But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him." Matthew 28:5-7
"Christ is risen!" That is the Easter greeting that Christians around the world have used for generations. It is one of my favorite parts of Easter -- I love to hear the words "He is risen."
But for so many of us, Easter is not just a religious holiday -- it is a personal celebration and re-commitment. How do we personally experience the resurrection? Every year, as I hear and say "He is risen," I remember that it's not just a theological affirmation, but something I need personally.
Because I need -- I think we all need -- to remember and celebrate the hope that those words proclaim. "He is risen" is much more than an optimistic expression. It is not an empty platitude or wishful thinking, but the assertion of that in the midst of all the personal and collective pain, brokenness, injustice, and oppression that we see or experience, Christ is victorious. And we start over every Easter with a new affirmation and conviction of the hope that will always change both our lives and the world.
As I've been personally reflecting on the resurrection, I wanted to share an adaptation from the last chapter of my book, The Call to Conversion that explores what "Christ is risen!" meant to the earliest disciples. I hope that it will help you this Easter, as you celebrate the fact that "He is risen, indeed!" and reflect upon what this day of hope means for you.
Jesus is alive. That was the rumor which spread through Jerusalem that first Easter morning. Women came to the tomb early in the morning, the first witnesses to the resurrection. Their testimony as women was not even admissible in court under Jewish law; the word of a woman had no public credibility in that patriarchal culture. But God chose to reveal the miracle of Jesus' resurrection first to women. They were told to report the astonishing news of the empty tomb to the men. At first, the men did not believe it.
Jesus' first appearance was also to a woman, Mary Magdalene. She was in the garden near the tomb, stricken with grief. The one who had accepted and forgiven her, the one whom she loved so deeply, was gone. She saw a figure she thought was the gardener and said to him, "They have taken my Lord. Do you know where they have laid him?" Then a familiar voice called her name, "Mary." She looked up and recognized him. "Master!" she cried. Her Lord had come back, and the heart of the woman who had been cleansed by his love leapt for joy. Mary went straight to the disciples with a simple testimony, "I have seen the Lord." Their excitement must have been enormous.
The disciples were in hiding behind locked doors from fear of the authorities, says the Bible. They had seen what had happened to their leader and were afraid they would be next. So they huddled in secret.
The ones at the tomb who appeared as "young men in shining garments" told the women to go tell the disciples and Peter. Peter had always been the leader among the disciples, but he had betrayed his Lord three times with oaths and curses. Peter denied his Master from fear. The strong fisherman wept bitterly and became utterly dejected after the death of the Lord. Jesus especially wanted Peter to know of his resurrection. He wanted to make sure Peter was told, not as a rebuke, but so Peter would know that he was alive and that he still loved him. When the women told them the news, Peter and John ran to the tomb. John, younger and faster than Peter, arrived first and waited at the entrance, peering into the darkness. Peter, always the impulsive disciple, didn't stop at the entrance; he went right inside. He had to see. He had to know. They saw the empty tomb, and they believed.
Then Jesus came and stood among them. "Peace be with you," he said, as he looked into their eyes. Think what they must have felt at that moment. He showed them his hands and his feet. "It is I, myself . . . touch me and see." They could hardly believe what they were seeing. He even took a fish and ate it, just to show them he was real. He recalled to them the Scriptures and his own foretelling of his death and resurrection. It was really he, and he was really alive.
Thomas wasn't there. When the others told him, he didn't believe it. Perhaps wounded with pain and disillusionment, perhaps filled with bitterness and cynicism, Thomas would not let his hopes be rekindled. He said, "Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands, unless I put my fingers in the place the marks were, and my hand into his side, I will not believe."
Later, Jesus came to his disciples again. This time, Thomas was present. "Thomas," he said, "put your finger here and see my hands. Put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not be faithless, but believing." Thomas must have witnessed the marks of Jesus' suffering with tears in his eyes. "My Lord and my God," he humbly exclaimed. For Thomas, and for them all, unbelief was turned to belief when they saw their Lord and the marks of his suffering. They were converted by the resurrection.
The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. He had touched their lives as no one else ever had. He was the one who loved them, and the one whom they had grown to love. Jesus was alive again and among his disciples as before, but now in a new way. The first words spoken to Jesus' followers at his empty tomb were, "Do not be afraid... He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay." And the Scriptures say, "When they saw the Lord they were filled with great joy."
Until they saw Jesus, the disciples viewed the world the way others did. The central reality of their lives had been the power of the system and their own powerlessness. But when they saw him, they unlocked the doors, came out, and began turning the world upside down. The disciples were converted; they knew another reality then, one that was truer, greater, stronger, and a more compelling authority than the realities that had paralyzed them with fear. Jesus had risen, and Jesus was Lord.
We, too, are hiding behind locked doors and are afraid to come out. Jesus knows our fears. He wants us to know his resurrection. He says, "Go, tell my disciples that I have risen and that I am going before them. And go tell..."-- he slowly repeats each of our names. Tell him, tell her that we need not be afraid anymore. Like Peter, we have betrayed Christ because of our fears. But Jesus didn't hold Peter's fear against him. Nor does he hold our fears against us. We, too, have doubted like Thomas. We have become cynical, skeptical, and faithless. But Jesus stands among us, shows us his hands and his side, and he tells us to reach out and touch him. He tells Thomas and he tells us not to doubt .but to believe.
Jesus died for our sins, our doubts, and our fears. He rose from the grave to demonstrate his victory over them and to set us free from their power. He wants us, like Peter, Thomas, Mary, and the others, to know his resurrection. He wanted them to know, and he wants us to know, that his love for his disciples has no bounds, that he died to set us free, and that he rose from the dead to show us his way was true. "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.