Today we celebrate the glorious Easter event; the bodily Resurrection of Jesus from the dead!
This is, by far, the most important event in Christianity. Everything else that was said or done by Christ and the apostles is secondary in importance to the resurrection. But I really do not think that we 20th century Christians appreciate the wonder and uniqueness of the Easter event.
For the engineers among us, and all the students of engineering, I ask that you recall the Second Law of Thermodynamics. And for all the non-engineers among us, the law states that, “The entropy of an isolated system will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.”
Now I have to stop before I continue and share this with you. I was telling my youngest daughter what I wanted to say today, and when I recited that law she said, “Oh my gosh, you’re not going to recite that in Church are you?” I said, “Sure, why not?” And she said, “Well, I hope you realize, you just put everyone to sleep.”
So unless you’re already snoring, bear with me.
Entropy is a measure of the degree of disorder in any substance or system. So the law says quite simply that over time every system or substance tends to become disordered or run down. And this deterioration continues till no more work or energy can be extracted from any source. In other words, everything over time will fade away and perish.
A simple example that will help explain the principle would be a glass containing ice and water in a warm room. Over time the ice in the ice water will melt as the water absorbs heat energy from the room and the temperature of the glass and its content increases. In this example, the entropy of the ice has increased.
Living organisms like you and I preserve our internal order, or entropy, by taking free energy from our surroundings in the form of nutrients and sunlight. Ideally we would prefer that the internal order of our bodies remains stable, so that we remain healthy and alive. But by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, our bodies must become increasingly disordered or run down and eventually die. The vitality of our bodies cannot remain constant.
This principle is now recognized as the universal law of science; and it applies to all things. Animals die. Plants die. Cities and nation spring into existence, grow and then fade away. Our homes, our cars, even the cloths that we wear will all eventually go back to dust. The grave always wins and everyone and everything sooner or later returns to the earth. No known exemptions have ever been observed.
We all know this to be true. But I believe that most of us live our lives ignoring the reality of the inevitable. I think Woody Allen said it best. He said, “I’m not afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
The principle of deterioration, death, and decay is built into the very fabric of our universe. It is a fact of life. The Bible refers to this universal reign of decay and death as, “The bondage or slavery to corruption”.
This universal reign of decay stands as a testimony to the absolute uniqueness of the Resurrection of Christ.
It is true! Jesus died and was buried in common with all of humanity. But unlike all of humanity, He returned from the dead, resurrected His own body, and emerged from the tomb.
But in order to appreciate the full significance of that statement, it is important that we understand the true meaning of the word Resurrection.
Christ’s Resurrection did not mean that Jesus’ mortal life had been prolonged or revived. After the Resurrection, His life was totally different. After the Resurrection, He was the same Jesus that the disciples had known and followed. They recognized his voice, they touched him, and they shared meals with him. The Gospels very definitely emphasize the physical character of his appearance. But, the Gospels make clear that there were some things that were very different about the risen Jesus.
He was no longer subject to the limitations that mortality places upon us. Once risen, he could be present to his friends without their recognizing him. He could enter a room where the doors were shut and locked. He could appear suddenly and just as suddenly disappear. This was Jesus but He was definitely different. Jesus was different because He was made immortal. His resurrected body will never run down. It will never die.
This is the greatest of all miracles since the creation itself; because much about the resurrection stands in violation to the very laws of our created universe. Consequently, the resurrection could only have been accomplished by the One who created those physical laws.
This universal reign of death and decay in the world is explainable only in terms of the Creators will. Since it is He who imposed this universal law, it is only He who can supersede and change it.
The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of our Christian faith. Without the Resurrection, there would be no Christian Church.
With the death of Jesus, the disciples were utterly confused. They feared for their own lives. There was no possible way that they could have continued as teachers of Christ’s doctrines. The resurrection caught the disciples completely by surprise.
But in the accounts recorded for us in all four of the Gospels, there is no indication that they had any hope after Christ’s death. This was in spite of the fact that they should have known that He would die and rise again, because this was foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures. And even if they had not been able to anticipate these events from the Scriptures, they had clear statements regarding these events from the lips of Christ Himself.
One thing is certain! The disciples could not have fabricated the story of the resurrection from their own imagination. None of the disciples expected the resurrection. Thomas was not the only doubter. They did not expect it and they failed to anticipate it, even after such an abundance of prophetic preparation for it, both from the Scriptures and from Christ.
But I don’t think that we can fault them for this; because, after all, absolutely nothing in the history of mankind could have prepared them for this moment. Nothing like this has ever happened before. It had to have taken the strongest of evidence to convince them that the resurrection had actually taken place. And they obviously became convinced; because with that assurance, they went everywhere proclaiming the resurrection.
But just what was this evidence that brought about this dramatic turn-around. Well, the first evidence was the empty tomb itself. The Gospels tell us that Peter and John ran to the tomb, entered it, and saw the linens that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had wrapped around the body of Jesus. But the body was not there. It had vanished. The linens lay there collapsed. Scripture says that John saw and believed. His doubts and fears gave way to an amazed faith.
The second piece of evidence was the fact that the disciples actually saw the resurrected Lord. There are at least ten separate appearances recorded for us in the Scriptures.
Logic says that it is completely impossible that the apostles could have preached and written as they did, unless they were absolutely sincere and deeply convinced of the truth of their message. They had been transformed from being frightened runaways, to becoming bold, spirit filled preachers of Christ’s resurrection.
But their preaching proved costly. It cost them the loss of their possessions. It cost them intense persecution. And it even cost most of them the loss of their lives.
The apostle John was the only one to die of old age. All the others died a violent martyr’s death. But they preached, and kept on preaching, as long as their strength permitted.
The Easter story had to be told. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. The laws that control, bind, and define our physical world no longer apply to Him. And because of Him, someday these laws will no longer apply to us either.
St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans, that “Creation itself shall also be delivered from the bondage of corruption and decay into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
Easter therefore is not a happy ending to the Jesus’ story. It is a radical new beginning for him and for all of humanity. The grave was not a terminal event for him. And because of him, it will never be such for us either.
The laws of science that control and define our world may define our mortality, but Easter redefines those laws.
Easter is not the end of death. It is the triumph of life over death. This universal reign of death and decay may be real, but it does not have the last word. Easter means that what is mortal becomes what is eternal. Eternal life for Jesus and for all of humanity is born in the grave. Easter therefore is the gateway into that new and eternal paradise.
All four of the Gospels tell us that it was Mary Magdalene who was first to arrive at the tomb to find it empty. And she immediately ran to tell the others.
The Easter story is wonderful news that must be shared. May we, like Mary Magdalene, also be filled with wonder and excitement at this Good News. And, like Mary, we also must share this message with our world.
The tomb is empty. The universal reign of death and decay has been defeated. The doorway to eternal life has been open for all mankind because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.