A new thought
"And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lighting, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women: 'Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen.'" -Matthew 28:2-6 (RSV)
By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES JR.
For almost 40 years, I've been preaching and writing about the events of that first Easter. You might think the insights and perspectives I've found in this remarkable narrative would be used up.
But what I've discovered about Easter is this: The story never grows old! Without any doubt, it is the greatest story ever told. It is a masterpiece, a timeless drama conceived, written, produced, and directed by God. Each time I experience the excitement of another Easter morning, the thrill of having the story come alive yet again is the greatest satisfaction I get as a minister.
For the past six weeks, we have been on a journey through Lent. We began with the ceremonial ashes, and our understanding that no matter how deep into our sins we are, we can get to God from any place. As we continued our trek, we were admonished to "come to God before winter," for no one knows the time or day when God will call. Then we were reminded Jesus calls us by name, as he did with Zacchaeus, inviting us to a fuller, deeper relationship with Him.
Complete the journey by going with me and the women to the graveyard. You've come this far...
As I considered words for this column that will do justice to the resurrection story, I saw something I had never seen in previous reading of the Scriptures.
That thought centers on the small group of women who made their way to the tomb early that third morning. Three words spoken to them forever changed human history.
"He is not here..."
Let us go together to the burial site, to put the finishing touches on a dream that apparently has died. It was a dream noble in its concept but brief in its appearance. As we make our way to the tomb, we worry needlessly (as we so often do) about the huge stone at the entrance of the tomb. Only God knows how many stones and obstacles some of us worry about over the course of our lives.
However, when we arrive, we discover the stone has been rolled away. And as we peer inside, we hear the words that will eternally alter the way we think, live, and even die.
"Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" (Luke 24:1-5)
He has what?
The response stuns us to silence. Again, we are told, "He is risen!"
And with the sound of those three words ringing in our ears and beating in our hearts, we dash out to tell the world that death could not hold Him.
ALLELUIA! HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN! What words could possibly have more meaning than these? Finally, it all begins to make sense. In order to overcome the world, he had to die.
The meaning and message of Easter
If those words had not been spoken to those women that Easter morning, where would we be? What kind of life would we live if we believed no hope existed for another life? What could possibly give any meaning or purpose to our everyday existence if God had not stepped in and done this mighty act?
With just three words-He is risen!-God has halted our headlong plunge into emptiness and isolation. God has restored within us a reason to give, a reason to live and, even greater yet, a reason to die.
Like the women on that first day of the week, like Cleopas along the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13), we so often fail to remember the promises made to us by our Lord and Savior when He was with us.
He called himself the "resurrection and the life," but how often do we continue in our lives to go to graveyards and tombs expecting to find him there?
This year, more than any other year of my life, I have found the true meaning of Easter. This is the first Easter following my mother's death, and the resurrection assures me she is with our Lord, and I am literally dying everyday to see her again.
"He is not here, for he has risen."