we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118. 24).
This verse from the Psalter is appointed to be used as the Opening Sentence at Morning Prayer on Easter Day. Although long associated with the Easter liturgy, this text is sometimes bandied about without reference to Easter, meaning little more than “Today is a nice day and I have a pleasant feeling about life.” No, indeed, the “day” in this text is a special day, a unique day, a day in which God has acted marvelously, powerfully, decisively, a day like no other day.
The psalmist was singing of the day when God brought His people out of Egypt, destroyed Pharaoh, and set His chosen Israel on the way to the land of promise. He was singing moreover of the day when God raised Jesus from the dead, destroyed the powers of sin, death, and hell, and set us on the way to our resurrection in the world to come. In the Easter liturgy we take up his song and sing with the psalmist, “This is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
But the “day” which the Lord made for us on that Easter morning did not end with sunset. This day was no mere 24 hour period, but a new epoch, the first day of a New Creation. This is why all the Gospels are so emphatic that the resurrection took place on the “first day of the week.” Because Easter continues, throughout this new age, the great “day” is not over even yet! The Risen Lord continues to appear to His faithful. And Peter wrote:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1. 3).
Peter goes on to spell out an analogy between Jesus' resurrection and our rebirth. That analogy was so strong that the Book of Revelation speaks mysteriously of our first and second resurrections, the first being that moment when the Holy Ghost first invades and takes possession of our souls, signified by our Baptism, the second being “the Resurrection of the Body” at the coming of Christ.
At some point in time (perhaps in our unconscious infancy, perhaps in our unconscious adulthood, perhaps a moment we recall vividly) we were born again and received the gift of new life. That was our Easter Day, our Resurrection. That also was “the day which the LORD hath made.” So this Easter Day we celebrate our dear Saviour's resurrection from the tomb, giving thanks for the new life of our rebirth, and looking forward to our own physical resurrection when He comes again.
“Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” St Matthew 28:5—6.
Many of us still recall a TV crime show called “Dragnet,” which related the adventures of a pair of police investigators. The show was remarkable in its time and today seems almost quaint in that it consistently presented its plots in moral terms of good in conflict with evil. It added one common saying to the collection of American aphorisms: “The fact, just the facts, ma'am.” The principal investigator always called people back from opinions, impressions, and feelings to the only important thing, the Facts.
Our Easter preaching sometimes falls short of its purpose because (in a vainglorious effort to be clever and original) we try to explore our feelings or deduce some general truth or arrive at some profound abstraction. On this day of all days (it is not called the “Queen of Feasts” for nothing!) we must be simple and stick to the facts.
The facts are: (1) the cold stiff corpse of Jesus, about 40 hours after He was found dead, was strangely resuscitated; (2) He sprang up with new life and vigor; (3) the heavy boulder which imprisoned Him in His tomb was pushed aside; (4) one or more angels met the handful of disciples who visited the tomb and stated clearly what had happened; (5) on the first Easter Day and for quite a while afterward, many people saw, heard and recognized this crucified and risen Jesus; (6) believers and unbelievers alike agreed that whatever had happened, the tomb of Jesus was suddenly empty; (7) unbelievers never produced the corpse of Jesus; (8) those who claimed to see Jesus alive never abandoned their story, even when they were put to death for telling it.
These are some of the facts of the case. They clearly point not to a personal experience, nor to a religious revival, nor to group excitement, but to an Event, an event as simple and as factual as the empty spot in the tomb “where the Lord lay.”
For Christians, this wonderful event, which took place in clock time at a certain spot of the world in A.D. 30, is the fact of all facts, the supreme event which has transformed and transfigured all other events before and since. Just as Jesus in His resurrection power brushed aside that heavy stone like a cobweb, so this event has grabbed hold of us and given to us a small but delicious portion of His wonderful new resurrection life. “The Lord is risen! Come see the place where the Lord lay!”