Local pastors say true meaning of Easter begins Monday
NATCHEZ — For Christians, today is the day that changes how they live on Monday.
Across the world, Christianity is celebrating Easter, the day on the liturgical calendar dedicated to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead three days after he was executed by Roman officials.
And while taking time to note Easter is important, it’s the kind of event that changes everything, said the Rev. Truman Stagg, pastor of Vidalia First United Methodist Church and Sevier Memorial United Methodist Church.
Easter can’t just be noted.
“Easter cannot be thought of as a one-moment, one-day event,” Stagg said.
“The first Easter Sunday is the first day of the rest of our lives. He didn’t just rise from the dead one Sunday, he is alive forever — that’s the good news of Easter.”
Some of the details in the Christian gospel texts vary, but the stories in the ancient testimonies all end with disciples of Jesus approaching where he had been buried following his crucifixion, only to find he was not there.
Later, the gospels say Jesus appeared to those disciples — men and women — and verified that his body hadn’t just been taken, even as some expressed doubts at the testimony of others.
The Bible says 40 days later, Jesus ascended into Heaven after giving his disciples final instructions.
It was with that wider view that the disciples were able to look back in retrospect and understand the resurrection wasn’t just a miracle, but that it was the miracle, said the Rev. Melvin White, pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church.
“I think the disciples were astonished to know he had risen, because it really had not sunk in that he had already previously told them that he would be crucified and three days later he would be raised,” White said.
“It wasn’t until Jesus was really ascended to His father, and He was giving His last command that they really began to accept Him as the messiah in His resurrection. Before that, they really couldn’t comprehend that.”
And for Christians, with that comprehension comes urgency.
“When you read the story of Jesus ascending into Heaven, in the next verse the disciples are looking for Jesus in the sky and this angel appears and says, ‘What are you doing? That Jesus you are looking to is gone to be with God, and he is coming again,’” Morgantown Baptist Church pastor Rev. Dennis Ellingburg said.
“‘You have seen Him rise, so now go do what He said.’”
And that’s how Easter Sunday changes Monday, and every day after it.
“Because He is risen, I have got to do what He said, I have got to live that in my life,” Ellingburg said.
“Easter helps put feet to who we are, to live out that faith we proclaim.”
The resurrection isn’t just something that exists to change how people think about death, said the Rev. Walton Jones, pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church.
“It is not just something that somehow exists after we die, the kingdom of God is here now,” Jones said. “It doesn’t start at some point in the future. That Monday after Easter, we are already living that life eternal. It is already offered.”
The question, then, is how do Christians live with that reality?
One way can be to look back at some of the events celebrated in Holy Week leading up to the Paschal climax this morning, including not only the crucifixion, but also the act in which Jesus took on the role of a servant and washed the feet of his disciples before supper one night.
“Jesus told us, ‘Love one another as I have loved you,’” Jones said. “Through that simple, strange act of washing His disciples feet, He shows that humbling of Himself for the sake of the other, and through His terrible but glorious act of His death and resurrection, God shows us how far He will go to give of Himself for us.
“We are to live giving of ourselves for the love of others and for loving God.”
Stagg said he plans to take his Easter message from St. John’s gospel because its unique structure allows for a Monday-forward application.
“John goes to all these extremes to talk about these two disciples who went to the empty tomb,” Stagg said. “One of them is Peter, but he never names the second disciple.”
The second disciple was likely St. John, Stagg said, but the text only refers to him as “the disciple Jesus loved.”
“The beauty of the other disciple being unnamed is that we can put our own name in the story,” Stagg said. “It could be me, it could be you, that got the good news. Fill in the blanks — how do you live with yourself in that story?”
Easter is a full-package story, White said, with not only Christ’s death, but also His resurrection and commission to go forward.
“The gospel reminds us that Jesus came that we may have life and have it more abundantly,” he said. “We should always focus on that.”
And with that focus, Ellingburg said, comes not only the day after Easter but also every day thereafter.
“Easter is almost like a Christian New Year, a day to kick off afresh that this is what we are supposed to be about,” he said.
“It is the day to accomplish that great commission to go out and make disciples. On Monday, Easter means it is time to get to work.”