On Easter I greeted our congregation, “Christ is risen.”
And they replied: “He is risen indeed.”
Up from the grave Christ arose–bodily, causing armed soldiers to faint dead away. Still, many deny Jesus’ resurrection. Denial started the very day Jesus arose. Soldiers, fearful for their lives, accepted big bonuses–bribes, more like it–for spreading the rumour that disciples had stolen Jesus’ body while they slept.
It’s natural to deny the resurrection. We modern people like scientific proof, something we can see and touch–even if we can’t understand the science. We like to get to the root of things. And at the root of all things biological and human is that life will end in death at some time: That’s all there is folks. There ain’t no more.
Thanks be to God, St. Paul’s declaration in 1 Corinthians 15 has also taken root as deeply as denials. In 1964, poet and novelist John Updike wrote his splendid “Seven Stanzas at Easter” that Robert DeMoor cited in the April Banner editorial. You can google that poetic Easter sermon here.
Sure, resurrection is hard to believe. Anyone who has faced death–her or his own, a spouse, sibling, even the death of a beloved pet, knows how final death feels and looks. It LOOKS like there’s nothing beyond for that once-vibrant creature. Death STINGS.
The hurting women in Matthew 28 had gone only to “look at the tomb.” But an angel shocked them: “Go quickly and tell Jesus’ disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’”
They did. Soon Jesus promised to be with them till the end of the age. Their age. OUR age. ALL ages–until he comes again. Meanwhile, if we believe Jesus arose from the dead, “with the same hinged thumbs and toes, same valved heart,” as Updike says, we are not people most to be pitied, but, people most thankful, hopeful, most helpful.
Believing in the future resurrection means that we are already now in some sense “dwelling in the house of the Lord forever,” as David prophesied in Psalm 23. Yes, death is a hard, sad way-station between this life and life forever. But because of Jesus’ resurrection, life and death are not separated ultimately.
Beginnings of Eternal Life now wiggle or burst into our lives because of Jesus’ resurrection-- even though we might not always recognize how or when that change happens. I share part of my own pilgrimage to illustrate how resurrection belief gradually, but permanently changed my life.
I was 19, in my second year at Calvin College, having a hard time with two courses, not enjoying my studies. In November my Grandpa, Jacobus Cornelis Dekker, took a solo cruise to Hawaii about 2 ½ years after Grandma had died. Grandpa was finally looking forward to life again after his beloved Hannah’s death.
Midway to Hawaii, Grandpa suffered an aneurysm, underwent surgery upon landing in Honolulu. Though he remarkably survived surgery, after ten days he died. I postponed two midterms and returned to Chicago and was a pallbearer. I was feeling so at sea that I thought of quitting school for a while.
Yet at the graveside God gave me an unexpected, hard gift. As we bore Grandpa’s coffin to the grave, I saw the concrete vault cover that would seal Grandpa’s coffin. On that cover I saw something I have never forgotten: a small bronze plaque with the name cast into it JAMES CORNELIUS DEKKER. Grandpa’s anglicized name, but MY name too. For the first time I realized I would be in the same place and position only God knew when. It was a jolt. But at least GOD knew.
At that grave we did what we still do today and always should. We recited the Apostles Creed. We sang “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.” One hard blessing, of course, was that we believed in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting–of James Cornelius Dekker Sr., of all who believe–though we were sad at the moment.
That graveside insight of my own mortality changed my life. Recognizing my own mortality, yet believing in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting sparked me not to waste my life, but to return to Calvin, face two unpleasant courses and to live like Grandpa and Mom and Dad–and my Shepherd Lord–wanted me to. I haven’t kept my pledge perfectly, but that momentary sight of my name on a grave--that would someday re-open--changed my life.
The sting of death lessened at that graveside. I was struck that I would rather live believing that I would see Grandpa again and talk with him about my life than live like nothing mattered but slogging through life, making money till I died.
All because of the resurrection of Jesus and the life everlasting that anticipates.
Belief in the resurrection goes far, far beyond my little experience. What is your experience of doubt, confusing, growing or faltering faith—because of doubt or faith in the resurrection of Jesus?
Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!