Today is Easter- a day when we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. Or for those who are non-religious, a day for celebrating spring time and new birth.
We dress in our spring finest, fill plastic eggs with jelly beans and other treats, and fill our plates with ham and cheesy potato dishes.
Some of us enter churches for the first time in months out of family obligation or tradition. Others of us are in churches most Sundays and know that this one is supposed to feel extra special. There is a feeling of hope and celebration in the air - especially for us who woke up to bright blue skies and blooming flowers. Something really good happened a long time ago, so today we rejoice.
I have to admit that over the years I've struggled to connect with the significance of Easter. There's been a disconnect between the joy that I know I should have and my actual experience. Good Friday I could understand. Jesus died a horrible death on the cross for my sins, taking my guilt upon himself and being punished in my place. That was crucial and I understood why.
The raising from the dead part? I'd heard that it was just as necessary for my salvation but didn't understand why. After all, we only really talked about it on Easter. It was no doubt wonderful - he was dead and then came back to life! But necessary for my salvation? I wasn't sure.
Now that my husband's body lies in a grave, Easter hits differently. Having watched my beloved breath his last and seeing the immediate effects of death on his body, the resurrection hits differently too.
There is something truly terrible about death that the Bible does not shy away from. Death was never supposed to be part of our story. The horror of our souls being separated from our bodies and our lives being ripped apart by loved ones leaving this life forever should not be. We weren't designed to experience death. God made us for eternal life. To even think for a moment about what has happened to my husband's body in the nearly 28 months since he died is incomprehensible. No embalming process or expensive burial vault can halt the decay of death. It is a horror beyond imagining.
So Easter, this day when we remember that Jesus' battered, bloodied, bloated body was resurrected to life again, is crucial. Easter tells us that there is One who defeated death and he promised that all who believe in him will one day overcome death too. Oh how I want Greg to overcome death! How I long for death to be undone and for the effects of death to not separate us forever.
It all hinges on this: if the God-man was killed and stayed dead like all those who came before and since, then death has the final word. This life is all that matters. We live the best we can and then we die and our story is over. Decay will have its way forever and those who have died - even if they trusted in Jesus- are gone forever.
But if the God-man defeated death - if he died and then came back to life, never to experience death again- then we can believe his promise that life follows after death. Those of us who trust in him will experience death only once and then we will be welcomed into eternal life with him. And someday, when he returns, our broken and decaying bodies will be raised to life again too.
1 Corinthians 15:16-26 explains it like this:
"For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death."
Did you catch that? If Jesus didn't raise from the dead, then Christians are fools. They spend their lives on earth denying themselves and following after a man who loved 2000 years ago only to end up in the same state as everyone else. Dead. Full stop.
But if Jesus did rise from the dead, there is life in the other side of death. And death, that horrible enemy, will one day be defeated once and for all.
If Jesus did rise from the dead, then the grave isn't the end of Greg's story. His body- the one that caused him so much pain but also was interwoven with who he was so inextricably- will also rise again. Decay will turn to life. Disaster will turn to joy. Brokenness and pain will be undone. He will be whole and finally free.
It all hinges on Easter. And because of Easter, death will not get the last