Easter is not over, Easter is forever
Because the Love of God death can never sever
So endeavor to rejoice whatsoever
However in time you might take your pleasure
For Life is your soul’s grand lover
Easter is not over, Easter is forever
Because the Love of God death can never sever
So endeavor to rejoice whatsoever
However in time you might take your pleasure
For Life is your soul’s grand lover
Hades cannot enfold nor death hold Love incarnate
As One dies to live again forever to change our fate
And how is it we ought to thank Love so very divine
But than to love one another and darkness outshine
Out of the darkness the Light brightly shines,
As death itself is swallowed up in living Life
Breathing in the wicked halls of dark Hades
With walls lined by chained, mournful spirits,
But there are no shackles to be worn by you,
O Beloved, for you have born the very worst
And you have overcome, coming victoriously
Into the very throne room of groaning Sheol
To snatch the keys of death and hell
To be cast in your living well of Life;
And already the bell tolls the coming of dawn
As your tomb yawns in an awakening sunrise
That will be the greater surprise of all history
For death itself cannot hold in your bold Life
Just as the stark dark cannot overcome Light;
Yes, you are like that fabled phoenix, Beloved,
Rising from ashes with healing in your wings!
To one and all: Happy Easter! Blessed Resurrection Day!
Passing clouds along the sky, who would veil the earth from distant light, hear me now hail the night in promise of the dawn of yet another day. No tear will be shed in mournful loneliness underneath your dark forebodings and ill-promise of storm and terror. The Sun will rise with piercing ray and power breaking dark, speeding gloom far away … and I will rejoice and laugh again.
Death comes now, but as passing friend, not remaining foe ~ no bolted gate, no! an open door ~ and we embrace and exchange the kiss of peace, so long ago did the din of war cease at the mouth of an empty tomb, where once lay the dead-now-risen One. And so it is the Reaper now comes with promise, not plague, in sweet anticipation of the never-ending day when ends his work, and he too shall rest.
Passing clouds along the sky, who would shut out all light and make assault in storm upon the world, would you have me cry? Would you have me beg you disappear, and what with the rain would matter my tear? Would you have me hide in dark from the darkness you bring, when so soon from the Sun everlasting light will spring? And would I myself deny the dawn of joy and never laugh again?
Look east, dark clouds, along the line! Even now shows faint promise round the distant Mount, as black gives way to the golden ray! Dawn is birthed from the womb of night, and hope is cradled in the coffin ~ yes, there if life! For some short season we may bid farewell but you, clouds of doom, are passing; the Sun will appear and we will rejoice and laugh and never again will you veil this earth, for the night will be forever done!
Passing clouds along the sky, who would veil the earth from distant light, hear me now … The Sun of Righteousness has risen with healing in His wings!
Note: First published in June 2015, now republished especially for Eastertide. Blessings to one and all!
Shutting doors and locking them – powerful testimony to fear, anguish and distress. And why not? The religious authorities, in league with the Roman officials, had killed their teacher, their master. These disciples of Jesus of Nazareth had good reason to worry about themselves; after all, it was customary to stamp out at least the closest followers of a recently executed leader. Of course, one might say they also had reason to be joyful, and it’s important we don’t miss this. When we bring into account the fact that Mary Magdalene and other women had already told the disciples that Jesus had been resurrected, indeed that they had seen Jesus, these men had every reason to be calm and confident … or is this a naïve assumption? Perhaps.
At any rate, they apparently didn’t believe the testimony of these women, and instead hid behind locked doors in fear and despondency. Despite all of the miracles; despite the fact Jesus had even raised the dead; despite the fact the Lord had told them again and again that he had to die but would rise again; they did not believe, and they were frightened. Maybe, though, we shouldn’t be critical; after all, how we actually know something, in terms of actually having knowledge, is a perennial question philosophers are still wrestling with today. They were, at first, being asked to believe the testimony of two or three women, who were otherwise trustworthy, but this was an awfully big deal. Resurrection? It’s no wonder, really, that we have difficulty believing the historical record of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ; many people don’t believe this, of course.
Back to fear, though. I remember very well my little, 80-something year old grandmother walking around our house locking all the doors as soon as mom and dad were gone. This was back in the early-to-mid 1970s, in what was then the small town of Dothan, Alabama, during the day, in a nice and quiet neighborhood. Hardly anyone locked their doors, and my brother and youngest sister were just down the road at school, within walking distance. My parents were not far away, either, and could be home in about five to ten minutes. Our neighbors were all good, upstanding, trustworthy folks, and many of them were also at home during the day. Violent crime was almost unheard of in our community… You get the picture.
Despite all of this, however, my dear grandma was afraid, period. There was no compelling reason; she simply refused to believe everything was alright, and that she was safe. In the end, though, perhaps we have to give her more credit for rationality after all, since we cannot say with full assurance that she was safe, only that there was an high probability of safety. She did not – nor could anyone – absolutely know she was safe, but this points to the difference between knowledge and belief, does it not? Belief precedes knowledge anyway, as Jennifer Trusted points out:
All our claims to knowledge presuppose belief, for if we claim to know that some statement is true we have to believe that it is true… But, apart from certain fundamental and instinctive beliefs … which we accept as needing no justification, we must produce evidence for a belief if it is to be rated as knowledge.
Did the disciples have evidence of the resurrection? They had testimony, and we might describe this testimony as veritable – according to what we read, there was no compelling reason for these men to doubt the testimony of the women – but did the disciples have actual evidence? Or perhaps we should ask, did the women have evidence to offer in order to substantiate their claims? Obviously, the women believed their claim to be true, but they were apparently not able to actually “produce objective evidence” supporting the claim, even though, according to the record, the claim was, in fact, true. In the end, the disciples simply had to see for themselves the risen Jesus. Until then they refused to believe, and even after most of the disciples actually saw and spoke with the resurrected Christ, Thomas still doubted (hence the proverbial “doubting Thomas.”)
So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’
It did not matter to Thomas that Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Joanna, and all of the other disciples had now witnessed the resurrected Lord; he said, “I will not believe, unless…” And down through the centuries, Thomas has come under some fairly harsh criticism as professing Christians have been taught to avoid following his doggedly skeptical attitude. This is probably somewhat unfair. Thomas was asking for objective evidence, concrete proof the claims were true. Evidently testimony was not enough, even though it came from several trustworthy sources very well known to Thomas. Is testimony enough? It would seem this is the foundation of what we as Christians believe, which, as we have already discussed, is admittedly not the same as having knowledge; still, if we need more than testimony, do we have evidence?
Well, 19th century English poet and cultural critic, Matthew Arnold, claimed that the resurrection of Jesus is one of “the best attested facts in history.” The pre-eminent English attorney, Sir Edward Clark, likewise said:
As a lawyer I have made a prolonged study of the evidences for the first Easter day. To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling.
Thousands upon thousands of people down through the ages have died the death of martyrs completely convinced of the resurrection, and many died joyfully. Point in fact, the Church and the whole of the Christian faith-religion is completely inexplicable apart from the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. As Dr. Karl Barth of the last century observed, “The apostles … spoke as men who had behind them the empty tomb and before them the living Jesus,” and they were, of course, the infant New Testament Church. Dr. William Lane Craig hit the proverbial nail on the head when he said:
Without the belief in the resurrection the Christian faith could not have come into being. The disciples would have remained crushed and defeated men. Even had they continued to remember Jesus as their beloved teacher, his crucifixion would have forever silenced any hopes of his being the Messiah. The cross would have remained the sad and shameful end of his career. The origin of Christianity therefore hinges on the belief of the early disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead.
They did believe, even eventually Thomas; otherwise, they would have remained cloistered in a locked room, at least until they could have escaped back to Galilee or somewhere safer. And then what? Would they have preached there? Would they have ever testified about Jesus? Would they have called him Lord and Messiah? No, of course not. Craig is right: There would not even be a Christian faith had Jesus not risen from the dead. This is something even a contemporary Jewish rabbi observes:
This scared, frightened band of the apostles, (who were) just about to throw away everything in order to flee in despair to Galilee; when these peasants, shepherds and fishermen, who betrayed and denied their master and then failed him miserably, suddenly could be changed overnight into a confident mission society, convinced of salvation and able to work with much more success after Easter than before Easter, then no vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation.
Is this sufficient evidence? Does this even count as evidence? I’m probably not the one to say one way or the other; however, one thing is certain: Believing and being Christian has always required lively faith, for “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” There have always been objections, naturally, such as: Maybe the body of Jesus was stolen? But, then, maybe those Roman soldiers were executed for dereliction of duty, too! Because if they really had fallen asleep or fled the scene for any reason, they would most assuredly have been killed post haste! This was not merely Roman custom, but strictly enforced legal practice.
No, this line of reasoning won’t do in the end. There was no body snatching, no psychotic visions, or drugged hallucinations, or mass hysteria. The disciples didn’t sit down one day and decide to take the whole tragedy and turn it into a New York Times best-seller, followed by a whirlwind tour through the Empire, signing autographs and whatnot. Can one prove any of this? This depends on the criteria for proof, but even with quite liberal allowances we likely cannot prove the resurrection beyond reasonable doubt … yet, this is precisely where faith kicks in, as well as what has been called (appropriately so, in my humble opinion) the “inner witness of the Spirit.”
There are a couple of other points about knowledge and belief worth mentioning before we conclude this subject, namely, the difficulty in assimilation of the idea of resurrection, and the near impossibility of knowing anything at all if the definition of knowledge is too stringent. First, we have a schemata about life, or the cycle of life. One is born, lives (however long), and then dies. Different peoples around the globe believe in some kind of after-life; in fact, most people do not believe death is simply the absolute finem vitae. None too few believe in reincarnation; however, resurrection seems more difficult to swallow – that is, that someone dead and buried could (and did) walk out of his/her tomb some days later, not only fully alive but in an altogether different type of body that defies our basic physiological understanding of the human (or any creature.) In accepting the reality of the resurrection of Christ Jesus, we are forced to assimilate an essentially different understanding of birth, life and death that includes the real possibility, if not probability, of revivification and physical transformation (and/or “glorification,” to use biblical terminology.)
This is admittedly very difficult, as well it should be, which is why rejection of the whole idea of resurrection, perhaps especially in the context of this present time and our world as it now exists, is completely understandable. This in turn helps explain why salvific faith is a divine gift. People exercise faith on a regular basis, but not faith on this scale. Surely we might go so far as to say it is (almost) humanly impossible to comprehend revivification of a corpse three days following the death of that person. Obviously, though, people do believe – even if they/we fail to have what can properly be called knowledge – but there are others, just as obviously, who scorn and ridicule us for holding what they consider an utterly ridiculous belief.
This brings us to our point about the definition of knowledge, which Jennifer Trusted explains quite well:
If we do not accept the Cartesian reliance on God, and concede that there is always a logical possibility that our calculations or ratiocinations are incorrect, then we cannot even claim to know that mathematical and logical statements are true. So, if we do not permit appeal to the beneficence of God, we cannot claim to know that any statement is true, and then we have no use for the word ‘know,’ in the sense of ‘knowing that.’ It would be impossible for us ever to claim that we had knowledge that any statement whatever was true. We have got ourselves into a ridiculous position; for we use ‘know’ to make a distinction between what we regard as well-justified belief and semi-justified and unjustified beliefs. We do not want to adopt a criterion for the use of the word ‘know’ which will make it inapplicable to any situation involving belief.
We might say, then, that those who scorn and ridicule us for believing in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are unjustified in their derision, that our belief is at the very least semi-justified and leads us to reasonable faith (as opposed to irrational, or blind, faith.) This reasonable faith growing out from justified (or semi-justified) belief is what St. Peter extols in his epistle to an early community of Christians, noting that “without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.” Here the Apostle St. Peter is placing himself below his readers, then and now, saying in a very real sense to them and to believers today, “it is more praiseworthy, indeed, that you love the Lord whom you have not seen than to love him even as much as I do precisely because I have seen.”
Besides, it really smacks of arrogance to put down someone for her beliefs as if she’s naïve, childish, superstitious or whatnot, without even seriously and reasonably considering testimony and whatever evidence she might have to justify her belief(s) as being valid and true. And even if one concludes that her belief is not true, it might still be, at the least, semi-justified – that is, we might very well understand, if we’re unbiased, why it is she believes what she believes, and we might very rightly conclude that, while her belief may be untrue, it’s not so outrageous after all. (As an aside, we should all be this humble and considerate. For my part, I cannot say, Christian though I am, that Ahura Mazda didn’t visit and speak to Zoroaster. God may very well have revealed Godself to Zoroaster… Why not?)
At any rate, as Christians we believe we have been given enough in order to believe, and so every Sunday, and especially during the Paschal (Easter) season, we confidently celebrate and praise and worship our resurrected Lord and Redeemer, Jesus the Christ. We also hear again the words of our Savior, “Do not be faithless but believing… Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Christ came and suffered and died; this we believe. Christ was buried for three days and rose again; this we also believe. “And if Christ has not been raised,” as the Apostle St. Paul tells us, “then (our) faith is a delusion and (we) are still lost in (our) sins. It would also mean that the believers in Christ who have died are lost. If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more, then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world.”
 Craig Keener, Gospel of John: A Commentary, vol. 2, 1200
 Cf. Luke 24.10
 Cf. Mark 16.9; Matthew 28.9-10
 Cf. Mark 16.10; Luke 24.11
 Keener, Op Cit, 1200-1201; J. Ramsey Michaels, NIBC, vol. 4, John, 343
 For example, read through Jennifer Nagel, A Short Introduction to Knowledge, published by Oxford, or the larger work by Jennifer Trusted, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Knowledge, published by MacMillan. This is a field all to itself … although one might wonder how profitable it is to spend centuries wrangling about what knowledge is and how we know, when it always seems debatable whether we actually know anything at all. If we don’t, then how can we make any progress? Of course, Nagel and Trusted both handle the whole subject very expertly; their works are certainly good to read for an introduction. Cf. also Stephen Law, Philosophy, 48-64 (Published by Metro Books)
 Jennifer Trusted, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Knowledge, 231
 On criteria for “assessing whether a claim to know that a statement is true of false,” cf. J. Trusted, Op Cit, 231-232. Trusted offers three stipulations:
 John 20.25 ESV
 Both as quoted by J. M. Boice, Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2, The Triumph of the King, 640
 K. Barth, Evangelical Theology, 29
 As quoted by J. McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, 204
 As quoted by J. McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, 240
 Epistle to the Hebrews 11.6 ESV
 Albert Roper and George Currie, as quoted by McDowell, Op Cit, 235-238
 Cf. J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, vol. 1, God, the World and Redemption, 382-385 in which Williams notes that “no record,” biblical or otherwise, “exists of anyone so much as suggesting a search for Jesus’ body.” Also, in 384n9, Williams mentions the “swoon theory” popularized by Hugh Schonfield in his Passover Plot, and notes that “this similarly would have led to a search for his whereabouts after his reported resurrection. Again, no one searched for Jesus, for the simple reason that both friend and foe knew he had died.” In other words, dead and not risen would eventually have resulted in a corpse; swooned and revived would eventually have resulted in the rediscovery of the revived and living Jesus … but the detractors (enemies) of Jesus produced neither, nor is there any indication they attempted to do so. We are left with multiple testimonies, then, of encounters with the resurrected Lord Jesus, the Christ, Son of the living God.
 Cf. Romans 8.16 and Gospel of St. John 15.26
 On schemata and assimilation, cf. Kendra Cherry, Essentials of Psychology: An Introductory Guide to the Science of Human Behavior, 100-103
 J. Trusted, Op Cit, 233
 I Peter 1.8 RSV
 Richard Lenski, Interpretation of Peter, John and Jude, 41
 John 20.27b, 29b RSV
 I Corinthians 15.17-19 GNT
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!