Are We 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 in the morning. For now, the world is at rest. Little attention does it pay to the wee hours of the dawn. Off to my west there is an orange sun preparing for bed. It barely stays lit. Poor moon, all his spinning and shining has pushed him in and out of shape; full as of Friday, April 19. 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. I wonder what price he got for it the second time around? Shrewd, eh?
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.
Who was that man? Nicodemus 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. The 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 what he didn’t know. How does that affect our sense of evangelism?
Apparently, Nicodemus accepted Jesus’ teaching 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. Jesus did not waste his words on Nicodemus.
In the Gospel of John (19:38), right after Joseph had helped place Jesus on that shelf in the tomb, Nicodemus has borne the weight of about 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 was still dark out. The tomb was sealed. A guard stood by. He was a government chap. We could not have the body of our Lord being guarded by a follower. They might lie. They might’ve hid his body. The politically correct guard is to secure the story. He stood vigilant. He stood 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.
Sweet Mary Magdalene, dishonored by so many preachers, loved so, by the man of Galilee; alone she drags to the place holy. Ah ha! “He is not here; I must run tell the others, the men.” They are hiding. They are doubting.
Catching Mary’s voice and the alarming message, Simon Peter and John (the beloved) set 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. 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.
William M. James (1913-2013, wrote “Easter People Raise Your Voices” for his Harlem congregation, Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church, New York City. Last published in Songs of Zion, 1981, and married to an 1800s tune from the English Presbyterian Church.) James said of his hymn, that it was not the best hymn he’d penned, just the one that stuck the best. Thankfully he lived long enough to see it in our 1991 Baptist Hymnal (p. 360) as well.
“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. Everyday to us is Easter, with its resurrection song. Even when life overwhelms us Easter people sing this song. Alleluia! Alleluia! Everlasting Sunday song.”
So, after the rabbit’s left his sweet gifts; after the new clothes have wrinkled; after the 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 it is forever.
It will be our new morning, Happy Easter.