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More Than a Picture of Hope [From a Faith Perspective — Bucks County Courier Times]

Easter is, like many holidays in a pluralistic culture, a day that has come to mean something to many people that is far from its original intent. For some, Easter is merely a spring Sunday in which we reflect upon the newness of the season, an opportunity to dress up the kids and take some family photos, or a day to attend annual egg hunts and family gatherings. 

To be fair, there have been times in our history when Easter took on more significance or seemed more profoundly encouraging or inspirational. Think only of the dark days at the close of the Civil War in 1865. Following four violent and tumultuous years that tore the country apart, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox on Palm Sunday, bringing hostilities to a close. But on Good Friday, a few days later, John Wilkes Booth fatally shot Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, threatening the recent promise of peace, casting a pall over the country, and undermining a more promising reconstruction. 

It is hard to imagine that church pews weren’t a bit fuller that year, sermons a little more somber, and hope a little more hoped for. In fact, it is worth noting that in America, Easter wasn’t really officially celebrated until after the Civil War. Some historians note that many Americans reacquainted themselves with the Easter season following this time in our nation’s history, when they may have found some degree of hope and healing in the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

It is understandable that this would be so. The history of the resurrection is epochal for the followers of Jesus and for the world. And so, it stands to reason that people in distress would look to it as a source of encouragement, inspiration, and hope. But the resurrection of Christ is more than inspirational for Christians. It is true and an essential to Christian teaching—integral to the gospel of Jesus—because the death, burial, and resurrection are inextricably tied to the belief that in these things atonement is made, forgiveness and redemption are offered, and the promise of eternity is secured for those who believe. This is why it offers hope and healing. For the men and women who had been following Jesus, these were dark days indeed. Their teacher, their Lord, had been arrested, tortured, and hung upon a cross to suffer in agony for long hours before succumbing. They scattered, went into hiding, feared their own arrests, and were experiencing excruciating grief and loss as the one they loved was laid hastily in a borrowed tomb. So overtaken by their own fear, confusion, and grief, they did not recall that Jesus himself had foretold these events and promised to return to life in three days. They had, as humans tend to do, lost hope.

In the Gospel of John, we read that Mary Magdalene finds the stone rolled away from the tomb entrance and runs back to the disciples to tell them that Jesus’ body is missing, perhaps stolen. So, Peter and John, along with Mary, go running back to the tomb. The Bible tells us that after finding Mary’s report to be accurate, Peter and John go home. Mary stays, weeping. She looks into the tomb and sees two angels, who ask her why she weeps. She tells them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She then turns to see a man, whom she supposes to be the gardener. He says to her, “Woman, Why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” In desperation and confusion, she beseeches the supposed stranger to tell her where the body is. This gardener is, in fact, Jesus. He simply responds to her by saying her name, “Mary.” In that moment, she recognizes not only his voice but the manner in which he says her name, as one who knows and loves her. And in that moment, her fears, doubts, and grief give way to unspeakable joy as she runs to him, crying “Teacher!” He is alive! 

This is the impact of the resurrection for the Christian: Jesus actually lives, he has conquered sin and the grave, and he gives new life. This is more than a mere picture of healing and hope in the dark times of life. In the Christian faith, everything hinges and hangs upon the resurrection, and because of it, we believe all the claims of Jesus. 

The article was originally published in the in-print issue of Bucks County Courier Times on March 31, 2024.


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