By Natalie Seale
Before I relocated to America to live with my husband, one of my favourite Easter traditions was to attend the dawn service at my church. It’s a small church, with seating for about 50 people at most; and it’s very old, and probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever known. The dawn service was slightly different to regular services, though, because we’d meet near the church hall and wander around the church as we acted out the scenes that occurred on that special Sunday morning so long ago.
We’d be there before 6am, only a small crowd of us, maybe 7 or 8. We’d greet one another in the semi-darkness and then walk down the path to a specially built and very beautiful little garden with a small tomb. The stone rolled away, a little light inside, we would read from the Gospel together about how Mary and a few friends set out to Jesus’ grave to lovingly anoint the body of their friend. They didn’t find anything as they expected to find it! Instead, there was an earthquake, followed by an angel who “appeared like lightning” and the news that Jesus was not there. He had risen! (Matthew 28: 6)
If we flick to the Gospel of John at this point, which is what we always do at the dawn service, we encounter a very upset and slightly frantic Mary Magdalene. She is crying. She is devastated at the thought that someone could have taken the body of her friend away. A man she assumes is the gardener approaches her and asks her why she is crying. Her only thought is to find Jesus’ body, but he is standing right in front of her in living and breathing flesh! The veil is lifted when Jesus says her name – Mary – and she realises the good news. She runs off to tell the other disciples that she has seen the Lord so that they, too, can share in the excitement of the resurrection.
In the scripture and at Easter Sunday services like mine, the excitement builds as the news of the Risen Christ spreads. Simon Peter and another disciple, known only as “the beloved,” rush to the tomb to investigate after they encounter the women. Yet where the former sees only loss – the lack of a body – the beloved disciple sees a void filled with the presence of the Risen Christ. He sees the empty tomb and believes. He recalls the teaching of the scripture, of the words of the living Son of God, and everything clicks into place.
We get to be beloved disciples this (and every) Easter Sunday. And the good news is that the Easter story is always fresh, always new, always exciting. It never gets old – because the tomb is always empty.
When we run to the empty tomb, we always find the same thing – a Risen Christ who turns despair into hope, and sadness into joy.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”
The Risen Christ
In celebration of Passover, Jews were expected to throw out all of the old, leavened bread (i.e. bread that has been made with yeast) and prepare new, unleavened bread. This stems from the fact that the yeast was seen as a kind of corruption because of the effect that it had on the dough – Jesus actually told a parable about the potential for a small amount of ‘leaven’ to penetrate a whole batch of dough (read it in Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:20-21).
Passover was, therefore, to be celebrated and honoured with pure, new bread. Paul draws a parallel between Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the practice of throwing away the leavened bread and baking new for Passover. He writes:
“Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Let us celebrate the feast, then, by getting rid of all the old yeast of evil and wickedness, [and] having only the unleavened bread of integrity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5: 6-8)
The association of Easter with renewal and rebirth is long established: it’s why we see eggs and bunnies, chicks and spring flowers everywhere at this time of year. It’s hard not to get excited about warmer spring days, bright daffodils, and new Easter outfits, but these are temporary pleasures that don’t last very long. What really does last, though, is the good news of the Gospel: the news of the Risen Christ, who laid down his life so that we might live.
So this weekend, let us celebrate the resurrection and marvel at the wonder of the empty tomb.
But let us also carry the fresh joy and hope that surrounds us this Eastertime, and channel it towards a deeper, more lasting kind of renewal – a renewal of our faith in Christ; of our commitment to living our lives by his example; and our status as much beloved daughters of the King.
Because we are, without a doubt, an Easter people – and Alleluia is our song.
Natalie is a Yorkshire lass who recently moved all the way to San Antonio, Texas, to live with her husband Quincy. She has a PhD in Renaissance history and until recently taught undergrads and post-grads at the University of Edinburgh. Her passion is for teaching, but in the process of applying for a visa she discovered a new love for writing devotionals and lettering by hand. Good coffee, old books, family time, warm jumpers and Texas sunsets are some of her favourite things. Her heart is to live a life full of the love and joy of God, and in doing so help others to achieve their potential.