Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
April 5, 2015
There is nothing like the thrill of Easter
Easter! There is something about this Sunday that is breathtaking for me. It has been the most wonderful day of the year for me since I was a small boy. There is simply nothing that compares with the thrill of Easter.
I have told the story many times how my parents helped our family celebrate Easter morning. I must tell it again. Though my memory has faded some I still remember how Mama and Daddy got me and my siblings up and drove into Montgomery to attend the sunrise service at Cramton Bowl on Madison Avenue in the 1930s and the 1940s.
We sat on the cold concrete seats of that football stadium and waited eagerly for the drama to begin on the other side of the football field. There in the semi-darkness before dawn our attention was focused on a replica of the sealed tomb. Men dressed as Roman guards marched back and forth in front of it. Soon to our far left three women appeared, walking slowly toward the tomb. The quietness was striking. There was no music and no one in the entire stadium was talking.
Suddenly, an explosion shattered the silence, startling everyone. Smoke filled the air. You could hear a rumbling sound, perhaps the beating of hidden drums simulating an earthquake.
As the smoke drifted away an angel, in dazzling white, appeared. With one hand the angel easily rolled the stone away from the tomb. The frightened guards fell to the ground as if they had died.
The three women were startled also but they resumed walking, faster now, toward the tomb. We watched as they walked up to the angel. Though we could not hear their voices we realized the angel was speaking to the women.
Later I would learn from the Bible what the angel said. He said, “Do not be afraid; I know why you are here. You are seeking Jesus who was crucified, but he is not here. He is risen, as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he will meet them in Galilee.”
The women in the stadium, acting out the biblical story, took a quick look inside the empty tomb and left in a hurry. The Bible says they were afraid but filled with joy to know that Jesus was alive.
As the three women in the stadium were running from the tomb, they stopped suddenly when a man appeared before them. We knew from the gospel stories that the man before the women was Jesus. We watched as the shocked women fell down again, this time at the feet of the resurrected Jesus, and began to worship him.
Soon the women were on their feet. Jesus had calmed their fears. As they rushed away we realized that they were now on their way to tell the disciples what Jesus had said – that he would meet them in Galilee.
The brief drama in Cramton Bowl would end and our family would be on our way to find breakfast. These dramatic performances in a football stadium were my introduction to the astonishing resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Though the story of a dead man being raised from the dead seemed incredible, I had no reason to doubt it. Years later I experienced a time of questioning. I was confronted with the idea of some scholars that the resurrection story is a myth. No dead man could be raised alive from the grave – even by God.
My questioning did not last long. It is impossible, I concluded, to explain the Christian movement unless Jesus was raised from the dead. A lie about the resurrection could not possibly be perpetuated for two thousand years. Could the early disciples have stolen his body from the tomb, while the guards were sleeping, and then convinced hundreds of people that Jesus was alive? That simply could not have happened.
Add to that the fact that the apostles were convinced that Jesus was alive, so convinced that they were willing to suffer and die for this new faith. There is overwhelming evidence that most early Christians were willing to be martyred rather than renounce their belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Surely thousands of people would not be willing to die in defense of a lie.
Actually, unless the resurrection was true, Christians have no faith to proclaim. Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God; that is the lynchpin of Christianity. I chose to believe the resurrection, and to believe it with all my heart. The resurrection is the great deed of God in history. If Jesus could conquer fear, death and hell, then his followers can have this victory. I claimed it for myself and have never looked back.
If one does not believe in the resurrection, there is little else in Christian faith that makes sense. If Jesus was been raised from the dead, then Peter’s letters are a pack of lies. Had Jesus not been resurrected, we would have never heard of the Apostle Paul, who wrote a great portion of the New Testament. There would not even be a New Testament had not the early disciples believed Jesus was raised from the dead.
Some discount the need for belief in the resurrection. What matters are the great moral teachings of Jesus. His spirit lives on, like that of Abraham Lincoln, they say. Such thinking is asinine. Jesus taught that by dying on the cross as the Passover Lamb of God, he could make forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life available to all people. Can one value anything else he taught if this teaching is a grand hoax? I think not.
Today is Easter! The good Lord willing, I will get up at 5 a.m. and go with my wife to hear our son Tim preach in a sunrise service at his church, Mulder Memorial United Methodist near Wetumpka. He has done that now for a decade and it has become a treasured tradition for our family.
Afterward we will hurry to Saint James United Methodist in Montgomery where I will preach in two Easter services. I will tremble with joy and excitement as we sing “Up from the grave He arose.”
Easter! A marvelous day for the people of God! Christ is Risen! Glory! + + +