“In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightening, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did quake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come and see the place where the Lord lay.” Matthew 28:1-6 KJV
Each morning, from the time I was a little boy until I left home at nineteen, I could not help glancing to my left as I stepped out the door of my parents’ home in La Mesa, California. There, atop Mt. Helix, stood a big white cross. Below the cross, on the mountainside, was an amphitheatre in which a sunrise service was conducted each year on Easter Sunday. In those days this cross and the ancient one it symbolized were widely respected in my neighborhood.
The resurrection of Jesus, celebrated at the Easter sunrise service in the amphitheatre each year, was regarded as an historical event, not a pious myth. I and my little neighborhood friends went to different houses of worship each Sunday but not one of us doubted for a moment that Jesus had died on a cross for our sins and had emerged from His tomb — alive — on the third day following His crucifixion.
In subsequent years, numerous attempts have been made by those unsympathetic with the symbolism of that cross to get it off Mt. Helix and out of sight — thus far without success. And during those same years several attempts have been made by those of similar disposition to talk me out of my childhood faith in the meaning and value of the original cross, the one on Mt. Calvary — thus far without success.
Not that I have not encountered several challenges to that simple faith. Along with the distraught father cited in the Gospel of Mark, I have on occasion cried, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (9:24). And not that I have not often failed to live by the light of my faith. It is not only the Apostle Peter who has had cause to say at Jesus’ knees, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). But that faith, however weak and wandering at times, has been renewed and strengthened again and again at the foot of Jesus’ cross and at the door of His empty tomb.
At the foot of that cross I am assured of the love of God for broken, suffering humanity, and I am assured of Jesus’ gracious atonement for all my shameful shortcomings. At the door of the empty tomb I am assured, as was Mary Magdalene and the other women in attendance (Luke 24:10), that He who emerged from it on the third day, has been “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
Of course, if Jesus did not first truly die and did not thereafter truly rise from the dead, my faith is, as the Apostle Paul says, in “vain” and I am “yet in [my] sins” and I am “of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19).
There is much more to be said on this subject, and I will try to say some of it in future blogs. In the meantime, please consider with me: 1) that it is hard to find anyone, these days, who will deny that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in Judea during the reign of Tiberius Caesar and the governorship of Pontius Pilate, that is, that He truly died; and, 2) that among those who deny today, or have denied in days gone by, that He was then raised from the dead, none has shown us the corpse, the skeleton, a finger-nail! of the man, not in 2000 years. I cannot help asking: What happened to the body? Where is He?