Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011
But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he* lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead,* and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’
Matthew 28:1-10 (excerpt)
Archaeological evidence tells us that it was nearly four hundred years after Jesus’ death and resurrection before Christians even made a visual image of Christ crucified. Up until that time, he was always portrayed as the Living Christ, most frequently as the Good Shepherd. What captivated the religious imagination of the early church was not Jesus’ death; it was his resurrection. Everyone will die. Anyone could be tortured and executed, and many believers in the first three centuries were. Only Jesus rose from death and was seen to be alive. Without the resurrection, Jesus is only one more innocent victim, one more courageous martyr.
Protestants often criticize Roman Catholics and others for using the crucifix – the cross with the body of the dying Christ on it. The empty cross, we say, points to the resurrection. But the statement we make visually is often contradicted by sermons and songs that focus exclusively on the blood of Christ as though that alone is the means by which we are saved. But without the resurrection, Jesus is only another martyr.
Easter is the reason there is Christian faith, because “God raised this Jesus from the dead, vindicating his sinless life, breaking the power of sin and evil, delivering us from death to life eternal” (A Brief Statement of Faith, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)).
The Risen Jesus says to the women at the tomb, “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” For the disciples, Galilee is home; it is where their families are and where they made a living; it is their everyday world. That is where they will see the Risen Christ and come to know that for them, as for him, death will never again have the last word.
God of grace, you cause the sun to rise and chase away the shadows of death. Each day you promise resurrection, that we may be born again to new life and overcome all that would hurt or destroy. Fill us with the Holy Spirit that we may be alive again this day and everyday with the power and the peace of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.
Cynthia M. Campbell is President of McCormick Theological Seminary.