Every year around this time, we can count on bumper-sticker-worthy quips and sermonettes reminding us that Easter is about more than egg-laying bunnies and candy. Most people–even if they don’t believe it–have heard this. So I’ll trust that we’re all on the same page here, and move on to what’s been occupying my heart this pre-dawn Easter morning.
Easter is more.
It’s more than a tradition. I’ve never been a part of a denomination that was especially liturgical. Of course we celebrated Easter, along with Christmas. I grew up knowing what Easter meant, and appreciated it. I enjoyed the holiday (including the excuse to wear a pretty dress and the expectation of a basket of candy). But I was well into my teens before I was aware of this thing called a “church calendar” and the different rituals, prayers, and practices that went with it. Being a good Protestant, it took me a while to even warm up to the idea.
However, as I was blearily getting dressed this morning (which was actually last night–helloooo NightWatch), I decided I was going to dress for Easter. I was going to dress up, and I was going to avoid wearing any black. To be truthful, I mostly did so out of a sense of nostalgia and fun.
But as I got ready for the day–thinking about my choice of attire, and thinking about what it meant–I was strangely moved by the whole thing. I thought about how millions of people, all over the world, are celebrating the same thing. I thought about two thousand years of history, where every year the saints rejoice in this defining moment of our faith. My heart swelled to think about the congregations all throughout my city that would be unified in this singular focus this morning.
I felt a part of something much bigger than myself. I felt connected to the Body of Christ. For a moment, I could see myself in the midst of a massive, historical, beautiful, worldwide people of God. I felt the weight of two thousand years of history behind us. It was powerful.
But Easter is more.
This isn’t just a story. This isn’t just a documentation of the beliefs of a successful religious movement. This isn’t just metaphorical liturgy portraying a vague sense of new life. A real Man came out of the tomb on that morning. That means Easter isn’t just a two-millennia-old event that we remember every year–it is relevant. Now. Today. The One who came to life is still alive.
As I considered the rich Christian tradition behind this truly holy day, and as I felt connected to the saints through history, even more, I felt connected to the Man who rose from the dead. Clothes are just clothes, and shouldn’t impede one’s ability to worship with a full heart. But as I sorted through my clothes figuring out how to put together a nice outfit without black in it (harder than I thought for me!), I felt overwhelmed. I was going out of my way to avoid the color of mourning–not because it would be some sort of Easter-breaking taboo, but because Jesus is really alive.
The tradition made me remember. All the liturgy in the world would mean nothing if He was dead. If all we have are a robbed tomb and some nostalgic practices, we might as well just relinquish the day to the Easter Bunny and get it over with. But this day matters, because Christ is risen indeed. He is not just one of many tragically persecuted leaders. He is not just a philanthropist who crossed those more politically powerful than Himself. His life did not end–not finally, anyway–with His crucifixion. He is declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead. He was never defeated. It was impossible for death to hold Him.
Jesus is real, and He is really alive.
And even as glorious as this is…
Easter is more than one Man’s resurrection. To be sure, we cannot downplay the significance of Christ’s resurrection. It speaks volumes about who He is. It validates His claims. It has implications on the way we worship, pray, and live today–He is still present with us, seeing and caring. It can, and should, move our hearts to consider that the Man we love is still alive, and will live forever.
But even so, Easter is more.
Do we understand how dramatically everything changed when Jesus walked out of that tomb?
Jesus is called the “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5) and “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). That means that He is the first, but not the only person who will partake of this everlasting life. He is bringing many sons to glory (Heb 2:10). When He arose from the grave, in a very real sense we did, too.
The One who shed His blood that we may be forgiven of our sins, and delivered from Hell, is alive forevermore. He is the resurrection, and in Him, we will live forever. Beyond some sort of Nirvana-like haze–what we normally think of when we say “afterlife”–in Him we have resurrection, a complete renewal of our mortal bodies. Every one of us who love His name will live forever, in a physical frame that is glorified and made perfectly whole.
Because of Easter it is impossible for sickness, pain and death to continue forever. They have an appointed end–not in ethereal non-existence, but in glorious, unfettered, abundant life. Every believer will triumph over that last great adversary, death, because Christ is risen indeed.
Even more than this, we must remember that Jesus is the Yes and Amen, the one in whom every promise of God is fulfilled (2 Cor 1:20). Everything God has promised to His people–all the way back to David, Abraham, and even to Adam and Eve–is summed up in and dependent upon the person of Christ Jesus. If He would have stayed in the grave, so would the promises. But because He lives, the promises–those things which had seemed to lay dormant for centuries, dim and unfulfilled–are now possible.
Chief among these promises are the express desire and purpose for God to dwell with humanity, that He would be our God, and that we would be His people. Through the course of history, this has looked doubtful. If sinful people drop dead at one touch of the Ark of God’s presence–if creation is subject to decay and futility, and hills melt like wax before Him–how could the Holy One ever dwell among us without utterly consuming us?
Yet in the resurrection of Jesus comes not just the promise of resurrection for believers, but for resurrection of the whole of creation. That which groans under the crushing curse of sin now, can be redeemed. Romans 8:20-23 is as explicit as one could hope for:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
The resurrection of creation is about more than avoiding natural disasters and cleaning up the environment, though surely it includes that. This means something more profound and heart-piercing than we can ever fully comprehend:
In Jesus’ resurrection, “on earth as it is in heaven” is now POSSIBLE.
We are not stuck in a loop of ever-downward futility. The way things have always been is not how things will always be. When Jesus taught us how to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, it was not wishful thinking. “Gosh, it would be nice if…”
No! This is not fantasy; it’s now possible! Apart from a resurrected Lord, creation could never be raised. Apart from a defeated death, heaven could never come to earth. The resurrection of Jesus is a raging fire of hope set to the hearts of believers in a fallen, dying world. This futility is not forever. Heaven is real, and it can really manifest on the earth in a full, unrestrained way.
God can dwell with us. We can see His face. Every tear can be wiped away. Not one promise of His will fail.
Easter isn’t just about tradition; it’s about a raised Man. And that Man isn’t just raised; He is the resurrection. Both our mortal bodies and the world we live in will never be the same–because Christ is risen indeed.