As Death haunts us, stalks us, and undoes us and all whom we love, Easter carries us.
Your church will probably be more packed with people than usual this Sunday. Sunday, we celebrate Easter, and the longer I live, the more important this day becomes for me. The longer I live, the more friends and loved ones I have to see buried. For every friend that goes into the grave, the more I cling to the hope that Christ came out of it.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, we should quit Christianity. The apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). If Jesus isn’t raised, the whole thing goes from being good news to being a very sad sham. There is no use in arguing about baptism, faith and works, miracles, or the relationship of faith and science. All the Christian’s hopes center on whether or not Jesus really did take up His life three days after He laid it down. Easter helps us to remember this thing, this one amazing thing that we believe Jesus did: He beat death.
About five years ago, just before Easter, I saw my grandmother for the last time. She had gone down fast, her 96-year-old body was worn down by a lifetime of caring for six children and working on a farm. She was frail and failing. I held her skeletal hand, covered with skin that felt paper-thin; it was at around midnight as I recall. She called me “Sweet-Sweet” when I was young. She cooked me breakfast every morning when she stayed with us, anything I wanted that we had, she made it. Nobody calls me Sweet-Sweet anymore. Nobody makes me breakfast like she did. When Meme died, I lost something that cannot be replaced. She passed away in the wee hours of the morning; I left her bedside and went straight to the hospital. My daughter was born just a few hours later.
From the outside, it might be tempting to see this as the circle of life, but it isn’t. Not if the resurrection is true. Death robbed me of something, and death is a threat to every person that I hold dear. I could feel that worry as I held my infant daughter that morning. I had fears of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome coming to steal my daughter from me. I worry about it today when I buckle her into her car-seat in the morning on the way to preschool. Death is out there, stalking us like a predator. And if Christ is not risen, then we can never be rid of it. If Jesus is dead, then I am confident I will never see my grandmother again. Nor will I see many of my other family members and friends who have died. If Jesus is dead, then I will most likely be simple worm food when I die. And so will my daughter. So will everyone I have ever known and everyone who ever is or was or will be. We are all just dust if Jesus is not risen from the dead.
I hate death. I want my grandmother back. It isn’t right that she, along with billions of others, are gone now. Death is an enemy; a cruel thief that steals the people we love. This isn’t the way that it should be, and the hope of Christ allows me to imagine a world, a reality, where death has been struck a mortal blow itself. Death is dying, it is now thrashing like an enraged and weakening beast, trying its best to take anything down with it that it can. But its rage is futile, for if Christ is risen, then death must surrender all its spoils at a single command. All the dead, those in the sea and on the earth and under it, all of them will assemble at the command of the risen Christ. Death itself will be judged, as will all the world. All of this is true if Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.
On Easter Sunday, the Church will assemble. The faithful, the hangers-on, and those who are compelled by tradition; they will congregate to hear about the hope of the resurrection. Many will take communion and consider the broken body of Christ, they will grind the bread between their teeth and hear how Christ was broken for them and by them. That by His blood, He made a new covenant that would save us from sin and guarantee us a life that will never end.
This is the hope we celebrate on Easter Sunday. All our prayers, all our hopes, all our preaching, and all our ministry hangs on Jesus’ triumph over death. Christians have put all their eggs in this one basket, and where else can we go? Jesus has beaten death; He lay in the ground three days, stone cold dead, and then He rose to tell the tale. And now He beckons to the world, “Follow me, and you too will never die.”
Our resurrection day is coming; we will meet the Master of Life and Death.