Easter is the main event of the whole New Testament. Everything else leads up to it. And everything follows from it.
All of Jesus’ teaching – all the words that Jesus said, all the things that did, all these were confirmed by what happened on Easter morning.
Jesus proved that he meant everything that he said and did, by his willingness to suffer for it.
Even when Jesus had the opportunity to run away, even when all of his friends had left him and denied him, Jesus stuck by his message and prayed for both his friends and his enemies.
Easter isn’t something where we just get over it, and move on. Easter is the biggest thing that ever happened. And it took people quite a while to figure out what do do next.
I’m going to read the story, one more time. The short version, just to remind us of what happened.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid, yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.Matthew 28;1-8
There are lots of special events which take place in our lives. Some of these events are a big dividing line for us. Nothing is ever the same, before them. And nothing is ever quite the same after them, either.
These events are called watershed events. A watershed is the area where, if a single drop of water falls within that area, then that drop of water will eventually come to join all of the other drops of water which have fallen in that same area.
I’m sure you’ve seen signs by the road all around this area, because High Point is the watershed for several different rivers.
A drop of rain that falls here might make its way into the Cape Fear River, which passes through 26 counties and 113 towns and cities, with more than 2 million people. It links up with more than 6,000 miles of streams and rivers, and 34,000 acres of lakes.
If a drop of rain falls on the other side of the divide, it might make its way down the Uwharrie, the Pee Dee or Yadkin Rivers.
Which side it’s on, makes a huge difference. If it falls on one side, it will go one way. On the other side, it will go the other way. The watershed is the dividing line.
Most of the lifetime of that single drop of water will probably be spent in twists and turns, as it makes its way down from a trickle, to a stream, to a pond or lake, to a river.
And those twists and turns, in one sense, are the whole life of that one little water drop. It can take years – many years – for the journey to be complete, and for the drop of water to reach the ocean from which it came.
But in another sense, the twists and turns are unimportant. Because the watershed event has already taken place. The decision, if you want to call it that, has already been made. Eventually, that drop of water is going to go one way, or the other.
We’re all familiar with watershed events in the course of our lives. For example, for a lot of people, if you ask them what the most important event in their life has been, they’ll say it’s their marriage.
People go through all sorts of twists and turns in their lives. They may change jobs, or go back to school, or move to different parts of the world, or go through serious illness. But they will basically divide their lives into the period before their marriage, and the period after.
Before you get married, you have plans and dreams. There are preparations for the wedding, there’s invitations, wedding presents, and so on.
After the marriage a different set of things is happening. There’s the building of a long-term relationship. The friendship that can grow deeper and stronger, or perhaps lose strength, and grow colder, or even fall apart. But most people see marriage as a watershed event.
Another example would be a school graduation. Before, there’s classes, and exams, and years of study and preparation. There are dreams, and fears, and uncertainties.
After graduation, the real work begins. We start to take the measure of the challenges and responsibilities that are set before us.
Still another example of a watershed event would be the birth of a child. Everybody knows that before a baby is born, there are hopes and fears. There’s months of waiting. There’s discomfort and adjustments to live with. Sometimes there are gifts and showers. Sometimes there are other feelings, not just hope and joy.
After a baby is born, it’s a whole different world. It’s different for the parents. The responsibility never goes away!
When I became a parent, my whole identity got changed forever. No matter what else happens, for the rest of my life, I am always a parent. Wherever I go, whether the baby grows up to behave well or badly, I’m going to say, “This is my daughter”, or I say “This is my son.”
My point is, there are some events, which change the world forever. They’re watersheds. They’re dividing lines. On one side of the event, the world is one way. On the other side of the event, the world is completely different. There is a before and there is an after, and even if the event happens in a moment, the two sides are a world apart.
Easter is one of those events. It’s a day. It’s a special moment. On one side of Easter, some things stand out for us. On the other side of Easter, other things are never going to be the same.
Now, we don’t judge people from being on one side of a watershed event, or the other. We don’t blame people, or judge people, for being married or unmarried. We can be good people, or bad people, on either side of one particular day.
And in the same way, there shouldn’t be any kind of judgment because of of which side of Easter each of us happens to be on.
Early on Easter morning, a group of women went to the tomb where Jesus was buried. That story is presented to us, four times, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And according to all four Gospel writers, the tomb was empty.
In one version, the one we read just now, an angel came, and told them what had happened. In another version, the empty tomb was all they had to go on.
But in all four Gospels, Easter is presented as a fact. It’s something which happened. There were a lot of different reactions to it. There was confusion, and misinterpretation.
But Easter itself – the empty tomb, and risen Christ – is presented to us with plenty of witnesses. There is no arguing about what the Gospel writers say what happened.
And the question which I want to ask is, which side are we on?
A lot of people, it seems to me, are on one side of Easter, or the other. Even though Easter took place a long time ago, a lot of people, it seems to me, are still intellectually and emotionally and spiritually on the “before” side of Easter.
Another group of people, it seems to me, are on the other side of Easter, in terms of what they think and how they feel and how they act.
If we’re still on the “before” side of Easter, we may sing the Easter songs, and dress up in Easter clothes. But do we really believe that Jesus is alive and risen? Do we really believe that we’re going to find him, out there in the world?
To be on the “after” side of Easter is to know, in our hearts and in our minds, that Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning – to be on that side of Easter means to base our thoughts, and our hopes, and our actions on that watershed event.
Many people – lots of people – knew Jesus before Easter. They listened to him. They followed him. They put their trust in him. They loved him.
And many people called Jesus Lord, even before Easter morning. They recognized Jesus’ authority. They accepted the truth of Jesus’ teaching. They believed that Jesus was superior to all of the other teachers, who came before him. Those people weren’t wrong then. And those people aren’t wrong now.
In the Gospel, there were plenty of people who didn’t believe, even though they were right there. There were plenty of people in the Bible, who needed more time. There were people who needed years, before they felt that they fully understood.
And so, it’s not my place to dump on anyone, for being honest about what they believe about Easter. I would always rather deal with honest doubt, than see people pretending.
But to know Jesus after the Resurrection, is to open up a whole new dimension of faith. I feel that I am still there, in those first few days that followed Easter, as people were just starting to discover who Jesus was and what Easter meant.
After Easter, people called Jesus Lord, in a new way. Their prayers felt different. Their understanding was different. They made decisions on a whole different basis.
That one event – Jesus is alive! – was a watershed in their lives. No matter what else happened, no matter how many twists and turns their lives took, they knew which side of Easter they were on.
It’s possible, and a lot of people do this, to spend our whole lives, before Easter. It doesn’t mean being wrong-headed, or bad-hearted. To know Jesus, before the Resurrection, isn’t wrong at all.
But to know Jesus, after the Resurrection, is to follow Jesus into the new world that he opens up. To know Jesus after the Resurrection, means talking about a Lord who is, and not just a Lord who was.
On one side of Easter, all that we know is that in spite of everything Jesus did and said, in spite of all the good that he accomplished, the authorities still killed him.
On that one side of the event, the best person, the best teacher, the best healer and friend and prophet that the world ever knew, still wound up dead. And on that pre-Easter side, the best that any of us can hope for, is the same.
On the other side of the watershed event, on the other side of Easter, everything is different. The words and the teaching of Jesus are identical. But we hear Jesus speaking, not in the past, but in the present. We hear Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last! I am alive! I died, and behold I am alive for ever more!…” (Revelation 1:18)
Before Easter, everything stands in the shadow of death and ultimate destruction. Our very best efforts can never last. The more faithful we try to be, the more we’re going to get hurt, the more we’re finally going to lose.
But after Easter, everything stands in the light of the risen Christ. People on the other side of Easter hear Jesus say, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die…” (John 11:26-27)
There is no reason to believe, that God loves people less, whichever side of Easter they’re on. According to the Gospel, Jesus loved Peter and the other disciple, who ran to the tomb, who looked in and saw that it was empty, and believed.
But Jesus also loved Doubting Thomas, who had difficulty believing. Jesus loved him just as much. There is not one word of judgment, against people who were sincere, in what they could and couldn’t believe and understand.
Which side of Easter we are on is partly a choice. It is partly our own decision. We can say, “I accept this,” and believe.
But which side of Easter we are on is also kind of a discovery. It’s a gift. It’s the discovery of the glorious Light, and the living Christ, and the life that never ends.
We’re invited, by Jesus himself, to be on that side of Easter – the new side, the forever side, the living side.
We’re invited to discover that Jesus isn’t the great He was, but the great I AM. And we’re invited to join him, in that life that begins now, and never ends.