by Rev. John H. Farmer
We Are Easter people
It’s dark out, as I write this to you. It should be, at least as we begin. We need a cloak of darkness to stage the drama. God will be born anew on a morning. For now, the world is at rest. Little attention does it pay to the wee hours of the dawn. Off to our west the sun prepares for bed. It barely stays a-glow. He is not quite round. It is as if all his spinning and shining has pushed him out of shape. Maybe one more night of rest and he will conform. This is a busy week for the sun, moon and stars. They remember.
Joseph of Arimathea was the consummate businessman. He’d offered the followers of our Lord a tomb. It was freshly hewn, spotless. Say, I wonder what price he got for it the second time around? Shrewd, eh? Good for him.
There’s another man plodding about in the dark. The Bible says that a man is struggling to bring a sack of herbs and spices to the tomb. He truly wants to know that the body of his Lord is prepared for burial. In the haste to remove Jesus from the Cross and entomb him before the start of the Sabbath, time had not allowed for preparation.
Well, who was that man? Nicodemus, who had first come to Jesus at night. “Master,” he asked, “What must a person do to be born again?” Remember the story? Sure you do. Jesus, without batting an eyelid, answered: “You must be born again.” Our Bible recognizes Nicodemus as a man of faith, perhaps a leader in the local temple. Jesus took him from where he was (in his faith) to where he ought to be, without upbraiding him for what he didn’t know. How does that affect our sense of evangelism?
Apparently Nicodemus accepted the teaching Jesus and fades from testimony. One wonders what he learned. He didn’t jump in and become party to the gang of followers surrounding the Lord. We learn precious little more about Nicodemus. Where did he go? What did he do? How did he change? Or, did he? Yes he changed, but in a quiet way. He did so out of the glare of public scrutiny. His was a quiet conversion. Make no mistake about it; he was converted. The words of Jesus were not wasted upon Nicodemus.
In the Gospel of John (19:38), after Joseph had helped place Jesus on that shelf in the tomb, Nicodemus shoulders the burden of a hundred pounds of herbs and spice to the grave. If no one else dared, Nicodemus would attend the body of Christ. Would he have dared had he not been converted to the faith? Would he have bothered? Hardly. He is a model for us all.
It is still dark out. The tomb was sealed. A government guard stood sentinel. We could not have the body of our Lord being guarded by a follower. They might lie. They might’ve hid his body. The guard is to guarantee the story. He stood vigilant, yet powerlessly by, as God rolled the stone away. The tomb was empty! The followers had to know this. They had to believe that Jesus was not there in order to get to the next level of their faith. They had to fix on the empty tomb to sharpen the words of Jesus.
Poor Mary Magdalene, dishonored by so many scholars, preachers; loved so, by the man of Galilee. Alone she drags herself to the place holy. Ah ha! He is not here; “I must run tell the others, the men.” They are hiding: they doubt. Mary becomes an evangelist.
Catching Mary’s voice and the alarming message, Simon Peter and John (the beloved) rush out at full speed. How they differed from Nicodemus. How like him (us) they were. Nicodemus bore the pain of death; but failed to hearken to the reality that no grave would hold the body of our Lord. The disciples also knew the story and it left them powerless.
That’s the way it had to be. You see the story is not just about what happened long ago. It is about you and me and what we believe today. The story is about how we latch on to the truth of Christ and allow him to be both Savior and Lord of our lives.
Pastor William M. James (1913-2013) late of the Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church, Harlem, wrote: “Easter people, raise your voices, sounds of heaven in earth should ring. Christ has brought us heaven’s choices; heavenly music, let it ring. Alleluia! Alleluia! Easter people, let us sing. Every day to us is Easter, with its resurrection song. Even when life overwhelms us Easter people sing this song. Alleluia! Alleluia! Everlasting Sunday song.” (First appeared in Songs of Zion, 1981, sung to the tune of Regent Square).
Well now, come this Sunday after the rabbit’s left his sweet gifts. After the new clothes have wrinkled. After the “pagan” ham and trimmings are eaten. After the choirs have sung. After the preachers have expounded their best. What then?
“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” Tell the story. Because he lives, we who choose to do so, may also live—and live forever. Tell it far and wide Sunday morning: Happy Easter.
Easter people raise your voices.