Something new had appeared in the universe: as new as the first coming of organic life. This Man, after death, does not get divided into ‘ghost’ and ‘corpse.’ A new mode of being has arisen. That is the story. What are we going to make of it?
— C. S. Lewis, “What Are We To Make Of Jesus Christ?”
“He is not here, for he has risen!”
Those words have echoed down through the centuries. Those words changed the entire course of the history of the world. Those words have transformed countless millions of lives. Those very words are celebrated by billions of individuals around the globe.
“I know that you seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen!” So declared the angel to the women at the empty tomb.
This event quite literally turned the world “upside down and inside out.” This one event shook the very foundations of the netherworld. This single, monumental event put death itself to death and gave birth to life everlasting for all who believe. As C. S. Lewis said, “that is the story,” the central narrative of Christian faith.
And this is what the Easter celebration is all about – that is, it is nothing less than the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ which we celebrate every day, really, but especially each year on Easter, or Pascha, Sunday. As the distinguished Yale professor, William Lyons Phelps, on one time said:
In the whole story of Jesus Christ, the most important event is the resurrection. Christian faith depends on this. It is encouraging to note that it is explicitly given by all four evangelists and told also by Paul. The names of those who saw him after his triumph over death are recorded; and it may be said that the historical evidence for the resurrection is stronger than for any other miracle anywhere narrated; for as Paul said, if Christ is not risen from the dead then our preaching is in vain, and our faith is also vain.
But, of course, as comforting as evidence may be to those who believe, faith is still faith and provides the only key to understanding the story, to embracing the truth of the resurrection and living in the light of this event and the steadfast hope it brings in the face of darkness and death.
This is central to everything we do, think, say and feel as Christians. After all, if Christ had not been raised, would there even be the Church? And if so, what would the Sacrament of Holy Communion really mean, if anything at all? For that matter, what would the blood of thousands upon thousands of martyrs be worth?
If Christ had not been raised, what comforting words would the priest or minister possibly speak to someone dying in the hospital? Or to some family facing tragic circumstances? What hope would there be beyond the grave? Would there be any assurance of life everlasting? Some other religion might provide answers of some sort … but not Christianity. In the Christian faith, the resurrection is the answer, the only answer.
No, the day of Easter, our Paschal feast, encapsulates everything – literally everything – we do and say and believe as followers of Jesus Christ. “He is not here,” the angel said. “I know that you seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen!” Triumphant over the tomb, defeating darkness and death, reconciling God and humanity in everlasting life.
And because he was not there in the grave so long ago, there is not only hope of everlasting life after temporal death, but resurrection to life in this time, in this world following so many deaths of many kinds. Resurrection life after the death of my marriage; life after the death of innocence and my own naivety; life after the death of youth. Life like the phoenix arising from the ashes of who and what once defined my life to live again, renewed and free and filled with hope.
I know all of this because I believe and have experienced the glorious truth of the resurrection in my life. The proof of the resurrection is found in the fruit of faith born and continually growing in my life, so that with the women returning from the empty tomb I, too, can say, “he has risen! Where once death reigned, life has now been crowned lord of all forevermore! And, indeed, light shines in the darkness, and the darkness is not powerful enough to overcome!”
And is there really any greater hope, any profounder truth than the powerful, terrifying, joyous message of that angel so long ago? “He is not here! He is risen!” And if he triumphed over death then he surely is the Lord of life. And as the Lord of life, he has the power and authority to give life … and hope, always hope.
This singular truth, really, is proof of everything he taught, every miracle he performed, every promise he made. This is the confirmation of purpose in creation, of meaning in our existence, of divine intention for our lives. No, Christ is not in the grave. He is not dead, cold and lifeless in the earth. He is not there… He has been and is the risen Lord and Savior, enthroned in my heart by faith. And despite what evidence there may be, however comforting, this fact is the unassailable fact of faith, not science … and for that reason, the more evident and rewarding.
In the simple words of Watchman Nee, “Our old history ends with the cross; our new history begins with the resurrection,” by grace through faith. And so it begins here and now, in this life in this world. “He is not here, for he has risen!” Alleluia!