We have seen the risen Lord

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Christ was born. Christ has died. Christ has risen? Emotions soared upward, spiraled downward and rose again during those days before and after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Fear gripped his followers as the final hour approached. They despaired at the turn of events, seeing their Lord scourged and spat upon. They doubted and withdrew into themselves. They grieved. They feared all was lost.

He was dead. He was buried. But then came surprise and joy. &8220;I have seen the Lord,&8221; Mary Magdalene runs to tell the disciples in John: 20 after going to the tomb where Jesus&8217; body had been laid two days before. Expecting to find only the dead Jesus, she finds instead the risen Lord.

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&8220;Nothing else could have changed sad and despairing men and women into people radiant with joy and flaming with courage,&8221; said theologian William Barclay in his Easter devotional &8220;We Have Seen the Lord.&8221;

Emotions at the time of the Resurrection some 2,000 years ago repeat among believers today, clergymen say.

The Easter promise is life eternal. Believers rejoice. And yet &8212; fear, doubt and despair all too often cloud the clear message of the Resurrection.

Messages congregations will hear on this Easter Day speak to that conflict of belief and unbelief, joy and sadness and truth and doubt.

The Rev. Edgar Wright of Morgantown Baptist Church will use the first eight verses of Mark 16 &8212; the women finding the empty tomb and hearing the message that Jesus had been raised

&8212; to tell the Easter story today.

&8220;They had been saying to one another, &8216;Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?&8217; When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, &8216;Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.&8217; So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.&8221;

&8220;The Resurrection is filled with emotion,&8221; Wright said. &8220;The women came to the tomb with anguish, and that changed to amazement and then assurance. The truth of Jesus&8217; Resurrection changes the anguish.&8221;

Those are the same emotions people today feel when they lose a loved one, Wright said. The Easter message speaks to them.

&8216;Go and meet the risen Christ&8217;

At First Presbyterian Church, the Rev. John Larson also will use the Mark text for today&8217;s Easter message.

&8220;The women run away from the tomb in fear,&8221; Larson said. &8220;What can we learn from that? Should we be afraid of Easter?&8221;

Larson suggested some people are &8220;afraid that Jesus isn&8217;t risen for them.&8221;

Like the women, people today may not perceive the major change brought about the Resurrection. &8220;Easter was not what they were looking for,&8221; he said. &8220;They are so blinded by grief and the past they can&8217;t see the new life in front of them.&8221;

The instruction is clear. Go and meet the risen Christ in Galilee, and that is the challenge for believers today, Larson said.

&8220;We are to go and meet the risen Christ in the Galilee of our lives, and that includes not only the past but also the future, something we may fear.

&8220;We are to recognize and deal with the fear that can propel us forward, and that fear is replaced by joy,&8221; Larson said.

Resurrection and doubt

In &8220;We Have Seen the Risen Lord,&8221; Barclay said of the Mark text, &8220;The attitude of the women was that they had come to pay the last tribute to a dead body. The attitude of the disciples was that everything had finished in tragedy. By far the best proof of the Resurrection is the existence of the Christian church.&8221;

Wright said the Resurrection is historical fact, and Christians can be completely assured of that fact. &8220;Compare this with other things people believe, and this is on good, solid ground.&8221;

The resurrected Jesus appeared first to one, then to two, to a group and then to more than 500, Wright said.

&8220;He appeared in different places and different times of the day.&8221;

Still, doubts and questions are integral to the biblical story of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus, said the Rev. Judson W. Hurt of First Baptist Church.

In fact, Hurt will focus on the disciple often referred to as &8220;doubting Thomas.&8221; Hurt will point out, however, that Thomas also was courageous, being the disciple who said in John 11:16, &8220;Let us also go, that we may die with him.&8221;

In John 20: 19-20, Jesus appears to the disciples and stands among them, showing them his hands and his side that had been pierced. Thomas was not present.

When the disciples tell Thomas in verse 25, &8220;We have seen the Lord,&8221; he answers that their word is not good enough. He must see for himself, Hurt said.

&8220;When Jesus does finally appear to him, Thomas affirms Jesus as the Christ higher than anyone else by calling him, &8216;my Lord and my God,&8217;&8221; Hurt said. &8220;He went from doubt to the highest affirmation.&8221;

Today&8217;s Christians are on the same pilgrimage as Thomas and as many of the other greatest figures in the history of Christianity, Hurt said.

He believes asking the tough questions is part of the journey. One who seeks is more likely to find.

&8220;We&8217;re all on that pilgrimage to surrender ourselves to the risen Lord,&8221; he said. &8220;We are always looking, seeking. We have to preach today where the people are, to help people with their doubts.&8221;

Promise of the Resurrection

The historical fact of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus is secure, said the Rev. Troy Thomas of Bethel Baptist Church in Concordia Parish.

For him, however, Easter signals a newness of life that is available to all who believe in Jesus Christ.

&8220;The Resurrection makes a difference in all our lives,&8221; he said. &8220;We need to get our focus straight &8212; not on the here and now but on eternity.&8221;

That will be the Easter message for his congregation. &8220;We&8217;ve been raised along with Christ,&8221; he said. He will use Colossians 3: 1-5 as one of his texts.

&8220;So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.&8221;

Thomas also will use Romans 6: 9-11 to proclaim that &8220;death has no more dominion over him and so it has none over us.&8221;

In Matthew 28: 16-20, Jesus tells his disciples to go into the world, to baptize and to teach. He promises always to be with them. Barclay says, &8220;It must have been a staggering thing for 11 humble Galilaens to be sent forth to the conquest of the world. &8230; They were sent out &8212; as we are &8212; on the greatest task in history, but with them there was the greatest presence in the world.&8221;