The Easter Message: From Death to Life
by Pastor George Van Alstine
The climactic events of the last week of Jesus’ life have their setting in Jerusalem, during the great festival of Passover, the celebration of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt to their renewed identity as God’s people. As a result, familiar themes of the Old Testament covenant God made with his people fill the atmosphere around Jesus’ crucifixion, his burial, and the Easter morning empty tomb. The Christ Drama could easily be seen as a reenactment of the Exodus Drama; both depicted death and resurrection to life on a higher plane.
But the rhythm of death-giving-way-to-life is much more far-reaching than that. As the Gospel moved out from Jerusalem to the many cultures of the world, there were always death-to-life analogies already in people’s awareness.
A poem by nineteenth century cleric, scholar and novelist Charles Kingsley shows how the Christ story had natural connections for Englishmen of his day both in the rhythm of nature (first stanza) and in the pattern of everyday work (second stanza):
See the land, her Easter keeping,
Rises as her Maker rose.
Seeds, so long in darkness sleeping,
Burst at last from winter snows.
Earth with heaven above rejoices;
Fields and gardens hail the spring;
Shaughs and woodlands ring with voices,
While the wild birds build and sing.
You, to whom your Maker granted
Powers to those sweet birds unknown,
Use the craft by God implanted;
Use the reason not your own.
Here, while heaven and earth rejoices,
Each his Easter tribute bring-Work of fingers, chant of voices,
Like the birds who build and sing.
Of course, sometimes the analogy can totally eclipse the truth of the Gospel, as in America’s secularized (commercialized?) Easter of rabbits and eggs and bonnets. But we should not lose sight of the fact that every human being is involved in a constant life and death struggle, and that the message of the Gospel speaks directly to each one’s crying need for a word of hope. Through his death, Christ is immersing himself in an individual person’s inescapable sense of mortality, and through his resurrection, he is drawing upward with him the one who hangs on for dear life.