empty tombWe’re approaching that time of year when the obligation of a years worth of missed church prompts us to put our family in sundresses and slacks, load them into the car and head to the nearest, often most popular, church. It’s the time of year when even small churches get to experience an attendance boom. It’s the time of year that a lot of pastors focus a lot of attention on preparing for because of the potential for congregational growth. This Sunday, pastors will preach their hearts out about the death and resurrection of Jesus in an attempt to draw people into Jesus and eternity. It’s Easter!

Last week there was a knock on my door and when I answered it a lady in a nice spring hat, the kind of hat that you expect to see in a country church in Georgia, handed me a flyer. As she handed it to me she said, “We’d like to invite you to a memorial service for the death of Jesus.” At the time what she said didn’t even register and I said, “Thanks, I already have a church, but have a good day.” After closing the door and looking at the flyer, I saw that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses and what she said clicked, “a memorial service for Jesus’ death.” I think that’s how most people, especially those that aren’t Christians or even the “Christians” that only attend on Christmas and Easter, look at Easter; a memorial service for Jesus’ death.

I get to work at Arlington National Cemetery. I say “get” because it’s a really cool place to work. Aside from the honor of getting to work in a place where so many heroes have their final resting place, it’s steeped in history. Anyway, I get to work there. Every year they host an Easter Sunrise Service at the amphitheater at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s this gorgeous, all marble, amphitheater on the back of the tomb. The service is huge, something like 2000 attendees. People come from all over the to attend. A few days ago my boss told me that last year he had spoke with a woman that traveled from Buffalo, New York to attend. He said she told him that the service was nice, but she “didn’t expect there to be that much ‘Jesus’ in the service.” WHAT? It’s a church service, on Easter. If there are ever a time you should expect to hear the name Jesus in church, aside from all the time, it’s on the days of His birth and His resurrection. But there it is. People don’t expect to hear Jesus in church anymore. Side note: that’s one of the reasons I’m convinced that church is for the believer. If people do come expecting to hear about Him, it’s in the form of a memorial service. For Christians, we have to be careful to not treat it as a memorial service. Easter is not a memorial of his death. Easter is the day that we acknowledge His resurrection & celebrate of His victory over death.

That’s not to say His death is inconsequential. On the contrary, the cross is essential to our faith. Without it there is no forgiveness of sin. It was on the cross that Jesus took on all of sin for all eternity. It was on the cross that sin was crucified and the debt of it was paid. It was on the cross that we we’re freed from our bondage to death. The cross is crucial, but it isn’t the end all. Likewise the tomb was important in the process. But, neither is it the focus of our faith. While the empty tomb plays an important role in our faith, it is not the center of it. The tomb was simply a launching point for the greatest event in all of eternity. It was the stage that would showcase a phenomenon that would change history forever. So, we ought to simply pause at the tomb. We pause to marvel and awe at the wondrous miracle that took place there. Then we are to run from it, but not in despair. We run in glad celebration. We run to other believers so that we can celebrate the splendor of the Good News that the tomb lay empty. We run to tell others that haven’t heard, so they might be brought into celebration with us.  Our faith has little to do with the tomb and everything to do with why it’s empty.

It’s empty because He lives. The cross without the resurrection is, essentially, the same thing that the Israelites had been doing for millennia; simply a sacrifice for sin. It’s the resurrection that changes everything. Forgiveness of sin is inconsequential if the end result is the same. Going to the grave without sin is still going to the grave. But, it’s the resurrection that changed that and that’s what we’re celebrating. On Easter we celebrate that “the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms” is made available to us. I’m actually glad that people feel obligated to attend church on Easter. It provides the opportunity for them what Easter is really about and provides us the opportunity to explain that to them. I still believe that the church gathering is intended for the believer, to prepare them for the work of the ministry (i.e. living life with others), and to celebrate Jesus, but I also know that we can’t get around the fact that unbelievers will come this Sunday and we should be prepared to preach the cross, Him crucified and why His resurrection matters.

Here’s links to the Easter story:

Jesus’ Trial
Jesus’ Crucifixion
Jesus’ Burial
Jesus’ Resurrection

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