“The day of resurrection –”
John Wesley sang,
“Earth, tell it out abroad!
The passover of gladness,
The passover of God!”
But that brings us no closer. What does that mean?
The answer lies far, far away. Go back in time. Back a hundred generations, to the margin of the Roman Empire, in a little province called Palestine, where a small band of people have just gone straight to hell.
Over the past few years, they had learned something wonderful. They had found, or been found by, a teacher, a master, and a friend. And as they walked with him, and talked with him, they had begun to see that what they had been taught was true: their God was with them.
Out of the darkness that surrounded their nation, they had seen light.
Out of the despair that gripped their people, he had brought hope.
Out of ignorance on the one hand, and pedantry on the other, he had
brought new knowledge of God.
It seemed that there was something better than the iron rule of Rome, something more vital than any tradition they had been taught, something more possible than any cause they had ever followed. In a word, they had seen goodness, revealing itself in love, and they had begun to hope that there was something better than the world around them.
Soon, they had thought, their nation would be delivered from its chains. Soon, they had hoped, ignorance and tyranny would be swept away. Soon – and more than soon, it was coming now and they were part of it! – God would set up his Kingdom! They could see it happening all around them. Their Master had ridden into Jerusalem as cheering crowds sang royal psalms. He had cleaned out the Temple, and taught the multitude there. The Kingdom was coming!
And in a single night and day it all had crashed into ruin.
One of their own had betrayed their Friend. His own priests had seized and questioned him as an enemy of God. They had handed him over to the iron strength of Rome, and the empire which claimed peace and justice as the foundation of its rule had bowed to the conspirators and the screaming mob, declared guilty a man the judge had known was innocent, and nailed him to a cross outside the city walls: the punishment of rebellious slaves for one that disciples had thought would be a king.
Worse, by their own laws any man hung on a tree was accursed by God – and the disciples had thought that God’s blessing was in him.
They did not, perhaps, understand the fullness of that horror, from which even the heavens seemed to hide their face. The Eternal One had been divided. A union which existed from eternity had been breached. God had been forsaken of God.
We will never understand it in all eternity to come – but they understood enough. Enough to leave them crushed and broken, despairing as none before them ever had.
If hell be separation from God, then the disciples were in hell. On the day that was set aside to be with God, God was not with them. How could he be? They had known goodness, utter and complete goodness, and pure love – and that only made it worse. Surely, if God had blessed anyone, he had blessed their Master; surely, if God would have protected anyone, he would have protected this one.
Yet He had not, and the contradiction tore them apart. They could not say that God was dead – they had seen his power at work. They had seen it, and that only made it worse. For if Goodness itself could be so defeated, if Love itself could be so thoroughly destroyed, if Life itself could be slain – then what was there to hope for?
The ultimate strength at the heart of the universe was ignorance and hatred and destruction. Goodness was only a final refinement of torment, to make things worse by giving a sliver of hope before the brutal end. For the disciples, there was nothing left to do but die.
The men were crushed, utterly. The women were, perhaps, a little stronger: they had given birth, and knew by experience that pain was part of life. They decided to to do one last thing. They could make sure that their Friend was properly buried, and they trudged out on Sunday morning to do the only thing that they had the strength to do.
When they came back, they were running, stumbling, tripping over themselves as they babbled impossibilities. The disciples listened, doubted, wondered, went out to look – and saw the same. Unbelievable, impossible. Two more disciples who had fled to Emmaus came running back to join them, whispering of a stranger on the road.
And then someone stood among them, and a voice said, “Peace be with you,” and the disciples at Jerusalem began to understand.
Goodness was not weak at all. Love was more potent than they had ever dared to dream. Stronger than Rome, than the priests, than the very foundations of the universe. Their Master had been condemned to the tomb by the iron rule of Rome. Their Friend had hung on a tree, accursed by the very law of God.
And yet their Lord stood among them, living, risen, glorious.
Is it any wonder that, forty days later, when the Spirit fell at Pentecost in a rain of fire and drove them forth into the highways and byways to preach their risen Lord, that men thought the disciples were drunk? For they were – drunk on happiness, delirious with joy.
Nothing was as it had been. They had walked with Love for years; now they knew that Love was stronger than law, or empire, or death itself. Goodness and power were not separate things, but One.
A late arrival among their company wrote some years later,
“I am fully convinced that neither life, nor death, nor powers, nor principalities nor things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Not that those powers and principalities would not try to separate the disciples from the infinite Love and Power that had returned to them. Not at all. They had tried, and were trying, and still they try today – but nothing could overcome the love of God. Nothing could stop God from loving them, nothing could prevent Him rescuing them from all that could happen to them. For the Lord had risen!
Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because he lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know he holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!
‘The Lord has risen!’ — let this be
The herald note of jubilee,
And when we meet, and when we part,
The salutation from the heart.
(Words by Bill and Gloria Gaither)