“And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” – Luke 24:32
The joys and sorrows of this life – even of this life at its best – can scarcely sustain us in equanimity. We celebrate the Resurrection because it makes known to us the great fact of the immortality of the soul, giving to us the inspiration and joy of final victory over all that stands in the way of our happiness, and of the all-satisfying life of heaven.
The Resurrection is the most far-reaching fact of history, and in the light of it all of our life here should be lived. It is a great historical truth that once darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the people, and that those who walked in darkness saw a great light, and that to them that dwelt in the region and shadow of death a great light burst forth. Thereafter the world was never the same.
There have been sceptics who, like the Sadducees, denied the Resurrection; yet the fact of the Resurrection as given in the Gospels is not the outcome of the disciples’ writing down what they hoped and expected would take place. Quite the opposite was the fact. The Lord had told them as He went up to Jerusalem for the last time that He would fall into the hands of wicked men and be crucified and would rise again the third day. Yet we know that all this fell on deaf ears. The execution of their Master took the disciples utterly by surprise. As one of them says, “We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.” And this is borne out by the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, when the disciples and the multitudes cast their garments and palm branches in the way and cried, “Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” They were hoping that the Lord would put their enemies to rout and set them up on thrones as judges over the twelve tribes of Israel, and that all nations would be made subject to them.
The collapse of all their worldly hopes, the sudden arrest of all their activities, the death of their Master, and their own imminent danger filled their hearts with gloom and foreboding, and they fled to obscurity. Nothing was further from their thoughts than expectation of the Resurrection. Luke testifies that when Mary Magdalene and the other women brought news of the empty tomb and the risen Christ, “their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.” Peter and the beloved John ran to test the story, and came back dumbfounded. Who has not read of the gross scepticism of Thomas, for whom nothing less than putting his finger into the prints of the nails and thrusting his hand into the wounded side would suffice? Unless these tangible evidences were afforded, he would not believe. Mark testifies that when Mary told her tale, “they believed not,” and that when the two disciples returned from Emmaus and recounted their experience, “neither believed they them.” It needed the combined witnessing of the assembled disciples at Jerusalem, at the Sea of Galilee, and later still the witnessing by a multitude on the mountain in Galilee to bring final and absolute conviction. Only gradually and by the force of ever-accumulating evidence was their scepticism broken down.
But that achieved, it changed the tenor of their lives. From despair, from fears for personal safety, and dread of those in power they turned to face and to evangelize the world. Thereafter nothing could stem the tide of their ardor. With complete disregard for the conventions of their age they brought the message of life and immortality to all from the Caesar on the throne to the lowest slave toiling in the field or in the mine. The soul was deathless and could not be destroyed. Persecutions availed nothing, as they were buoyed up with the certainty of immortality. And so the new day dawned upon the world.
Such is the meaning of Easter, when first was made certain in fact and deed what the Lord Himself had proclaimed: “I am the resurrection, and the life… whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
This is the ultimate fact upon which our hopes rest. It discloses what the infinite love and wisdom of the Lord have provided for us. There was the death made evident on the cross, made sure by the spear-thrust to the heart. And the sepulchre was closed, sealed, and guarded by the soldiers. But neither death, nor hell, nor any human power can avail against resurrection into the world of spirit. In this faith the two worlds are one life. Everyone carries his own character into the spiritual world, there to live forever.
Such is the general teaching in most Christian churches. But the New Church can go further. Easter means for us the embodiment of fundamental truths in the thought of one God, the glorified and living Lord, whose love, wisdom, and power have been and still are omniscient and omnipresent in all His creation. Easter will, therefore, present us with opportunities for reaffirming our belief that the Lord has “risen” by means of the new understanding of His Word with power and great glory, and that He continues to fulfill His promise of making all things new. So should we be inspired to enter more readily into learning, living, and proclaiming the truths of the Lord’s Second Advent. Our thoughts will be turned from earthly to heavenly and spiritual things. Easter should remind us of this privilege and give us strength to meet our opportunities and responsibilities. The present and future tasks which confront us as a Church are no doubt formidable. There is much that should be done to improve ourselves as an organization and as a spiritual unity, intelligently anticipating and preparing to meet conditions and circumstances with which we are faced. The Lord’s promise, “I will come to you,” is just as valid for us as it was for the disciples. We can rely just as confidently upon the Lord’s help as they could.
When the Lord appeared to His disciples after the Resurrection, He addressed them with the words “Peace be unto you.” They were at first frightened, thinking He was a “spirit.”
“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
“Then opened he their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures,
“And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
“And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
“And ye are witnesses of these things.”
Not only was their faith restored, but their minds were illumined. Now they could see how the Scriptures testified of Him from beginning to end. It all became clear. The Resurrection was an historical fact, but it has a spiritual significance. It expresses a law of our spiritual life. In John we read, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.”
It is this resurrection from sin that is Easter’s deeper meaning. From the graves of selfishness, delusion, and ignorance people are continually rising to new life. New thoughts come to their minds, new purposes animate their wills. They come forth from the graves in which they had been buried. No wonder the Lord said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” From Him is the power unto a new life. And the promise is so sure: “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
If we have had such an experience, even in part, we are passing or have passed the only death of which we have reason to be afraid, the death of indifference, of unbelief through hardness of heart, of contempt for what is true and holy, the death of selfishness and sin. Of those who have conquered this kind of death it is written, “On such the second death hath no power.” Of the lesser death, the death of the body, there is nothing for anyone to fear. It shall come when it shall come under the ruling of the Divine providence that knows and loves each one and that never slumbers or sleeps.
Easter stands not only for the assurance of immortality but for redemption from the powers of hell. By no means can the hells ever escape from the hand of the Lord. The Lord has brought freedom to us. He has delivered us from the greatest danger of all, preserving us in spiritual freedom and rationality. And, without in any way forcing us to do or to think good, He enables us to do so if we will.
We can, in this new age, truly “know God.” “And this is life eternal.”