Easter is not just a day, but also a season — at the very center of the Church year and our life together in Christ.
The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in the Gospels occupy our proclamation. In the midst of life’s tragedies, disappointments, and our own failures, the pursuit of hope that endures can often seem like an empty word of encouragement. We need more than just words. We need to relate to someone who has already been where we are.
I take great consolation in the words of Mark’s Easter Gospel reading. The angel tells the women, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go; tell his disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him just as He told you” (Mark 16:6-7).
Jesus has gone ahead of us.
The good news of Easter begins with men and women huddled in fear. Some of the women have gone to finish the job of embalming the body of their friend. Their only conversation is a question of who will roll away the stone. It was a day filled with fear, loss and grief. The day began with people dealing with their disappointments and unmet expectations. It is just at that point that the Gospel of Jesus breaks in with the assurance that He is already ahead of them — not just in their past, but in their future.
In the midst of our disappointments and unmet expectations, we need comfort. The disciples needed comfort. The world needs comfort.
Easter is the main event of the Christian faith. It is here where the questions move from “How could God let this happen to me?” to “What’s next in a plan that is larger than my pain?”
The light of new hopes and powerful promises brings us comfort. The events of Easter stand in sharp contrast to Eugene O’Neill’s play, “Long Day’s Journey into Night.” Basically he says that we are born into the brightest light we will ever know and from that point on, the shadows begin to gather. The shadows deepen as we move further and further in life until we come to total darkness and into that total darkness we slip. Instead, Easter, the central event of our faith brings light, clarity, hope and promise. The darkness is defeated and abandoned. Without Easter we have nothing to celebrate, but with it we are comforted beyond any other experience, hope or dream.
In the midst of our grief and sorrow, we need confidence. Listen to those words again, “Jesus is going ahead of you you will see him there.”
The second Easter after the death of our son, Joshua, I preached a sermon entitled, “My Son Beat Me to the Grave.” He has experienced a circumstance I have never faced, gone to a place ahead of me where I have never been. It seems strange for a son to line out the path for a father, and forever within me will be that longing that it should have been the other way around. More unmet expectations and disappointments!
Yet the good news of Easter is that Jesus has gone before us. He stands with us, and yet he goes ahead of us in our suffering, in death, and in the victory of life over death, the resurrection.
The Bible is filled with story after story, from Moses to Jesus, of a God that is out in front of us. God always goes before His people. He was always in front of Moses, in front of His people Israel, in front of the disciples, in front of those women on their way to the tomb. Jesus even says to His disciples before His death, “I go to prepare a place for you and if I go I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am there you may be also” (John 14:3-4).
Before going into battle, a soldier left a written request with the chaplain. He wrote, “When I die, do not sound taps over my grave, but reveille, the morning call, the summons to rise.” He could make that request with confidence because he knew Jesus had gone before him not only in death, but also in resurrection. On Easter we realize the strength of our confidence. There is no place we can go that Jesus has not been. There is no place that we need to go that He has not gone before us!
For our disappointments and unmet expectations, Easter brings a powerful word of comfort and confidence, but it also brings us the challenge to commitment. On that Easter morning the women were challenged to proclaim the Gospel that Jesus is alive.
Later on that evening of Easter, Jesus appeared to His disciples, breathed on them and said, “As the Father sent me, I am sending you.” They were to go and proclaim the good news of the power of Easter for forgiveness and new life.
Jesus appears to Thomas and challenges him to put his finger in the marks of the nails and to place his hand in His side. He is to stop doubting and believe!
Jesus challenges Peter and the others that had gone fishing with the question, “Do you love me?” and He offers them the same invitation when He first called them, “Follow me!”
On the road to Emmaus Jesus appeared to those walking away from the fellowship of the disciples in Jerusalem. He explained the Scriptures, stayed with them, and broke bread with them. They recognized Jesus and were compelled to go back to the disciples and describe their encounter with Jesus. Isn’t it amazing that no sooner had Jesus been raised from death to life that He began to seek out hurting hearts?
The comfort and confidence of Easter prepare us for commitment, to share the Easter message, the Good News of Jesus Christ. The commitment of disciples even in the midst of such hopeless moments is to respond with faith through obedience to all that Jesus commands. We can follow those instructions, confident that He is already out in front of us.
The disciples did not stay in their impaired or incapacitated state; they chose to believe and to be obedient. It is always easier to find reasons to avoid responsibility rather than accept it. However, it is in faithful obedience that hope is renewed and fully experienced.
This world will never know the peace that only Jesus can provide until it hears the Good News from us. This world will never find contentment, fulfillment and hope until it experiences the Gospel of Jesus in our lives. Easter is an invitation to a new purpose and focus for living. It is the offering of a challenging commitment to faithful obedience to the one who has gone before us: Jesus, the one who goes ahead of us to show us the way to really live!
Easter proclaims the greater truth that resurrection is reality and Jesus calls us to live that eternal life in Him beginning right now. Jesus challenges us to focus on what really matters in this life, our relationship with Him and our relationships with the people He has given us to love and care for. That is all there is in this life that is eternal. Everything else is dust and rust.
This is the greatest power of Jesus’ love for us, unleashed in the world. This is the power that brings new life, transformation and complete confidence for the future. The best that life can offer is Jesus, and Easter proclaims that life in Jesus is eternal, abundant in meaning, clear in purpose and selfless in direction. You are going to be around for a long time and the best is yet to be. May the comfort and confidence of Easter lead us to obediently accept Jesus’ challenge to boldly proclaim His Good News in all we say and do in every relationship!
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!