Alive!

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing His praise
      Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
      With Him mayst rise:
That, as His death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
      With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound His name,
      Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
      Pleasant and long:
Or since all music is but three parts vied
      And multiplied;
O let Thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with His sweet art.

—George Herbert , “Easter” (1633)

Dangerous!

In many respects I would find an unresurrected Jesus easier to accept. Easter makes Him dangerous. Because of Easter I have to listen to His extravagant claims and can no longer pick and choose from His sayings. Moreover, Easter means He must be loose out there somewhere. Like the disciples, I never know where Jesus might turn up, how He might speak to me, what He might ask of me. As Frederick Buechner says, Easter means “we can never nail Him down, not even if the nails we use are real and the thing we nail Him to is a cross.”

—Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, pp. 225

A Weekly Festival

Many active Christians would say that Christmas is their chief festival. Closer to the mark, but still missing it, are those who would say that Easter Day is the principal feast of the church. What is amiss about such assessments? Simply this: No observance that occurs only once a year can connote the continuing work of God in daily life. Therefore the chief festival occurs weekly, and from it all else is derived, including those annual festivities that may be more visible and certainly are the more popular cultural occasions. . . . It has become a maxim of late that “every Sunday is a little Easter.’” But it would be more accurate to say that “every Easter is a great Sunday.”

—Laurence Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 44,54

Resurrection Certainties

What has God done in raising Jesus from the dead? Here are a few biblical answers.

Because of the resurrection of Jesus, death will never have any dominion over Him again. (Romans 6:9; Acts 13:34)

Because of the resurrection, Jesus intercedes for us in heaven before God. (Romans 8:34)

Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning and guarantee of our resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:20; 2 Corinthians 4:14)

We were raised with Jesus so that our true life is hidden now in Him. (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1-4)

Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we are born again to a living hope. (1 Peter 1:3)

Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we now enjoy His personal fellowship with us always. (Matthew 28:20)

Because of the resurrection of Jesus, He has a name above every name and every knee will bow to Him. (Philippians 2:9-10)

The resurrection of Jesus means that Jesus kept His word. (Matthew 17:22)

The resurrection of Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures and the promises of God. (1 Corinthians 15:4; Acts 13:32-33)

Because Jesus was raised, He has received the promise of the Spirit and poured out the Spirit on us. (Acts 2:33)

Because Jesus is raised, He can still heal the way He did on earth. (Acts 4:10)

Because of the resurrection, He gives repentance and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:31)

Because Jesus was raised, He is now appointed by God to judge the living and the dead. (Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31)

God secured our justification by raising Jesus from the dead. (Romans 4:25)

The risen Christ takes the place for us that the law once had so that we can bear fruit for God. (Romans 7:4)

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, He now has the glory for which we were made. Our ultimate destiny is to see Him as He is. (1 Peter 1:21; John 17:5, 24)

—John Piper

God of My Exodus

O GOD OF MY EXODUS,
Great was the joy of Israel’s sons
when Egypt died upon the shore,
Far greater the joy
when the Redeemer’s foe lay crushed in the dust.
Jesus strides forth as the victor,
conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might;
He bursts the bands of death,
tramples the powers of darkness down,
and lives for ever.

He, my gracious surety,
apprehended for payment of my debt,
comes forth from the prison house of the grave
free, and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death.
Show me herein the proof that His vicarious offering is accepted,
that the claims of justice are satisfied,
that the devil’s sceptre is shivered,
that his wrongful throne is levelled.
Give me the assurance that in Christ I died, in Him I rose,
in His life I live, in His victory I triumph,
in His ascension I shall be glorified.

Adorable Redeemer,
Thou who wast lifted up upon a cross
art ascended to highest heaven.
Thou, who as man of sorrows wast crowned with thorns,
art now as Lord of life wreathed with glory.
Once, no shame more deep than Thine,
no agony more bitter, no death more cruel.
Now, no exaltation more high,
no life more glorious, no Advocate more effective.
Thou art in the triumph car leading captive Thine enemies behind Thee.
What more could be done than Thou hast done!
Thy death is my life, Thy resurrection my peace,
Thy ascension my hope, Thy prayers my comfort.

—from The Valley of Vision

Eastertide: The Great Fifty Days

“Easter” is the period of eight Sundays [until Pentecost], comprising fifty days, often called as a unit “the Great Fifty Days.” For the explosive force of the resurrection of the Lord is too vast to be contained within a celebration of one day.

The recovery of Easter as “the Great Fifty Days” of the year can move the church along toward a fuller understanding of what the resurrection of its Lord implies. Easter is not one closing day at the end of a lengthy period of Lent. Easter is one extended rejoicing in the resurrection that more than exceeds in length the Lenten disciplines. The first day of the season, Easter Day, is the opening of a protracted celebration, even as the Resurrection is itself the opening to a vast new reality.

“The First Sunday After Easter” implies Easier is over, having lasted only one day. But “the Second Sunday of Easter” (for the same date) indicates that Easter is an extended season, whose essential character is shared by all of its parts. The careful use of “Easter Day” rather than “Easter” for the opening occasion further presses this point.

Once Easter is seen as a season, congregations can work at distinctive worship practices throughout the Great Fifty Days in order to tie the weeks together more clearly in the hearts of worshipers. For example, on Sundays Two through Seven, one stanza of a hymn used on Easter Day might be sung as an acclamation (“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is one possibility).

—Laurence Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 54, 56-7

He Lives!

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing His praise
      Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
      With Him mayst rise:
That, as His death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
      With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound His name,
      Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
      Pleasant and long:
Or since all music is but three parts vied
      And multiplied;
O let Thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with His sweet art.

—George Herbert , “Easter” (1633)

Eastertide (6)

Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands,
For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands,
And brings us life from Heaven.
Wherefore let us joyful be,
And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of Alleluia! Alleluia!

No son of man could conquer Death,
Such mischief sin had wrought us,
For innocence dwelt not on earth,
And therefore Death had brought us
Into thralldom from of old
And ever grew more strong and bold
And kept us in his bondage. Alleluia!

But Jesus Christ, God’s only Son,
To our low state descended,
The cause of Death He has undone,
His power forever ended,
Ruined all his right and claim
And left him nothing but the name,
His sting is lost forever. Alleluia!

It was a strange and dreadful strife
When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life;
The reign of death was ended.
Stripped of power, no more it reigns,
An empty form alone remains
Death’s sting is lost forever! Alleluia!

Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree—
So strong His love!—to save us.
See, His blood doth mark our door;
Faith points to it, Death passes o’er,
And Satan cannot harm us. Alleluia!

So let us keep the festival
Where to the Lord invites us;
Christ is Himself the joy of all,
The Sun that warms and lights us.
By His grace He doth impart
Eternal sunshine to the heart;
The night of sin is ended! Alleluia!

Then let us feast this Easter day
On the true Bread of Heaven;
The Word of grace hath purged away
The old and wicked leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed;
He is our Meat and Drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other! Alleluia!

—Martin Luther (1524)

Eastertide (5)

The Lord is risen indeed!
Now is His work performed;
now is the mighty captive freed,
and death’s strong castle stormed.

The Lord is risen indeed!
Then hell has lost his prey;
with Him is risen the ransomed seed
to reign in endless day.

The Lord is risen indeed!
He lives, to die no more;
He lives, the sinner’s cause to plead,
whose curse and shame He bore.

The Lord is risen indeed!
Attending angels, hear!
Up to the courts of heaven with speed
the joyful tidings bear.

Then take your golden lyres,
and strike each cheerful chord;
join, all ye bright celestial choirs,
to sing our risen Lord.

—Words: Thomas Kelly, 1802; Music: St. Michael, NARENZA (Meter: SM)

Eastertide (4)

In the cosmic newness revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ we find the promise and foretaste of our own transformation. We are privileged to be participants of the divine nature. Therefore the church celebrates the resurrection of Christ and of the whole creation as the center of a weekly cycle, every Lord’s day, and as the center of an annual cycle, every Easter.

Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 38

Eastertide (3)

Easter puts Jesus’ life in a whole new light. Apart from Easter I would think it a tragedy that Jesus died young after a few short years of ministry. What a waste for Him to leave so soon, having affected so few people in such a small part of the world! Yet, viewing that same life through the lens of Easter, I see that was Jesus’ plan all along. He stayed just long enough to gather around Him followers who could carry the message to others. Killing Jesus, says Walter Wink, was like trying to destroy a dandelion seed-head by blowing on it.

—Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 225-6

Eastertide (2)

Easter preceded by Lent is the primary annual cycle of the calendar; secondary to it is Christmas preceded by Advent. This is true both theologically and historically. It is the resurrection that interprets the birth of Jesus. Apart from the resurrection, Jesus has no more claim upon us than Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Anwar Sadat: He was simply one among many good leaders who managed to meet an unjust death.

This theological assertion is buttressed by historical facts: (1) What is presumably the oldest of the four Gospels pays no attention whatever to the birth of Jesus, beginning instead with the account of his baptism; and Paul makes only passing references to Jesus’ birth (as in Galatians 4:4 and Philippians 2:7). Only later did Matthew and Luke attach enough importance to the nativity to comment upon it extensively. (2) Even more significant: Although the resurrection was observed liturgically in the church from its very inception, the earliest recorded liturgical observance of Christmas Day falls well into the fourth century.

Laurence Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 49-50

Eastertide

“Easter” is the period of eight Sundays [until Pentecost], comprising fifty days, often called as a unit “the Great Fifty Days.” For the explosive force of the resurrection of the Lord is too vast to be contained within a celebration of one day.

Easter is not one closing day at the end of a lengthy period of Lent. Easter is one extended rejoicing in the resurrection that more than exceeds in length the Lenten disciplines. The first day of the season, Easter Day, is the opening of a protracted celebration, even as the Resurrection is itself the opening to a vast new reality.

“The First Sunday After Easter” implies Easier is over, having lasted only one day. But “the Second Sunday of Easter” (for the same date) indicates that Easter is an extended season, whose essential character is shared by all of its parts.

–-Laurence Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 54, 56-7

He Is Risen!

Many active Christians would say that Christmas is their chief festival. Closer to the mark, but still missing it, are those who would say that Easter Day is the principal feast of the church. What is amiss about such assessments? Simply this: No observance that occurs only once a year can connote the continuing work of God in daily life. Therefore the chief festival occurs weekly, and from it all else is derived, including those annual festivities that may be more visible and certainly are the more popular cultural occasions. . . . It has become a maxim of late that “every Sunday is a little Easter.’” But it would be more accurate to say that “every Easter is a great Sunday.”

—Laurence Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 44,54

“Seven Stanzas at Easter”

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

—John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter” from Telephone Poles and Other Poems

Resurrection Perspective

It was not that the disciples of Jesus were more stupid than other human beings and therefore “just didn’t get it.” It was that neither they nor we can “get it” until we know how the story ends. The birth, ministry, and death of Jesus must be understood in light of the resurrection or the understanding will be greatly diminished. It is no accident that the observance of Christian time, the day and the week and the year, is grounded in and organized around the resurrection celebration.

—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 27-28

Easter Joy

O GOD OF MY EXODUS,
Great was the joy of Israel’s sons
when Egypt died upon the shore,
Far greater the joy
when the Redeemer’s foe lay crushed in the dust.
Jesus strides forth as the victor,
conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might;
He bursts the bands of death,
tramples the powers of darkness down,
and lives forever.
He, my gracious surety,
apprehended for payment of my debt,
comes forth from the prison house of the grave
free, and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death.
Show me herein the proof that His vicarious offering is accepted,
that the claims of justice are satisfied,
that the devil’s sceptre is shivered,
that His wrongful throne is levelled.
Give me the assurance that in Christ I died, in Him I rose,
in His life I live, in His victory I triumph,
in His ascension I shall be glorified.
Adorable Redeemer,
Thou who wast lifted up upon a cross
art ascended to highest heaven.
Thou, who as man of sorrows wast crowned with thorns,
art now as Lord of life wreathed with glory.
Once, no shame more deep than Thine,
no agony more bitter, no death more cruel.
Now, no exaltation more high,
no life more glorious, no advocate more effective.
Thou art in the triumph car leading captive Thine enemies behind Thee.
What more could be done than Thou hast done!
Thy death is my life, Thy resurrection my peace,
Thy ascension my hope, Thy prayers my comfort.

—from The Valley of Vision