Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Easter Reflections

On the morning of Easter, the church was given a message to proclaim. According to the gospel accounts, an angel told the women who came to Jesus' tomb to go and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead. It is crucial to note that this message is given to them. This means that the the message of Easter is not an idea created by the church, but a gift given to church. The church bears the responsibility to proclaim this message to all who have ears to hear. But this message does not rise from within her, but is given to the church from without.

The significance of the gift-character of the Easter message is that the church does not control the content of the message. The church must constantly return to its source and hear afresh the message that has been given to us to proclaim. And what better time to do this than the Easter season!

So, what message does the angel give to the women? Here's one version:
The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you." (Matthew 28:5-7).
The angel tells the women a lot of things. But the angel not only tells the women these things, but also instructs the women to say something. The angel gives them a message to proclaim. "He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him." Let us reflect on each of the three phrases within the Easter message.

He has risen from the dead.

The first element of the Easter message is that Jesus has risen from the dead. This past tense fact comes first. The Easter message is first and foremost a message about Jesus. It is good news for Jesus. Only as such is it also good news for us. Only the one who has been raised from the dead has power over death. Only the one who has been remade anew has the power to make us new. Only the one who has been given life has life to give us. So good news for Jesus is good news for us. If we want to hear good news for us in the message of Easter, we must first hear the good news about Jesus, who has risen from the dead. All the present and future power we will experience has its root in the resurrection of Jesus on third day after his death.

He is going ahead of you.

The next element of the Easter message is that Jesus is going ahead of us. The present tense reality is that Jesus is on the move. He not only went ahead of the disciples to Galilee, but continues to go ahead of his disciples wherever they are heading in his name. Jesus goes ahead of those whom he sends to the ends of the earth to proclaim the message of Easter. As I have heard some missionaries put it, "We went there to take Jesus, but when we arrived we found that Jesus was already there." This doesn't mean that there is no reason to go and tell the message of Easter. The name of Jesus must be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. But the going ahead of Jesus does mean that we do not go in our strength, for we go where Jesus goes.

He will show himself to you.

The final element of the Easter message is that Jesus will show himself to us. This future tense promise is the end toward which the message aims: the universal revelation of Jesus. The angel promises that the disciples will see him in Galilee. But this manifestation of Jesus is not the end, but just the beginning. It is a foretaste of his manifestation to all as the Lord over all. He will show himself. This promise is both an element within the content of the Easter message given to the church and a sign that stands over our proclamation of the message. We proclaim him now, but in the end he will show himself. Any manifestation of Jesus we encounter along the way is but a fleeting moment of adoration and exhortation, not an end in itself to which we cling or upon which we build. The women encounter Jesus on the way to Galilee, but this does not abrogate the command to go to Galilee. The final revelation is still before us. In the meantime, we proclaim the Easter message, which includes the promise of his final self-revelation.

What is the message that is given to the church on Easter morning? That Jesus has been risen from the dead, that he is going on ahead of us, and that he will show himself to us and to all. This is the content of our message. May we remember to proclaim it this Easter season.

Any thoughts?
Is it correct to speak of the Easter message as a gift given to the church?
Are these temporally-structured reflections helpful?
Any other insights from this passage?


The Hitchcocks said...

Your layout is a good one. It is passages like these that make me think that Easter, at least for Easter Sunday, must not be dissected, microanalyzed, or creatively re-interpreted. We simply rejoice over the very fact: He is risen (He is risen indeed!).

In line with your observations, the dynamic quality of that morning (foreshadowing Pentecost) can also be seen in the angel's command to see where the body was once laid, then to "go quickly" to the others to testify. Today it is the same: We note the absence of the body and do a quick run-through of our little catalogue of evidence - but we do not tarry there. We gawk at the mystery of the event - but then we go tell others that Jesus is, somehow, resurrected from the dead.

That is to say, Christianity is not a death cult. It is not in any primary sense a moral religion of Christ's virtuous teachings or a memorial religion about the cross. It is about the Living Christ, and therefore about life, and therefore about living.

He is risen indeed!


Keith Drury said...

Your second point (Christ going ahead of us) reminds me of a remark in Dennis Kinlaw's book Preaching in the Spirit... which I recall as something like this... When we preach we are always the second witness... the Holy Spirit always precedes our proclamation and is the star witness... we serve as the corroborating witness.

Taanks for this column!