“Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”
(Paul, in I Corinthians 15:57).
Easter is the most joyous holiday on our calendar. Nature decorates the landscape with colourful flowers, birds sing and women display their new dresses. The cynics say it is only an annual spring fashion show.
Churches have ringing bells and open doors. We hear the faithful sing, “Christ the Lord is ris’n today! Alleluia!” (Charles Wesley). From another church come words of assurance and victory: “Thine is the glory, risen, conquering Son! Endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won” (Edmond L. Budry).
Even children, who understand less than the adults, laugh and run for joy. It’s special! It’s Easter! Jesus was dead and now he is alive! We can’t understand it, but we believe it. It’s another mystery of life, so we celebrate.
We celebrate the victory God gives us through Christ and the Spirit. This is already a victory over sin. We proclaim that Christ was raised from the dead. Thus we “who belong to Christ” also anticipate victory over death. Believers “will be made alive in Christ” (Romans 8; I Corinthians 15).
I have sometimes wondered why I believe in the resurrection of the dead. Is it because others have taught me so? If that is the only reason, then that is not good enough. Is it because it is written in an ancient book? For some, that is enough, but for me, that isn’t good enough. Is it because the belief is so widespread? That is not a good-enough reason for me to believe it.
Perhaps it is because of all of these together, plus something else inside of me. Something inside of me tells me that a wise and loving God wouldn’t make a fabulous world, a marvellous universe and absolutely fantastic creatures, like people, for no purpose. I am not quite sure why I believe that when I die I will be raised again to continue life in another sphere. Nevertheless, I do believe that with all my being.
Some years ago, I was on an administrative trip to Poland over Easter. My friends and I went to a large Catholic church. As we entered, we saw the life-sized papier-mâché Jesus lying in a coffin in the vestibule. Parents lifted up their children to see him. We also stopped for a brief moment. My Polish friends crossed themselves and then we made our way into the overcrowded sanctuary.
At last we found standing room in the balcony near the huge organ. We had a good view of the front of the church, where several priests were leading the worship. After about half an hour, my friends wanted to leave. I was reluctant because the service was not over. Whispering, they explained that we would be coming back. Then I was even more sure we should not leave because we would never get back in; the people were standing wall-to-wall. My friends smiled and asked me to look down into the main sanctuary, where I saw that many people were leaving.
Outside, I had more surprises. My friends had no intention of going home. Instead, they took me to the back of the church and asked me to keep looking. They were looking this way and that, around corners of several buildings, behind trees and bushes, even under the cars in the parking lot. I trailed them for about 10 minutes of this strange activity until it dawned on me what we were doing.
I remembered that when we left the church and walked through the vestibule, the coffin was empty. Jesus was gone! We and all the other people milling around out there were looking for the risen Jesus.
Back in the church, the mood had changed. The lights were brighter, the priests were jubilant, the organ was louder and the people began to sing the familiar resurrection hymns of the church universal. My friends looked at me and smiled. Then we all shook hands. Moments later, they laughed and we embraced.
That papier-mâché drama, a human invention, is no reason to believe in the resurrection—although I did think we ought to try that sometime in our church as an object lesson. It was, nevertheless, a fantastic and imaginative way of demonstrating a truth held for two millennia by millions of people: Jesus is alive! The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!
No more we doubt thee,
glorious prince of life!
Life is nought without thee;
aid us in our strife.
Make us more than conquerors,
through thy deathless love.
Bring us safe through Jordan
to thy home above.
(“Thine Is the Glory,” Edmond Budry, 1884)
From Getting Home Before Dark: Stories of Wisdom for All Ages (Herald Press, 2000). Author Peter J. Dyck passed away on Jan. 4 at the age of 95, after a lifetime of service through various Anabaptist denominations and organizations.