What really underlines the truth of Easter and the resurrection was the affect it had on those to whom He appeared in those following weeks. The disciples changed from weak and inept to powerful and evangelistically persistent. What they had been and what they became was the difference between night and day.
It all started with a shock treatment—Good Friday was certainly a shock to everyone’s system—followed by mystery: an empty tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other women ran back into Jerusalem, shouting that the tomb was empty! The reason for their excitement? There was no bodily theft, but a resurrection. It was a heavenly miracle too good to believe.
Too good to believe? Not when death is defeated. Not when life continues. That’s one whale of a victory. That’s headline news that has been enough for the first doubting Thomas and for millions of other briefly doubting Thomases for the past 20 centuries.
One thing’s for sure: If one knew only the beginning of the Easter story—a very bad beginning—and not the magnificent ending, it certainly wouldn’t foster much of a religion. However, Jesus came calling on the road to Emmaus, to Mary, in the Upper Room, and then the Ascension. Now, victory reigns.
For emphasis, let me tell you about another moment in history, what happened after the Battle of Waterloo. It was a battle between the English Army led by the Duke of Wellington and the French Army led by the arrogant Napoleon, who wanted to rule the world. The outcome would determine the fate of Europe. When the battle finally ended, light signals began to send word of the victory back across the English Channel. Yet a heavy fog rolled in quickly, so only the first two words of the message were received, “Wellington defeated…” Further communication was impossible. Hours later, when the fog finally lifted, the message was completed: “Wellington defeated the enemy.”
That is how it was and is. The Lord’s story had a bad beginning, Jesus defeated…but when the fog of fear lifted and the message was completed gloriously, it read: Jesus defeated the enemy, death.
Easter is not the only time God’s children muse about what happens when life’s candle flickers and then goes out, but it is the time most do consider a little more deeply the questions: Where did I come from, and where do I go? What kind of mountaintop experience awaits me after I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death?
Inevitably everyone upon this earth must die. One day, the insurance salesperson sells no more policies, the banker figures no more percentages, the preacher writes and delivers a last sermon. Then the great question comes face to face with the Great Answer.
One does not have to be tired of life to talk about death. Men accept that flowers wither and fade, yet they plant gardens. There is dawn, and there is dusk. A great symphony has a final crescendo. I’d like to live to be 100, if I can keep my health, but I sure am curious about what it’s going to be like if I fail to reach 101.
Norman Vincent Peale, a famous preacher who continued to preach well into his 90s, used to tell a story about his father who died at 85 after a distinguished career as a physician and minister. He had struggled his whole life, despite his deep and abiding faith, against a very real fear of death. Not long after he died, Norman’s stepmother dreamed he came to her and told her his fears had been groundless. “Don’t worry about dying,” he said to her. “There’s nothing to it.” The dream was so vivid that she woke up overwhelmed.
Life is a place of attics, living rooms, closets and saving accounts filled with leftovers we fear to lose. Jesus simply seeks to improve our perspective: “Lay not up for yourself treasures on earth, but rather lay up for yourself treasures in heaven.” Pure and simple, the stock market can go boom overnight, but not the soul market.
We are all living on borrowed time. We just don’t happen to know the size of the loan. “I am come that ye might have life” (
One Sunday morn as a minister was preaching about life after death, he looked out at his congregation and said, “What would heaven be like without my Willie?” His Willie, 9 years old, all boy and rushing toward manhood, had been killed only a month before. All the faith in the world will not stop you from hurting when someone you love dies. It is a wrenching, terrible, torturous moment. You are allowed at that time to feel frustration, anger, despair. However, when you believe in the resurrection, cemeteries become cathedrals. Knowing it is not the end, but a beginning, makes all the difference in the world. Remember, to live again is no more miraculous than the life we are experiencing at this moment.
Paul said that after death we will have new bodies. Do you find this difficult to comprehend? Why? Was not your present body miraculously created from a tiny sperm and egg into 100 or 200 pounds of complexity? Cannot God who made a body suitable for earth make yet another one equally suitable for heaven? I have held many funerals, but in so doing I have buried bodies, not lives. I have buried remnants, not souls. The personality lives on in eternity.
If you want to get scientific, good. There is an axiom of science that says no material object in the universe can be destroyed. That that which disappears in one form reappears in another. If it is true that matter has a form of immortality, it stands to reason that our souls, which are infinitely more important, must have the same capability.
Sometimes the Bible could be clearer on certain subjects, but you can’t find much greater clarity than when you read Paul’s words in
I don’t remember how it was the day I took my first baby steps, but I am sure it was an overwhelmingly wonderful experience. Then one day, I learned that trees were for climbing, for lifting me up and giving me a higher perspective. It was an overwhelmingly wonderful experience. One day I learned to fly, piloted a plane all by myself up above the clouds, and it was an overwhelmingly wonderful experience. All these new dimensions did not diminish what had come before, though each new lifting up was bright and new and beautiful. So it will be the day I die—another expansion of perspective, a new transforming—and I am sure I will at that time hear my Lord saying, “Peace be with you.” That will be the most overwhelmingly wonderful experience of all.
At that timeless moment, I will know what I already have known for such a very long, long time: that life is stronger than death, that eternity laughs in the face of clocks and calendars, that because Jesus still lives, I am never very far away from my heavenly home.
So, Shalom to you. Walk from here this morning with confidence. Shalom. Walk from here with joy. Shalom. Walk from here with the resurrection-spirit pulsing in your breast. Walk from here unafraid, because even in your darkest hour there is always the proven promise of the dawn.