Category Archives: Easter

‘A star in the jaws of the clouds’

Never in human history has such goodness encountered such evil.

On a Friday a man was condemned to death. This man was marked by more love than the world had ever seen—read the stories of how he treated the sick, the social outcasts, women, children, his enemies. And marked by more truth than the world had ever known—he more than anyone else is universally acclaimed as the greatest teacher ever. Most remarkably, his death sentence was orchestrated by leaders of the most enlightened religious system of the day—its Scriptures recount the moral failings of its heroes and judge the rich and powerful by how they behave toward the poor. And his execution was carried out by the most powerful empire of that day using the most barbarous means ever devised—no death is more humiliating, agonized and prolonged.

Surely evil had won. The reigning powers had joined in its deeds. The brilliant pinpoint of light, the beautiful ideal seen in this man seemed, as Victor Hugo wrote, “small, isolated, …threatened on all sides by the dark forces that surround it.” Surely it would soon be extinguished. Never! That light, Hugo continued, was “no more in danger than a star in the jaws of the clouds.”

There is a Power far above and beyond the powers of empire and religion. In some way, full of mystery, this crucified man was the embodiment of that Power. empty tomb“In him was life, and that life was the light for all people. The light shines and the darkness cannot lay hold of it” (John 1:4-5). The darkness cannot catch this light, cannot comprehend it or overpower it! And so those who were his followers, first women and then men, witnessed this man alive on the third day.

We wonder why God didn’t stop Friday with its overwhelming unfairness and ugliness and horror and go right to Sunday. Surely suffering is pointless, right? But as James Stewart, the great Scottish theologian, writes,

They nailed him to the tree, not knowing that by that very act they were bringing the world to his feet.

They gave him a cross, not guessing that he would make it a throne.

They flung him outside the gates to die, not knowing that in that very moment they were lifting up all the gates of the universe, to let the King of Glory come in. …

He did not conquer in spite of the dark mystery of evil. He conquered through it.

When life seems unfair and people heartless and death near, when evil seems to threaten all hope and our hearts start to crumble in confusion and sorrow, let us remember that this One who came among us and loved us is also a Power far above and beyond all the forces of hate and darkness. On that Friday, contrary to what things seemed, good was winning. Somehow evil was being used to gain an even greater good. In the end, this One—and those who align with him—will always win.

Not a resuscitation! (an Easter sunrise account)

The Lord gave us a beautiful Easter sunrise service. Almost the instant we began our service, the sun burst over the neighboring hill to the east. Knowing that groups all around the globe had gathered outside like us, we imagined the steady progression westward sunrise serviceof joyous shouts as they see the rising sun and call, “Christ is risen — Christ is risen indeed!”

There in the corner of the Trissels cemetery, Easter anthems of faith and joy filled the air and our hearts. One of our high school thespians read the Easter story, with his brother on the guitar laying down a musical background and interludes. Several of our group used poetry to help them voice the glory of that morning:

The morning breaks, the dark is fled,

for Christ is risen from the dead!

The sting is drawn from death and grave,

for Christ is risen, strong to save!

A definite high point was a dramatic representation of the moment of Jesus’ resurrection. Four of our men stood in front of us, representing the walls of the tomb, two stretching a gray sheet between them like the stone doorway. sunrise service 0093Then Jesus, a young boy wrapped like a mummy in a white sheet, laid down on a board in the middle of the men. A narrator led us through a way we often—mistakenly—picture Jesus’ resurrection. We often think that the angel rolled the stone away so that Jesus could get out. Our group watched the boy’s younger sister (dressed as an angel) tug the stone-sheet out of the way so we could watch her brother stir and struggle against the sheet wrapped around him. No, the narrator told us, that’s not the way it happened. That would have been a resuscitation, not a resurrection. sunrise serviceSo the stone went back on the tomb. A few moments later the boy’s head appeared above the tomb as the men who were the back tomb walls carried the board away with him standing on it. What fun!

So why did the angel roll the stone away if Jesus’ resurrected body could pass through walls? We were shown. Once again the angel tugged away the stone-sheet. Quickly the narrator and another from the audience peered into the tomb and found it empty! They turned and proclaimed, “Christ is risen!” We all replied, “Christ is risen indeed!”

(Skit can be watched here. Skit script is here.)

Give God three days!

Something I read and wanted to pass along!

It was a beautiful spring morning on Easter Monday. I paused a moment by the cathedral, gazing down the avenue crowded with people rushing to their jobs. Sitting in her usual place inside a small archway was the old flower lady. At her feet corsages and boutonnieres were parading on top of a spread-open newspaper.

The flower lady was smiling, her wrinkled old face alive with some inner joy. I started walking — then, on an impulse, turned and picked out a flower.

As I put it in my lapel, I said, “You look happy this morning.”

“Why not? Everything is good.”

She was dressed so shabbily and seemed so very old that her reply startled me.

“You’ve been sitting here for many years now, haven’t you? And always smiling. You wear your troubles well.”

“You can’t reach my age and not have troubles,” she replied. “Only it’s like Jesus and Good Friday.” She paused for a moment.

“Yes?” I prompted.

“Well, when Jesus was crucified on Good Friday, that was the worst day for the whole world. And when I get troubles I remember that, and then I think of what happened only three days later — Easter and our Lord arising. So when I get troubles, I’ve learned to wait three days … somehow everything gets all right again.”

And she smiled good-bye. Her words still follow me whenever I think I have troubles. Give God a chance to help … wait three days.

adapted from Guideposts (March 1995), “The Magic of Three Days” by Patt Barnes

A Holy Humor Sunday

Easter is coming, my favorite Sunday of the year, a day we proclaim and sing the best Good News ever—that our Savior has triumphed over all the down-dragging forces of darkness!

In some church traditions, the day after Easter is a day of special festivities: walks in the country (like the disciples to Emmaus), picnics, practical jokes—each prankster feeling they are imitating the cosmic joke that God pulled on Satan in the cross and resurrection!

Other churches observe a Holy Humor Sunday around Easter. For such a service, Stephen B. Braden, a pastor in Elkhart, IN, wrote the following hymn lyrics, entitled “For the Humor of this Day” and sung to tune Dix (“For the Beauty of the Earth”).

For the humor of this day, for the joy this season brings,
For the joke that Easter plays on all dour and deadly things.

Refrain: Lord of all, to You we raise,
Joyful hymns of heart-felt praise.

For the freedom of release from the bonds of vanity
Won by Christ who brings our peace and restores our sanity.

Though our faults are numerous, in pretension we excel;
You must find us humorous; help us share that view as well.

If, O Lord, we learn to laugh at our pride when it is bruised;
At each silly goof and gaffe, we shall always be amused.

Lord, at Easter, You gave birth to new possibility
Of lives filled with joy and mirth; make that our reality.


Tastin’ my Jesus

Supposedly the famous theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich spoke at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago before his death in 1965. It was a so-called “Baptist Day” when all the Baptist pastors in the area were invited to the school. Each one brought a lunch to be eaten while listening to a lecture from one of the greatest theological minds. This year Dr. Tillich spoke for more than two hours, challenging the resurrection of Jesus.

He quoted scholar after scholar and book after book. He ended, saying that Jesus never rose from the dead in any literal sense and that practices in the church that are based on a relationship with a risen Jesus are simply emotional mumbo-jumbo.

He then asked if there were any questions. After about 30 seconds, an old, dark skinned preacher with a head of short-cropped, woolly white hair stood up near the back.

“Docta Tillich, I got one question,” he said as all eyes turned toward him. He reached into his sack lunch and pulled out an apple and began eating it.

“Docta Tillich … [Crunch, Munch] … My question is a simple question … [Crunch, Munch] … Now, I ain’t never read them books you read … [Crunch, Munch] … and I can’t recite the Scriptures in the original Greek … [Crunch, Munch] … I don’t know nothin’ about Niebuhr and Heidegger … [Crunch, Munch] … ”

He finished the apple. “All I wanna know is: This apple I just ate, was it bitter or sweet?”

Dr. Tillich paused for a moment and answered in exemplary scholarly fashion: “I cannot possibly answer that question, for I haven’t tasted your apple.”

The white-haired preacher dropped the core of his apple into his crumpled paper bag, looked up at Dr. Tillich and said calmly, “Neither have you tasted my Jesus.”

Come to the Easter sunrise service (Sunday at 7 a.m.) to hear witnesses that Jesus indeed is alive!

Easter in a cemetery!

The high point of the Christian year is upon us! This Sunday at sunrise many of us will gather at the corner of our church’s cemetery, proclaiming “Christ is risen indeed!”

A cemetery was the site of the first Easter as well. The principalities and rulers of this present darkness had worked hard, and apparently successfully, at placing Jesus there — under the ground, out of the way. Now they were breathing a sigh of relief — Jesus of Nazareth had gone the way of all self-proclaimed messiahs. Dead, buried, and done with.

God didn’t mind a cemetery as the site that first Easter Sunday morning. For it was death itself, that last great enemy, which God wanted to meet in head-to-head combat. Jesus’ broken and bruised body had been laid in the tomb. When the women came in the darkness of the early morning hour before dawn to anoint the corpse, they came with anxiety and grief. But what awaited the women there in the cemetery was beyond their imagination — the stone sealing the tomb had been rolled away. The grave was empty! An angel dressed in bright clothes was asking, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

The Power of light and life met the power of death and darkness. And love and light and life emerged victorious!

So shall it ever be from this time forward! We can have optimism about the future. Life, not death, is the final word. N.T. Wright wrote in Simply Christian, “When Jesus rose again God’s whole new creation emerged from the tomb, introducing a world full of new potential and possibility.”

I look forward to once again celebrating Easter and love it that we at Trissels include a breakfast and bell choir anthems in our celebration. But I especially enjoy our early morning service in the corner of the church cemetery, soaking in the atmosphere of an early morning in Spring, retelling the resurrection narrative (in an interactive, inter-generational way this year), singing the well-loved hymns.

Transmuted into something new

Three days earlier they laid him in the tomb, pronounced dead by a Roman centurion, an expert in such matters. Then resurrection life swept through that tomb.

Nothing has been the same since! It’s like we were stumbling around with a sinking feeling, full of dread. Then Christ arose and a surge of adrenaline shot through us, a sense of strength and optimism!

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:20 (NLT), “[Christ] has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again.” Paul is using the concept of firstfruits, something common in Palestinian agriculture. The first grain of the harvest is proof that the harvest is ready to be gathered in as well as a promise of what the harvest is going to be like.

If we had been there at the moment of Jesus’ resurrection, would we have seen him stir and open his eyes and begin to struggle with the bandages? No, that would have been a resuscitation of a natural body, not a resurrected body. Rather, we would have seen him pass through the graveclothes and out of the sealed tomb, his body transmuted into something new and different and wonderful, a body that could eat and touch but not need doorways to leave or enter a place.

Once there is the firstfruits, there is more of the same to follow. The enemy Death will come for me and you. But we, like Jesus, are not going to find ourselves in the hold of death but given a glorious new body. This will not be “glorious” for those not ready to meet God — those resisting God would find themselves mighty uncomfortable beyond death in the presence of God, and indeed would not be able to remain there. But for those of us who love God, nothing can hold us back!