On several occasions, I have stood beside empty tombs or graves. I have seen the incredulous, empty stares of shocked family members forced to bury a loved one. Many times the death has been untimely and seemingly unfair. It is hard to make sense of death. But its pain can be absorbed by the promise of resurrection. The apostle Paul reminds us that everything truly stands or falls on the resurrection.
This holiday (holy-day) comes around annually. It is never on the same Sunday, and sometimes I am amazed at either how early or how late it is for that particular calendar year. Teachers and students eagerly anticipate its appearance on the calendar for Spring Break. Though hardly ever on the same date, it comes around like clockwork. But its annual appearance is obscured by the fact that it falls in line with a host of regular holidays. We often know that it comes around spring time, and before Mother’s Day.
Unfortunately, for many, it has only a cultural and traditional meaning attached to it. Hats, dresses, new suits, baskets, bunny rabbits, colored eggs, hiding eggs, hunting eggs, etc.—all of these details make up a rather predictable cultural experience. Perhaps each church and religious tradition has its own set of activities and ways in which Easter is practiced. While ritual and tradition are helpful, if we are not careful, their familiarity may hide the real meaning that should be spoken forth and articulated so that its vital importance will not be forgotten!
Though the cultural/traditional dimension of Easter may be a significant family, church, community event, I want to suggest that there are four true dimensions that make a difference in our lives, and force us to take Easter more seriously.
First, there is the Wager Dimension. We only have two choices…either the resurrection happened or it did not. Even from the perspective of a wager, we as Christians have one ace card we can play on the table. Simply, if the resurrection is not true, we of all men are most miserable, and have been fabricating a lie. And it will not make any difference anyway because all who have died and will die will remain dead forever! But, we have also been promoting a way of living that includes purpose, meaning, and self-sacrifice for a cause greater than ourselves.
If, on the other hand, the resurrection is true, then all we are claiming will make a difference. We have a message that is life-changing and it will make a difference. Though I was not there to see the event with my own eyes, I accept the testimony of those who were. They were willing to suffer, be persecuted, and die because they were bold enough to say that the tomb was empty. Given the long history of both sides of the wager down through the annals of civilization, and seeing what each side has to offer both here and hereafter, I willingly wager my life, my future, and my destiny on the reality of the resurrection. By faith I make that choice.
Second, there is the Hope Dimension. In the dark despair of human pain, in the emptiness of meaningless suffering, and in the loneliness of pride and accomplishments, the resurrection provides me another way of living life. The resurrection tells me that this world is not all that there is. The dark despair of human pain is not the final word; it is not the final stroke of the brush on the canvas of reality. The emptiness of meaningless suffering is transformed by the redemptive work of God through Christ. The writer of the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament tells us that Jesus’ death and resurrection was necessary to destroy the power of death, i.e., the devil, and that bondage of fear attached to death was dealt with. We do not have to fear death as being final. The hope we possess transcends the grave.
Third, there is the Impact Dimension. Our own baptism mirrors and depicts once again the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We are living proof of the impact of Jesus’ resurrection. He lives on in us. His life’s mission is carried on in us, and the resurrection power of God enables us to carry on that work. The resurrection of Jesus has more impact on my life and your life probably than we can imagine. If you have read any of the Apostle Paul’s Corinthian Correspondence, you are familiar with the great resurrection chapter (1 Corinthians 15). In a remarkable way, he fleshes out for the Christian the clear notion of resurrection and the difference it makes. He uses the fact of the resurrection to remind his readers to stand firm in their faith, and to remember that everything they do for Jesus will be remembered and it is not in vain. The fact and certainty of the resurrection reminds me that my own work for God, labors of love for my fellow humankind, and the purpose of my life’s work will never be forgotten!
Fourth, there is the Destiny Dimension. The hope of the resurrection also reminds me that I have a destiny toward which everything is pointing. No matter what view we have of the events of the end times, the Apocalypse (book of Revelation) and other New Testament documents portray the Coming as that time in which all of history will be fulfilled. We are all marching toward a destiny. It is amazing to hear others talk about their own view of destiny. I know many people who feel that their lives are not worth much and they are not headed anywhere. How wrong they are! The resurrection says that we are all worth everything, and that we are all headed somewhere. The resurrection gives us a clear destiny to claim as a gift from God. We do not create our own destiny. It is not something forged out of the strength of “rugged individualism” and a pioneer spirit that wants to tame the forest. Rather our “manifest destiny” is looking for that “city whose foundation is God.”
Yes, the tomb of Jesus was empty. That emptiness fills me up with faith, hope, impact, and destiny. The annual daffodils, the redbuds, the Bradford pears, and the apple blossoms all testify to God’s faithfulness to the earth. The empty tomb testifies to God’s faithfulness to us! May our hearts be filled with the blossoms of Easter!
Curtis D. McClane is minister of the word, prayer, and outreach at Highland View Church of Christ.