I Corinthians 15:12-20
This is Easter. The Day of resurrection. The celebration of the rising of Jesus Christ from the dead. Easter is so central to the Christian Church that it is the one item of belief that we cannot jettison without ceasing to be Christian altogether. When Paul writes to the Corinthians his conclusion is clear. If He is not risen, then our faith is a fake. We have been going around telling lies. And Christianity is hoax. But the truth is, He was raised and He is risen!
Easter is at the essence of all that we believe. But, not just one Easter. The church has held tenaciously to the reality that there are five Easters. And the celebration of each one is paramount. What are the five Easters?
1. The Easter of History
Almost 2,000 years ago, just outside the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth was executed as a criminal. Less that 48 hours later the tomb was empty, angels declared him risen from the dead, and before that day was done, Jesus himself had appeared to his followers. Over 40 days he was seen by more than 500 people.
This was no myth, though the disciples were prone to think that when they first saw him. They thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus, however, ate food with them, showed them his wounded hands and side, and then they knew that He was risen. Risen, not simply in their hopes or imaginations, but in reality.
If you could have purchased the Jerusalem Times that next day you would have seen the headlines. “Nazarene’s Tomb found Empty.” Another headline would have read,”Death now vanquished cry converts”. “The Case of the missing body” may have been the theme of the Jerusalem Journal that evening.
The resurrection that first Easter morning was that real. It was the world’s first Easter. Something dramatic had happened in the middle of our history that changed human fortunes for ever.
2. The Easter that Returns Annually
There was no day like that first Easter. But every year, a day has been set apart called Easter Sunday. It is intended to be a day of high celebration that eclipses all other days of the year.
The Old Testament had its feast days that commemorated God’s great activity in their early history.
- They celebrated Passover to remind themselves of their rescue from the slavery under Pharaoh.
- They celebrated the feast of tabernacles to remind themselves of God’s great provision for them in the wilderness.
- They celebrated The feast of Pentecost that reminded them of God’s great gift of the scriptures.
These feasts were intended to remind every generation of Israelites, of God’s great inbreaking into their lives with His marvelous gifts.
The Church of Jesus Christ understood the wisdom of the great festivals. There are some things too important to forget. We forget too easily the important things, because of the tyranny of urgent things. But days like today are intended to underscore the dramatic deed God has done for us.
- Christmas celebrations remind us of the gift of the incarnation of God in Christ.
- Good Friday reminds us of His atonement for our sins
- And Easter tells us of His triumph over death.
It is interesting to note that the cults of Christendom do not celebrate such events. They want us to be obsessed with their petty concerns, rather than the central issues of Christian life. They want us to major on minors. This day, that returns annually, forces our attention on God’s great act of human redemption instead.
3. The Easter that recurs weekly
There is, however, a third Easter. There is one Easter that took place one day in History. An event that is unique and non-repeatable. There is the Easter celebration that returns annually as it has today. But there is an Easter that recurs every week. It is the celebration of worship on the Sunday of each week.
Up until the Resurrection of Jesus, the seventh day of the week was the day of worship. On Friday evenings at sunset the people of Israel would meet for worship, and their day of rest went until sunset on Saturday evening. It was the Sabbath day. It was centered around the celebration of God’s great act of creation. In 6 days he made the world and on the seventh day he rested. So we were to work six days then rest the seventh too.
But when that first Easter took place, the early church knew that they had encountered a reality just as wonderful as the creation of the world. It was an event that brought about the re-creation of humanity. It had given the world a brand new start. It was the beginning of a new age of the world. So how were we to celebrate it?
The early Christians met in the Jewish Synagogue on the evening of Sabbath to encounter Jewish worshippers, but they met for their own services for worship on the first day of the week in the early morning. Why the first day? Because that was the day of resurrection. Why early morning? Because He was raised in the early morning of the world’s first Easter!
Listen to a letter written at the very close of the new Testament, The Epistle of Barnabas, “We keep the eight day with joyfulness, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead.” But even before that in Acts 20:7 the church is breaking bread together on the first day, and Paul is calling for offerings to be set aside on the first day of the week, and John is in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week.
The church made this great change in the calendar in honour and remembrance of Jesus who rose from the dead on a Sunday morning. Every Sunday then is resurrection day.
4. The Easter that is final
But there is another Easter that awaits us all. It is not the one that occurred in the distant past, or one that recurs annually or every week. It is the Easter that awaits us all at the end of our life here.
The New testament is very clear, Because He arose, we too shall rise from death.
For many within Judaism, death was the end of life. For others within Judaism, what happened after death was an enigma. No one knew whether the dead were raised, or whether life continued beyond the grave. Death terrified the world and left it with little hope.
Then, with the teachings of Jesus, followed by His own Resurrection from the grave, the doubt was gone. The question was resolved, once for all.
There is life beyond. Death is a reality that awaits each of us. But it is not the last word. A personal Easter awaits all those who are Christians.
5. The Easter that remains
But there is a fifth Easter. Easter is more than memory, more than hope. Easter is not simply a day to remember what took place long ago and that we celebrate annually as well as each week. Easter is not simply a future event when we shall rise from the dead. Easter is more than memory and more than hope.
Easter is the continued presence of Jesus Christ in our lives, moment by moment, day in and day out. The Church does not simple say, “he was raised”. It declares “he IS risen”. He continues to be involved in our lives.
Easter celebrations can be like some marriages. Sometimes we celebrate the anniversary of our wedding, but we no longer celebrate our life together. We look back on our earliest days together, but they are all in the distant past. But Easter is not simply an anniversary celebration, it is the continual celebration that the One who arose from the dead continues with us throughout all the days of our life. That is why a part of the Easter story contains the words of Jesus, “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Down the centuries of time ring the words, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And through the moments of our days, The Resurrected Jesus is with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Every day is the celebration of Easter.