Without Easter, we probably wouldn’ t know about Jesus. If his story would have ended with his death he most likely would have been forgotten, or remembered by the historian Josephus as another religious zealot crucified by the Roman Empire, one of thousands of such executions.
So Easter is utterly central. Paul says to the church in Corinth: “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain”. (I Corinthians 15:14) Two main themes run through the passion narratives. The first is a pointed phrase: “Jesus lives!” He continues to be experienced after his death, though in a fantastic new way. He is no longer confined to time and space, but a reality that can enter through locked doors, travel with His followers without being recognized, be present in both Galilee and Jerusalem, vanish at will, and abide with his followers always. “to the end of the age”.
“Jesus lives!” He is a figure of the present, not just the past. The presence His followers had known in Jesus before his crucifixion continued to be experienced and to operate after it. The truth that ” Jesus lives” is established in the experience of Christians throughout history. Jesus continues to be present. Just as his followers knew him before his death, so they continue to know him after his death.
The second pivotal theme is, ” Jesus is Lord!” God has vindicated Jesus. Easier is not only about an after-life or about happy endings. Easter is God’s affirmation of Jesus message of the Kingdom of God. In Matthew, the risen Lord has been given authority over all the authorities of the world. In other words, “Jesus is Lord!” And, if Jesus is Lord, the lords of this world are not. Easter affirms that the domination systems of this world do not have the final word.
The Apostle Paul met this living Jesus in His Damascus Road experience. His experience with the living Jesus led to his conviction that ” Jesus is Lord!”This conviction of the Lordship of Jesus is prevalent in all of his letters in the New Testament. It is this conviction that put him on the same collision course that Jesus established before him, not only with the religious authorities but with the same Imperial authorities that crucified Jesus. To say, “Jesus is Lord”, is at the same time saying, “Caesar is not Lord!” Roman Imperial power crucified Jesus, but God raise.d Him from the dead and bestowed upon Him the name is above all other names, as recorded in an ancient Christian hymn found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, a hymn possibly written by Paul, but if not, definitely approved by him for use in the church.
Therefore, God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians2:9-11, NRSV)
Easter completes the archetypal pattern at the center of the Christian life: death and resurrection, crucifixion and vindication. Both these parts arc necessary to understand the essential meaning of Easter, death and resurrection on the one hand, crucifixion and vindication on the other. Both must receive equal play. Without an emphasis on Easter as God’s decisive reversal of the authorities’ verdict on Jesus, the cross is simply pain, agony and horror. It leads to poor theology.
Holy Week is about an alternate procession and an alternate journey. The alternate procession is what we see on Palm Sunday, an anti-imperial and non-violent procession. On Palm Sunday the procession led to the capital city, Jerusalem, an empirical center, a place of collaboration between religion and violence. Now, as then, the alternate journey is the path of personal transformation that leads to journeying with the risen Jesus, just as it has meant for all those that have journeyed with Jesus before us and will journey with Him after we are gone. Holy Week presents us with an annual question we all face every Easter: Which journey are we on and which procession are we in?
Jesus Lives! Jesus is Lord! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen
The Great Easter Vigil