Christ Has Risen!

In the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, the disciples usually did not recognize him at first. Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener at the tomb. The disciples near Emmaus, later that day, didn’t recognize him until he broke bread, and the disciples fishing didn’t recognize him at first on the shore, cooking breakfast.

So we are not the first to fail to discern the presence of the risen Lord during the everyday details of life. Despite prophecies and four years of superb teaching, the disciples simply did not expect it. Neither, for the most part, do we, despite solid historical witness and the message of two thousand Easters. The society around us, of which we are more a part than we care to think about, is focused on other things. Even some who call themselves Christian fail to discern, claiming the Resurrection was not historical, but rather some vague concept of immortality.

Nevertheless, this is about history. As St. Paul puts it, if this did not really happen, we are wasting our time. God is real and the fact of the Resurrection on that morning after Passover in Jerusalem is as real as any other event in ancient history and a lot more verifiable.

Our society, which likes to relegate Jesus’ life and Resurrection to a “religious” category for reference on Sunday by believers, as opposed to an historical fact, such as the lives of Napoleon, Caesar, or Alexander the Great, misses the point. This event is not optional, depending on your belief. To reference more recent history, Hitler did not lose the Second World War only if you believe he did. He just flat-out lost it, in real life, and we have facts and witnesses to prove that he did. Likewise, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, or not, depending on your belief. He just flat-out did it, and we have facts and witnesses (over 500) to prove it.

So then, knowing that, what manner of people ought we to be? The traditional Gospel for Easter tells the story of the event, but the epistle (1 Corinthians 5:6-8) poses a “therefore” response, that we are expected to be a leaven which roots out the old sour dough of malice and wickedness and rises instead with sincerity and truth. Easter is not a consumer event, providing one unit of salvation for each of us. It is an interactive impact on our world, demanding a response from us, which begins with a profound “thank you,” Eucharist, but does not end there.

The Tradition of the Church sets the tone. She decrees that it is forbidden to fast during Bright Week, beginning Easter Day. Since modern people tend not to fast much anyway, the point can be obscured, but the idea is the same. It is a week for unmitigated rejoicing. In the early Church and still in the Eastern Church, kneeling is abolished for the forty days of Easter. It is not that sin ceases during Easter season, nor does it get worse in Lent. But there needs to be a time in the church year to concentrate on the incredible good news of Resurrection, the central point of history as well as the most cheerful. Just as it is not possible to think of the Crucifixion and remain self-righteous, how can you think of Resurrection and remain in gloom and despair?

In America, with its hidden but still active Puritan roots, religion by definition is gloomy and self-righteous. There is no Puritan Easter (nor Christmas), only Sabbath, a day defined by what you must not do. Happiness in this context is left for gurus, bartenders, sports victories and TV counselors like Dr. Phil, and frankly, it doesn’t look like the happiness is going well.

We Christians are free of all that, of both sour religion and tinsel happiness. Our Liturgy is not a Sabbath dirge but a celebration of Sunday, Resurrection Day, of real history when Pontius Pilate was governor in Palestine, and real rejoicing in the fruits of the event. If people come into your life and don’t see that, or come into your church and don’t catch that spirit, perhaps you need to analyze your message for mission drift. “Let us keep the feast,” say St. Paul to the congregation, not with the moldy lumps of malice, griping, and complaining, but with a new working leaven, reflecting the joy of Resurrection.

Christ, after all, really is risen. Indeed, he is risen to give us new and joyful life today, not just in the next life; a joy strong enough to wipe out the malice of our old ways. It is always the Day the Lord has made and we always have reason to rejoice in it. 

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

Win Mott is Bishop for the Diocese of the West (Reformed Episcopal Church) in ACNA. He also serves as chair of the Immigration Task Force within ACNA and is co-chair of the dialog with the North American Lutheran Church.

Forward in Christ

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