Easter Sunday Christ’s Rising: Life Stronger than Death
“On the third day He arose again from the dead.” By these words in the Apostles Creed, Christians are declaring, forthrightly and unequivocally, a radical conviction, full of cosmic implications. He is stronger than death. His triumph over the grave ensures the defeat of any pretender to his authority and rule.
“At the heart of the Christian faith lies the question of Jesus’ resurrection. Why did Christianity arise, and why did it take the shape it did? The early Christians themselves reply: ‘We exist because of Jesus’ resurrection.’ There is no form of early Christianity known to us…that does not affirm at its heart that after Jesus’ shameful death God raised him to life again.” ~ N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Easter.
Jesus’ coming to life again, well beyond human ability to understand or explain, is nonetheless real. It’s a “reality more real than our own,” as Brother John of Taize puts it.
On the third day
“On the third day He arose again from the dead.” By these words in the Apostles Creed, Christians are declaring, forthrightly and unequivocally, a radical conviction, full of cosmic implications. They are proclaiming that Jesus’ resurrection (and the wildfire-growth of the Christian church which happened as a result of it) proves that nothing—neither heavy gravestones nor Pilate’s posted sentries, neither the fabricated falsehoods of Jerusalem’s religious authorities nor shrill denials from the mouths of subsequent history’s naysayers—simply nothing can any longer stand in the way of the risen Lord’s mission to complete the full arrival of his kingdom. He is stronger than death. His triumph over the grave ensures the defeat of any pretender to his authority and rule.
“When they saw him, they worshipped him.” (Matt 28.17). The earliest eyewitnesses of the risen Lord fell on their knees when they saw the risen Lord standing before them. Of course they did—how else properly to respond? So, too, believers bow before him today. Every Sunday morning—the Lord’s resurrection day—they gather to hear again the glad report: “The Lord is risen!” Joyfully they respond: “He is risen indeed!” And they worship him.
Eyewitnesses of the risen Lord were under explicit Divine orders to report immediately what they had seen and heard. They were sent first to their fellow disciples, a signal that the Lord intended to gather into a community again his closest followers who after the crucifixion had scattered in fear. Despair had overtaken them. Aimless and alone, each of them felt cut off from their Master and from one another. But Jesus wanted to form them into a tight fellowship again, full of courage and hope, prepared to proclaim the good news to “the ends of the earth.” (Matt. 28.19ff) The news about his resurrection having been reported to them, a little while later he himself instructed them: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” (cf. John 21.19-22). Jesus made clear that through this freshly regathered community news about his death and resurrection would reach the entire world—indeed, every single person in it.
But the Lord did not issue his call to proclaim only to the first generation of his followers. To every following generation, he issues his charge: “Go, and make disciples.” (Matt.28.19ff) Jesus’ last words on earth, recorded in Luke (24.26-29), declare his intention to employ his believing community, the church, to herald the Gospel:
“You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the death on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations—starting from here, from Jerusalem! You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses. What comes next is very important: I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you’re equipped with power from on high.” (Luke 24.26-29)
Under the authority and in the power of the risen Lord, the church keeps announcing the Good News for all to hear. Doing so, she carries forward the thrust of salvation history.
Christ’s resurrection community goes forth boldly, confident that his rising is God’s pledge that believers, too, shall arise. What is more, his triumph over death convinces them of an undefeatable, everlasting kingdom that is to come.
Thus, as she goes forth to herald the news, the church of Jesus Christ also sings in triumph:
Rejoice the Lord is king;
Your Lord and king adore;
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing
And triumph evermore.
His Kingdom cannot fail;
He rules o’er earth and heaven;
The keys of death and hell
Are to our Jesus given.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
Believers stand on tiptoe, awaiting eagerly the final working out of God’s plans to “make everything new” (Rev. 21.5)—to establish forever Christ’s kingly rule. Their hope rests solidly and foursquare on the foundation—the fact—of the Lord’s resurrection.
Christ is risen!
We give thanks for the gift of Easter
That runs beyond our explanations,
Beyond our categories of reason,
Even more, beyond the sinking sense of our own lives.
We know about the powers of death,
Powers the persist among us,
Powers that drive us from you, and
From our neighbor, and
From our best selves.
We know about the powers of fear and greed and anxiety,
And brutality and certitude.
Powers before which we are helpless.
And then you….you at dawn, unquenched,
You in the darkness,
You on Saturday,
You who breaks the world to joy.
Yours is the kingdom….not the kingdom of death,
Yours is the power….not the glory of death.
Yours….You….and we give thanks
For the newness beyond our achieving.