Reflections on Easter
Throughout Easter Sunday, Christians hear the proclamation: Jesus is risen! The message—whether online or in other ways—share a fundamental common theme: Jesus is alive!
Without a doubt, that is the right and proper declaration on Easter. But what are the implications for us? For those who were not there to visit the empty tomb, to meet with the resurrected Jesus in the garden, who didn’t have Him physically show up in our small group meeting?
Reflecting on John 20, in each moment in the story, those who are either discouraged, or sad, or doubting have their hearts and minds turned by a gracious personal encounter with the risen Jesus. They saw Him. They talked with Him. He spoke to them. They put their hands on Him.
We do “take them at their word” that Jesus is alive, that He came out of the tomb. But does that mean we are left with the idea of the resurrection, the conceptual truth that Jesus conquered sin and death and the grave? Are we left with embracing the wonderful idea of the risen Jesus without being able to actually embrace Him?
Some read Jesus’ words to Thomas as a way forward: “Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe” (John 20:29). This is often understood as something like, “It’s fine to not really have any personal contact of the risen Jesus as long as you simply believe that He rose from the dead.” But that turns “believing” into something more like “accept the story as true whether you experience it as true yourself.”
A Jesus who “is alive” but is not or cannot be experienced by those of us who affirm that He is alive, is hardly much different from a fan of history affirming his or her appreciation of Lincoln, or Churchill, or any other figure of history. They might affirm, “I have been so changed by what I have learned from . . .” naming their favorite long-dead but still influential figure.
It is absolutely true that Jesus rose from the dead—the evidence is undeniable. But what that means is that the second person of the Godhead—who does have a corporeal body—did not leave the body in the tomb. The very body in which He experienced human life and death is still united to Him in a marvelous and unique union through the resurrection. That is why Christians affirm Jesus conquered death and the grave.
But that He accomplished that (as evidenced by the resurrection) does not mean that we who weren’t there to experience the physical presence of the risen Jesus are left without any experience.
Every day, countless individuals have experiences with others who are not physically present with them. Either by phone or mail, computer or voice message, we affirm the realness of that other person we are communicating with although that person is not physically present with us. We are not merely living with the idea that there is someone else there on the other end of the line—we know it because of what we are experiencing.
For those of us who were not present when Jesus walked out of the grave and presented Himself alive (with many convincing proofs; Acts 1:3), we should not simply settle for “I believe the story.” We should expect, anticipate, long for, and enjoy real experiences with Jesus—in our here and now. Although we might not see Him physically or hear His voice with our natural ears, if we do not have tangible, palpable, personal experiences with the living Jesus, we may have settled for something far different than the heart of the Easter story.
Although we do not see Him with our physical eyes nor put our arms around Him as did those first Easter Sunday followers did, our affirmation that “Jesus is alive!” must include our own, personal, real experienced moments with the living—and present—Jesus!