When all had finished the leader asked if any wished to represent the other side, since they had promised freedom of speech. A little under-nourished priest climbed the steps. As he did so the chairman called out "Five minutes, please!" He replied: I won't need five minutes for what I have to say." The he began: "My friends, you have heard all the arguments that have been brought forward to prove the new world-view. But, my friends, Christ is risen.
You might have expected a howl of derision to greet this cry, but it did not come. The workers had heard those words many times before at the Russian Easter night service. So on this occasion when the priest set forth this ancient cry, it was as if a sleeping volcano erupted. From a thousand voices came back the response: "He is risen indeed, Alleluia!"
Now was the priest simply playing cleverly on the emotions of the crowd? I don't think so. He was challenging the so-called "newness" of the Revolution with the "newness" of the resurrection. He was, of course, touching a nerve deep within the Russian psyche, but he was saying something like this, that "if Christ is risen, every argument for atheism is flawed." Now I personally have every sympathy with the man who says skeptically: "Dead men don't rise!" Of course they don't! But what we find in the resurrection of Jesus is not something that originates from the natural processes of life, but something that constitutes a unique event. It is breaking in of something wholly new: it is an act of creation which parallels the story of creation in Genesis 1.
Faith in resurrection does not come easy. Our lives are profoundly influenced by the skepticism of the modern age. In our early learning we are taught to dissect, to question and be suspicious of anything that cannot be proved by reason or human experience. In our Western society we begin with a certain built in resistance to the story of resurrection. There is constant flow of modern theories offered by some scholars to give us new reconstructed Jesus rather than the one attested to in the New Testament. Against this background, we need to ask ourselves this question: Are there reasons, apart form emotional conviction, for believing this story of Resurrection of Jesus?
First, six days before Easter, as we examine the events in the life of Jesus, we confront many heartaches, such as how Jesus is judged by the religious authorities and finally hung on the cross and buried in the grave. Momentarily, it seems, an end to His mission. Who ever would have thought Jesus would be raised from the dead? After all, most of creation suffers and dies. But that Jesus should be raised from the dead, that he should burst the bonds of the grave and shatter the gates of hell. Who could ever make up such a ridiculous story?
Certainly not his disciples, those commoners, fishermen, peasants, petty civil servants, loose women and revolutionaries. They hardly would have risked their lives for somebody who had failed them in their mission.
Certainly, not the Jewish leaders or Roman authorities. They thought they had done with that troublemaker of Nazareth by hanging him on the cross and sealing his body in the tomb. If they had thought, by putting him to death, they were launching his career as a Resurrected Lord, they never would have gotten involved. You can be sure of that. They would have left him somewhere in a dungeon to rot.
Who, could ever make up such a story? Certainly, not you or I. We are ill equipped to deal with Easter. With Christmas we do pretty well. At Christmas we tend to celebrate the goodness in life and the continuity of life as we know it. Christmas is the celebration of God's coming to dwell in the world with his people. We are adept at celebrating incarnation. But at Easter is another story.
Easter is unexpected, unpredictable. It just doesn't fit the pattern. Easter is the great whistle-blowing, stopping the action for a moment and saying: Hold on! HOLD ON!! All bets are off! The world is different place than you thought it was. The story turns out different from what you imagined, and not just his story but history as well. On the Cross of Christ the final world is not bitter; it's better…better than you could ever imagine. The last cry of Jesus on the cross is not tearful, it's joyful…a joy no one -- I said no one can ever take from us. The final outcome is not strife, but triumph.
The disciples of Jesus who abandoned him and were dejected and humiliated are transformed suddenly at the news of the Resurrection. Within a few days, they are reborn as men of faith, hope, and outstanding courage. They are willing to bear witness, even to go to their deaths for the sake of the risen Christ. What has changed them? It can only be one thing-the staggering impact of the resurrection.
The Roman Empire the greatest super power in Jesus time had condemned Jesus to death. Under Roman emperors thousands of Christians were persecuted and martyred. In 312 Roman Emperor Constantine faced his last rival at the Milvian Bridge over the river Tiber, outside the walls of Rome. Constantine now turned to prayer and he saw a cross of light in the sky, and the words, "In this sign conquer." The Roman empire who hung Christ on the cross now adopted Cross as the sign on their flag.
A further surprise is the change of holy day. WE should not underestimate what the Sabbath meant to devout Jews. The Sabbath was and still is at the heart of Judaism and central to Jewish identity. Yet Jesus' followers took the extraordinary step of changing their holy day from Saturday to Sunday and calling it "The Lord's Day." Only something quite overwhelming could have led them to do so. We know what it was, for it has been spelled out in our creeds from early Christian times: "On the third day, He rose again from the dead.
I believe in the Resurrection primarily because I have gotten to know God. I know that God is love, and I also know that we human beings want to keep alive those whom we love. "Death be not proud," wrote John Donne: God will not let death win. And in the words of St. Paul letter to the church in Rome: "Death has been swallowed up in victory, Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15: 55-58).
It is a day of victory and new hope for humanity that salvation of through Jesus Christ is guaranteed. May our lives be living witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Alleluia, Christ is raised. He is risen indeed!