The great festival of Easter is the pivotal point of Christianity, and indeed, the history of the world.
There is no point to such faith, and indeed, to life itself, without Easter’s celebration, the resurrection of Christ. Everything depends upon it. Without the resurrection, we are left with an itinerant preacher who might have healed, might have walked on water, might have fed the five thousand with a few loaves and a few fish. We are left with a self-styled prophet who told us how to live but who lied about who he was. We are left with a delusional beggar who gave us false hope.
But there is ample evidence that the resurrection occurred. The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, “King of the Jews,” is chronicled in accounts of the time. More importantly, we have witnesses to the empty tomb, and scores of witnesses to the risen Christ as he walked the earth before his ascension to heaven.
So on Easter morning, as the children and teachers placed the colorful freshly cut flowers in the straw baskets and waited in the back pew for the right moment, I thought of the small but immense part we played in this great drama. After the triumphal procession (Hail thee festival day…), after the Epistle and Gospel readings, after we affirmed the Nicene Creed as one voice, we stepped up the aisle toward the white wooden cross.
The cross had been placed at the foot of the chancel steps. Beyond, under the thirteenth-century crucifix, I could see the white-tented tabernacle in its garden of lilies and flaming candles. As the congregation sang Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia… the children shoved the green stems into the deep holes on the cross, clothing the whiteness with brilliant color. The cross now glowed with life, life sacrificed in our gardens. The sign of salvation was peopled with petals glorifying this Son of God who gave himself to us for us.
Spring is our season of resurrection. Gone are the cold dark nights of winter. Born to us is the flowering life of spring. Everywhere we see creation budding, birthing, mating, and mothering. Easter distills this rebirthing, this life-banishing-death into a few hours of incredible – credible – beauty. The Church pulls us into this intense beauty as she portrays and celebrates this drama of redemption.
Scripture tells us that after his death, Christ went into Hades, the place of sleep for all those who had died before his incarnation. He opens the gates and rescues the prisoners, so that not one would be lost who desired to be saved. Then on Easter morning, robed as a gardener, he greets Mary Magdalene who came to the tomb with precious oils to anoint the body of her Lord.
This is the real Magdalene mystery. This is the pivotal point of our history, upon which everything depends. Have we solved the mystery? Is her account true? Do we trust the witnesses and those who recorded their testimony? Is it all a hopeful dream, a great leap of faith? We must consider the sources, examine the accounts, and most of all, read the testimonies of those who gathered in that first century to celebrate Christ Jesus’ resurrection. How did they behave? What happened in those early gatherings? Were these early followers, the first Church, changed by their belief in Christ? Was the world changed by them?
These questions have been asked and answered, again and again, and all point to the historicity of the resurrection of Christ. The accounts, recorded on codices and handed through the centuries to our present day in the form of Gospels and Epistles, reflect a high degree of probability, the same degree we apply to other historical accounts we assume to be true.
But then, if Christ rose from the dead, we must listen to him. We must take him seriously. We must follow his commandments, and those of his people, the sons and daughters of Israel. We must believe in judgment day, and we must believe that our sins can be forgiven, if we choose to repent.
And if it is indeed true that he with the wounded hands and feet and side conquered death to give us life, we are the most happy of men, the most blessed of women. For we, through this suffering act of love become part of the resurrected one, part of his divine nature. His spirit infuses ours, and we become his body as we eat and drink in the supper he ordained for us.
So as we flowered the cross with the new life from our gardens, we knew Christ flowered us as we became one with him, filled with his risen life.