You’ve had your pastel suits laid out for days; the kids have been wondering about the contents of their Easter baskets for the last two weeks. You’ve known what was coming. Though you walked solemnly and reverently through Holy Week, all along you’ve had the benefit of knowing what today would bring.
It is impossible, therefore, to fully capture the grief and the sense of finality that drew Mary, Joanna, Salome, and the other women to the tomb on that first Easter morning. They were weren’t preparing to flower a cross – they were preparing for a private funeral. They brought spices to anoint Jesus’ dead body, along with armfuls of anxiety about how they would even get into the tomb to begin with.
Chocolate eggs and jellybeans sometimes cause us to forget that Easter starts in the dark, with grief and worry; Easter starts with the human condition. Though it is difficult for us to even sympathize with the emotional experience of these women, we can nevertheless identify with it. We can be thankful that Easter starts in the dark, and more thankful still that Easter doesn’t leave us there.
Each of the Gospel accounts records a brief period when Jesus is risen, but no one yet knows it. The reality of Resurrection has yet to awaken human understanding. Neither these dutiful women nor the disciples (who were still asleep somewhere in town) had any category for what had already happened. Jesus was alive, but they didn’t know it.
Then, for the second time, the life of Jesus was announced unexpectedly and triumphantly by angels who appeared out of thin air. Thirty-three years earlier and only a few miles from the tomb where they now stood, angels had announced to startled shepherds that the Savior had been born, Christ, the Lord. And now all these years later, with the stone rolled away from the entrance of the once-sealed tomb, the angels made an even more extraordinary claim: this same Savior whom the women had seen die on a cross only yesterday, the man whom they watched being buried right where they stood, God had made him alive again! He was risen from the grave, and he was alive!
Yet like it goes for all of us, it took a little while for realization to catch up with reality. We can understand why Luke’s Gospel tells us that the women’s initial reaction was terror, for the presence of angels and the prospect of a dead man raised would have been more than most could take. Nevertheless, with the angelic proclamation, their fear began to sprout into hope, and hope soon blossomed into faith. The Israeli sunrise was a picture of their dawning understanding. They began to recall words of Jesus they once assumed to be metaphor, that he would rise on the third day. With hearts quickening and tears welling, reality began to break through their rationale: It had happened! It had actually happened! Jesus had defeated death! Christ was alive!
This is the remarkable, revolutionary, simple claim of Easter; this was the testimony of these now-hopeful women to the reluctant disciples, and it is the singular claim of Easter today, that Jesus is alive.
Easter issues no condition, makes no moral demand, and offers no apology. Easter simply stares down hopelessness, depression, loneliness, sickness, heartache, and death and proclaims with unqualified triumph that they will not have the last word. Easter does not promise the avoidance of suffering or evil in this world, but ultimate safety as we pass through them. Remember? “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”
Jesus is alive!
Easter promises that you are in the hands of Jesus at all times, for he is a living Savior. He will be with you always, just as he promised, because he is resurrected. All who are weary and heavy laden can come to him for rest, because he rose from the dead. He will never leave you or forsake you because he is alive forevermore. The hope of Heaven is sure, and everlasting life is yours to look forward to, because Jesus is alive!
So enjoy your Easter baskets, your springtime finest, your chocolate eggs, and your jellybeans today (especially if you gave up sweets for Lent!). But do not let any of the fluff distract you from the lynchpin of your faith, the redemption of your day to day, and the hope of all the world: Jesus Christ is risen today! Alleluia!