In the moments before the first light of dawn, darkness seems eternal. So it was on the morning of the First Day of the Week.
It was over. Over forever. Man had killed God. Christ walked among us and we knew Him not– or perhaps we did know, and were afraid. But whatever He meant to do, He could not do it now, could He? He was dead. His mother wept, his disciples fled; He Himself declared that He had been abandoned. He breathed His last. There was no need to break His bones, for He was already gone. His empty flesh hung like rags; we all saw it even as we cringed from the thunderclap. Blood and water gushed forth from a heart torn in two. They took Him away, so that His corpse would not defile the Sabbath. He had been in the tomb since Friday evening. Whatever plans He had, had came to nothing, and all would surely be forgotten.
Unless, of course, He rose from the dead.
Then it was daybreak, on the First Day of the Week. Imagine the terror of the guards placed at Christ’s tomb. This should never be. This was our only weapon, the only tactic we knew: we cannot give life, but we can kill, and death is permanent. Death works in a logical fashion, cause to effect and never back the other way. Bodies die, they go into the ground and they trouble us no more. Trees that are cut become dead wood. Salt water added to fresh makes all water poison. Sin makes a just man unjust. We have no king but entropy, and entropy governs all. It cannot work in the opposite way. If the dead return to life, if a shoot sprouts from the stump, if the living water flows into the salt sea and makes it sweet, if sins can be remitted by the blood of the Just One… we are lost. We don’t know what to do. Everything we know is proven false.
This is the terror of Easter. This is something we cannot understand.
Death is easy. Death is something that I know. I live in the Ohio River Valley, in the shadow of abandoned steel mills on the cusp of Appalachia. Appalachia itself is beautiful, but this is not the beautiful part of Appalachia. The steel industry ruined this part of the Ohio Valley generations ago. The air reeks to high Heaven, and the ground is tormented with the remnant ash of decades of industrial smoke. The Ohio river is polluted brown sludge. The first year I lived here, two college students jumped off a bridge for a drunken prank; the authorities dragged the murky water for days before they were found. There are many other jumpers, of course, and they are not joking. Suicide is frequent here, as is murder; we are internationally famous for gang rape and shootings. Half the houses in my neighborhood stand derelict, rotting away. I have seen entropy at work in a thousand different ways. I understand the ways of entropy, for entropy is everywhere. I understand death.
But then I approach the tomb at daybreak. The light shines into the open door, and I see that the tomb is is empty. The One we pierced is not there. The Lord is doing something new. We did not foil His plans, after all, because we couldn’t understand why He came. He came to die, to take our chalice and drink it to the dregs. He came, that death might be taken from us. He has conquered all. He has our only possession in His hand, and He has broken it. In its place, He offers us life– life stronger than entropy, stronger than anything we could have known. He pours Himself into the salt sea, and what will become of the salt sea? He pours Himself over the stump, and who will stop the shoot from growing? He pours Himself over sin, and what sin can remain? Who can stop Him? No one. He is Risen.
And I find that I do not understand death after all.
This day shall stand at the head of our calendar. This is the first day of the week. This is the day when entropy was overthrown by grace. This is the day the pierced Heart began to beat again. This is the day the shoot rose from the stump. This is the day the pure water flowed into the salt sea making it fresh, and the river of death flowed clear. We fall to our knees, conquered and astounded. We rise with joy to praise Him. He was our King by birth, and now He conquers. Let all things in Heaven and on Earth rejoice. Alleluia! He is Risen; He is Risen indeed!
(Image: The Resurrection, Piero Della Franchesca, 14th century)