the playfulness of the risen Christ––when Jesus pops right into their gardens of grief and locked rooms and slow shuffling walks home, and gives them the thrill of a lifetime. All the gospel stories of the resurrection are suffused with this kind of wild joy.
If you celebrate Easter, I hope you too find deep joy in it this year. Lord knows we could all use it! Easter is the time to replace winter with spring, mourning with dancing, sorrow with joy.
There is joy in Easter because the resurrection means it’s never too late for a miracle.
Jesus was dead. His movement over. But God had much more in mind. Jesus’ resurrection foreshadows all the other glorious miracles God can do through that same power: Your resurrection, the world’s restoration, and all the restarts you will ever need. Feel like it’s too late for your miracle? Easter says not so.
There is joy in Easter because the resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.
The disciples had just been through the worst imaginable thing. But that was not the last thing. In fact, the Good Friday-to-Easter, crucifixion-to-resurrection narrative became the shape of their worldview, the pattern through which they saw all of life: Yes, there will be sorrow. Each must bear a cross. But then… there is life again. For real.
This is why Christians on Easter traditionally say, “Christ is risen; he is risen indeed!” Why add the word “indeed”? (I always thought it sounded so very British: “He is risen, indeed! Quite so! Indubitably!”) “Indeed” is an important word. It means, actually. It means he is not just risen metaphorically.
Whatever else you think happened on Easter Sunday nearly 2,000 years ago, you have to explain what happened to the followers of Jesus: They were transformed from beaten, fearful, cowards into world changers, and they were not transformed because they thought Jesus had risen metaphorically. They truly believed death itself had been beaten. The moment after they met the risen Jesus, they started talking about it. And no one could ever shut them up again. Because now they knew: The worst things are not the last things. Not ever. That’s joyful news.
And there is joy in Easter because it means death and evil do not win. After a year when disease and injustice made daily headlines, that’s an essential reminder.
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached on Easter one year, “Sometimes it looks dark and sometimes people come to feel that the universe seems to say “Amen” to the forces of injustice. And oh, it looked dark centuries ago. But thank God the crucifixion was not the last act. Easter affirms that what stops us does not stop God. Death is not the end. Life is not doomed to frustration and futility but can end up in fulfillment in the life and the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!”
Dr. King returned to the theme of Easter again and again, as when he concluded a message to the downtrodden and depressed people of Berlin in 1964: “This is the faith which has enabled us to face death. This is the faith which has given us a way when there seemed to be no way. This is the faith that lets us face our daily crucifixions, in the knowledge that God brings resurrection. This is the faith I commend to you… a living, active, massive faith that affirms the victory of Jesus Christ over the world!”
Amen. May you have a richly meaningful Good Friday and a joy-filled Easter.
René Schlaepfer is senior pastor of Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, www.tlc.org.