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He Is Risen!

'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."'

Matthew 28:5-6

I have to wonder, is it really Easter Sunday if your church service doesn't include this song:

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia! Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia! Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia! Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia! Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

My guess is that, if you were in church this past Sunday, you likely at least heard this song. I know it was sung at my church, complete with a choir and trumpets! First written by Charles Wesley in the early 1700's, the words and melody of this hymn have been with the church for a long while now. So often are they sung on Easter Sunday that one of the titles the song is now known by is "Easter Hymn."

The declaration we make on Easter Sunday, that Christ has risen from the grave, is an important and powerful one. It is also one that, if we are honest, can become rather mundane and commonplace when we have grown up hearing it year after year. 'Of course Jesus rose from the dead, everyone knows that. It's not news.' It's so tempting to let such thoughts and attitudes creep in instead of realizing, once again, just how BIG and WORLD CHANGING this news was and still is!

This year, more than most, I have been feeling challenged to put myself in the place of those living in Jerusalem in the 1st century. As I celebrated Palm Sunday, I pondered the excitement that must have been in the air knowing this great, miracle doing teacher and prophet was approaching the city. There were whispers, ponderings and speculations as to if this Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. The stories of his healing the sick and even raising his friend Lazarus from the dead had been told to by friends and neighbors. Despite the warnings from the local Synagogue leaders, you knew people who had traveled to hear him teach and preach. As the word spread, would I have grabbed palm branches and ran out to greet him, to cheer for him, to catch a glimpse of him?

During the next few days, would I have sought out a time to hear him preach for myself? Or would I have simply gone about my daily routine, not being bothered to give a second thought to the carpenter's son from Nazareth? Jesus was around. He cleared the temple of the money changers. He cursed a fig tree that wasn't producing fruit. And in the late night hours on Thursday/early morning hours on Friday, would have I been aware that the tide of public sentiment had taken a rather sharp turn against Jesus?

What we now celebrate as Good Friday had to be another interesting day to be a citizen of Jerusalem. The same man the crowds were excitedly cheering for was now the target of their scorn. Imagine watching as the crowd gathered called for Barabbas, a notorious criminal, to be released and for Jesus, this miracle working teaching, to be crucified and trying to make sense of it all. And then, imagine trying to go about your normal Friday business at the moment Jesus dies on the cross. The sky goes from sunny and clear to stormy, cloudy, and as dark as night and stays that way for three hours. A violent earthquake shakes the ground and you have heard about the temple curtain being torn into two. Imagine how on edge that might put you for a couple of days wondering just what in the world was happening.

And then Sunday rolls around. Just as you are starting to wake up, with the hope that this day would be as quiet and uneventful as the day before was, another earthquake shakes the ground. You have to wonder what it means. Perhaps you jump out of bed and head down to the temple to see if anything else has happened to the space. Or you look out to the sky to see if the sun is still shining. Or you burrow a little further under the blankets hoping it won't cause another scene violence and unrest.

For Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, it meant hearing the impossible, nearly unbelievable words: He is not here, for he is risen.

It had to be true, the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. There was an angel there to greet them, not a corpse. But it couldn't be true. No one had ever risen from the dead under their own power before! Yes, Jesus had done some amazing miracles but always for others. Could it possibly be true? Could Jesus actually have defeated death? I can't help but laugh a little as I try to picture Mary and Mary trying to explain what they just saw. They had to be excited and were likely a little out of breath from running. They had to try and find words to describe something not believed to be possible.

He is Risen!

Those words first spoken by the angel nearly 2000 years ago now declared a truth which would change the course of human history. Those words mean that death has ultimately been defeated. Those words carry with them a promise of sins forgiven. Those words mean we serve a living God. And so, let us respond with confidence and boldness:

He is Risen Indeed!


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