History means hope for future

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 23, 2008

NATCHEZ — Easter is a time of hope, not because of something it symbolizes but because it is a reality, area ministers said.

Accounts from the Christian Bible tell that, after he died on the cross, Jesus was placed in a tomb that was sealed with a large stone.

Three days later, however, when his disciples went to the tomb, the seal had been broken, the stone moved and the grave was empty.

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Biblical accounts detail several post-resurrection appearances by Jesus before he ascended into heaven.

Christian theology teaches that Jesus’ death was to serve as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, and that the resurrection destroyed the power of death over the believer.

A reality behind the story

The theme of the resurrection is exactly what the Rev. James Benbrook, vicar of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Vidalia, said he is going to preach about today.

“The coming of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the fact that he died, was crucified, suffered death and on the third day he rose again, that’s what I am going to preach about,” Benbrook said. “That’s what happened.”

The Rev. Mark Mihail, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Natchez, said he would preach on a similar theme.

“We know the truth of it, that Jesus did walk out of the tomb, and that if there had been an empty Coke bottle there and he had kicked it, it would have made a noise,” Mihail said.

The Rev. Steve Pearson, pastor at Community Chapel Church of God (Anderson, Ind.), said he would also deliver a similar message, but from a different perspective: the empty promises of Jesus.

“The empty promises of Jesus were the empty cross, the empty grave and the empty grave clothes,” Pearson said.

Those empty promises were meaningful because of why they were empty — Jesus was alive, Pearson said.

A call to something new

For the Rev. Darian Duckworth, pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Natchez, the resurrection signifies the beginning of something new and a call to action for believers.

Duckworth said she plans to use a passage from Matthew in which two women went to the tomb of Jesus, only to discover it empty.

After being told by an angel that Jesus is risen, the women leave the tomb, only to soon thereafter meet Jesus, who admonishes them to spread the word that he has risen from the dead.

“When they meet Jesus they fall down and worship at his feet,” Duckworth said. “We have the same responsibility those women did, which is to continue worshiping God as those women did, and the responsibility to go tell that he is risen.”

At First Baptist Church in Vidalia, Pastor Dan Glenn said he would not directly preach on the resurrection, but rather on the character of Jesus’ disciple Peter.

In the biblical accounts leading up to the crucifixion, when questioned Peter denies that he ever knew Jesus.

Following the resurrection, Jesus reinstated Peter as a disciple.

The reason Glenn chose to study this story for Easter was to paint the picture of a person before and after Christ has restored them, he said.

“The whole point is that probably none of us has done something as bad as to deny Christ, and so if we haven’t done that and he restored Peter, then he can restore us as well,” Glenn said.

No one is good enough to restore themselves in God’s eyes, Glenn said.

“The resurrection in and of itself is the restoring factor we have to God,” he said.

Relevant even today?

The fact that the resurrection happened at all means that it has practical application to our lives today, Glenn said.

“There is no way you can deal with something so powerful as that, that in and of itself establishes that person as someone we should devote ourselves and our lives to their teaching, except to do just that, dedicate our lives to them,” he said.

That is exactly why the resurrection is important to Pearson.

“Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity,” he said. “We have a messiah who is risen. All of the other faith starters are still in the tomb.”

For Mihail, the resurrection is relevant because it is empowering.

“The whole thrust of the New Testament is that we can do all things through Christ, and that is because of the resurrection,” Mihail said. “We are given the opportunity by God to do more things in our lives than we think we are capable of doing.”

Duckworth agreed.

“No matter how bad our circumstances seem, we have hope, and the fact that he is risen shows that though we might not always understand life, because of Christ and the resurrection we have a new day,” she said.