(Easter Message from the Deputy Moderator of the Church of South India)
Easter is a festival celebrated all over the world, not only among Christians but in many other sects as well, the basic fact being that Jesus, only Jesus, died on the Cross and rose again. Before we go into a deep study, may our gracious God grant us all the power of resurrection, eternal life and fill us with glory. I extend you all the Easter greetings "He is risen!"
The Easter is a day of the festival of witness; it reveals a prophecy as it was given on the birth of Jesus i.e. for Christmas. Many people, even those who claimed to be scholars, were expressing doubts whether any person who dies and gets his body rotten, could rise alive. Not many doubts are expressed on the birth of Jesus and its holy roots. But on His death and resurrection, it is not so. While Christmas is celebrated universally in pomp and glory, Easter is not. I personally feel that Easter is to be universally celebrated in such a grandeur that it is equal or more prominent than Christmas and we should thank our Lord God and praise Him for His abundant grace in sacrificing his life for us, the sinners.
Resurrection means to come back to life, it means that a person comes out of his lifeless state to regain his life and live and interact with living humans; to come back from being a dead body to that of a living personification.
Let me bring out some clear pieces of evidence of the resurrection. We know that on Good-Friday Jesus bore the Cross and died. It is an open act for all of us to see. We also believe that the edicts of Pontius Pilate sanctioned the crucifixion, thereby the death has the sanction of the State, but these edicts were overturned by resurrection and this episode has the sanction of our God. Therefore, the human authority is superseded by the divine authority. We should also recall that Jesus Christ before His imminent crucifixion has Himself prophesied that He shall die on the Cross and on the third day rise from the dead.
Peter wished that it would not happen (Matt. 16: 21 – 23), but Jesus warned him for these utterances. Even on the night of the last supper, Peter wished that Jesus be led away from crucifixion, but Jesus condemned these words pin- pointing Peter's vanity stating that before the cock crows twice as a morning whistle, he would lie thrice to feign ignorance on Jesus (Mark 14: 29 – 31). These are the words expressed before the resurrection and we take them as evidence. Peter is the first witness to the resurrection (in the expressive phrases), to foretell what is going to happen.
Closed Tomb: The tomb is already marked; it is intended for Jesus though prepared for Arimathaiah. The physical body of Jesus was kept in the tomb. Confirmation of Jesus' death is already made by a soldier piercing the body of Christ on His sides. It also confirms the words of Jesus that He would be put to death and therefore the blood and water oozed from His body (St. John 19:35). All precautions in cremation were taken up and a big stone had been placed at the entrance of the tomb. The stone was so big that probably unless they felt that he was much more strong or felt that he cannot push it and come out, they would not have placed it. If a normal ordinary person dies, there would be no doubt, that the slab would be secure, as the human would be lifeless and cannot even move a pin. Yet a stone slab, which was very thick and strong for not less than 10 people to move it away, was placed on the grave, preferably believing that Jesus was very strong and expecting that He comes alive and pushes it away. It was not the physical strength, but when Jesus rose, the tomb was open, empty and the strong stone was rolled over and placed aside. It is the second strong evidence that Jesus rose all by himself and confirms that an impossible thing was made possible.
Earthquake – St. Matt. 28: 2 - This is the third evidence. Those are early hours of Sunday and all the women who believed in him went to the tomb and found that the earth shook and the stone on the tomb was rolled over and all the other tombs nearby were also broken. But the tomb of Jesus was unshaken and intact. This is a real miracle. The glow of the risen Lord has filled the area and the surroundings shuddered. Normally if an earthquake occurs it prompts terror and chaos, but here on the day of the resurrection, the quake damaged the nether world and the kingdom of darkness. Probably God does not tolerate the loss of all the creation and the act of God still protected the world. God had made this through his will, through his angels without an earthly damage.
Angel from the skies – light: This is the fourth evidence as given in St. Matthew 28: 2. Probably at the same moment of resurrection, an angel came down from the skies onto the earth and the keepers saw it and were dumbstruck. They feared the light from above. The light is now paradoxically likened to a light of the life of the birth of Jesus which led the shepherds to Jesus in the manger. If you clearly observe the light that emanated with the thunder and lightening, you can feel the fact that with probably a light exceeding 25,000 MW of power which normally occurs with lightning, one might presume how they become dumbfounded and listless. Even the tomb keepers who are there were awe-struck and probably saw with their own eyes, the resurrection and process and Jesus coming out of the tomb in enormous light while their minds were turned aside.
White garments in the empty tomb: The fifth evidence of resurrection is the presence of white clothes in the empty tomb. When Mary the Magdalene visited the tomb there were women accompanying her. Even this evidence is precious, the stone on the tomb being moved and the visibility of shroud is a clear evidence that Jesus was not there and that the shroud tightly bound the body lay open in the grave. The empty tomb and white robes are clear evidence to show that Jesus rose from the dead.
The incident of Peter and John came running: Mary of Magdalene when she could not find the body of Christ got agitated in heart and became destitute. She might have come to the tomb with two ideas in her mind. 1. If Christ rises as he foretold, to welcome him into the world and to embalm him with precious oils and scents. Secondly, if he did not rise, to embalm the dead body and pay respects with the offering of precious oil. Probably ninety percent with the above said idea and a ten percent doubt. Peter and John came running only with the confirmation of the resurrection which has been felt and confirmed by Mary Magdalene (St. John 20: 1 – 16). They all believed that Jesus would rise from the dead and shall make good the prophecy. It is imperative that Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, even when they could not affirm that he rose from the dead, their faith let them to the tomb in a clear assumption that the act of resurrection takes place.
Jesus Christ conversing with Mary Magdalene: This is the seventh evidence. When Mary the Magdalene came to the tomb, looked into the grave and began crying to say that somebody took away her Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus appeared in person. Probably with a mind to reconcile his loss, and unable to see through that tear filled eyes and to recognise Jesus, she might have faulted about the identity of her caller as the gardener. So she failed to recognise him. When Jesus recognised her state of mind and her turmoil he himself called her as usual and Mary the Magdalene recognised his voice and responded as "Rabbuni". This conversation might have taken place over a period of fifteen minutes. What more evidence can you bring about to confirm that Jesus rose from the dead?
The witness of the tomb-keepers: According to St. Matthew 28: 11, every occurrence at the tomb was briefed to the high Priests by the tomb keepers and these head- priests gave bribes to tomb keepers to canvas against the resurrection of Christ. So they testified that while they were sleeping Jesus’ disciples have taken the body away – St. Matthew 28: 13. This is satan’s doing. How can the false witnesses stand in fact finding? This is sheer ignorance and distortion of facts.
The responsibility of tomb- keepers is to protect the tomb from all sorts of damage or other activity and if necessary, in shifts. Most of the people, the bystanders fled the scene, when Jesus was captured. Only John is seen in the vicinity of the cross. The whereabouts of other disciples and followers are questionable. Can such cowards dare to come there and take away the body of Christ forcibly? The deposition of the keepers is nothing but a vanity. This cannot be contested in the possible evidence strongly supporting the resurrection.
Therefore, dear readers, I deem that resurrection is a great deed of our loving Jesus to show us that he ever lives with us in all our endeavours as a symbol of eternal life over death. No other festival has ever strongly given credence of the invincibility of Jesus and his ultimate victory over death to prove that he is an ever living God.
On behalf of all congregations of Church of South India and particularly the Diocese of Dornakal, I bring greetings of Easter with the assertion that He is risen indeed!
The Rt. Revd. Dr. V. Prasada Rao,
Deputy Moderator – CSI & Bishop in Dornakal