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The Jewish community celebrated April 16 this year, and at the Passover meal, the youngest was to say, “Why is tonight different from all other nights?” The answer is the deliverance from Egypt remembered at this annual observance. On Resurrection Sunday, we Christians will do well to ask ourselves, why is today different?
First, this day is different because it’s a celebration. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is of course at the heart of everything, this we all know. Who would believe a report thatsomeone who has died is now alive? This person not only left the tomb but went about for weeks meeting, talking to disciples and followers—on one occasion, five hundred of them. We celebrate Jesus Christ because when he suffered indescribable agony on the cross, died, and was buried, it was all for us. We celebrate the new life he heralded when he rose.
A heritage has flowed from the fact of Jesus’ resurrection–a faith, a way of life for millennia. For those of us who grew up in Christianity, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection is something we’ve always done. Does this make it any less significant? No, this is a time to marvel again at the astonishing thing we all believe. Though worship on Easter Sunday is a matter of course, a tradition, we need not give in to the dulling effects of habit when we do the expected on this different day. This is a day to be valued as a worthy heritage, a tradition to be preserved, truth that must be passed on. The Bible is full of calls to remember, to honor what God has done for his people in the past. Can any deed of the Almighty match the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Resurrection Day is a day we’re accustomed to, but different every year—the same wonder confronting us with new joy, new surprise and gratitude.
This day is also different in its sharp reminder that death can now be anticipated without fear or dread. Our hope turns aside this grim fact of human experience. The writer of Hebrews says: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death–that is, the devil—and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to bondage their whole lives”(Heb 2: 14-15). Is fear of death bondage? Perhaps. It’s also been described as a terminal disease, one that cannot be cured.Jesus said, “A little while longer, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live” (John 14: 19). The resurrection of Jesus sets aside anxiety and fear of death. We don’t have that drag on our morale, we can put our energies into living. Not fear death? Doesn’t everyone? If we don’t, we’re different, and when we set apart a day to remember Jesus’ resurrection, we’re celebrating something exceptional, something different from what humans usually think we can expect.
Another thing different about Resurrection Day is itspast/future feel. We think about Jesus’ death, and we think about our own on some future day. On this different day, we’re living both in first century Jerusalem, where the women gaze at that empty tomb, and in this today of our lives, which will end at some point in the future. Jesus had a word forThomas and for us on this different day parceling our thoughts between past and future: “‘Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself that where I am you may be also. And where I go you know and the way you know.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, how can we know the way?’ Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14: 1-6).
To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to be called to a different kind of life. God says again and again in Scripture, “Be holy for I am holy” (Lev 11, 19, 20, and 21; Deut 23, 1 Peter 1, and elsewhere). How different is that? Worse, it’s impossible. We can’t hope even to strive for such a thing without the Spirit of Jesus. He promised this gift, his Holy Spirit, and the resurrection affirmed it. On this different day, the promise never seemed so precious.