Worshiping on Easter Sunday morning at my childhood church in Chicago was a thrill for the senses. Moody Church was crowded with enthusiastic attendees, nearly 4000-strong, which encouraged us all to sing with extra enthusiasm. Our gusto might also have had something to do with the full choir and orchestra “backing us up.”
As we started my childhood favorite, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” I could almost taste the jelly beans. (Back in the 1950’s when we wore white gloves to church on Easter, Mom always said “no” to eating chocolate eggs in church, but jelly beans? They were ok.)
The messages in the old hymn were exhilarating on this Resurrection Sunday:
- Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
- Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
- Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
- Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!
Plunging into the second verse suddenly got me into some tearful trouble, specifically the last line:
- Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
- Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
- Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
- Christ has opened paradise, Allelulia!
A picture of Nate filled my mind as I visualized Jesus opening the door of paradise for him to walk in. While I sang that line, it was like a bubble of delight rose to the surface and burst forth in tears.
But isn’t that what Easter is? It’s our annual celebration of Christ’s bursting forth from his tomb when death couldn’t keep him there. As I batted back the tears, I thought of how dark and desolate Nate’s death would have been, had it not been for paradise awaiting him. As Pastor Lutzer said this morning, “At the moment of our earthly death, the devil shouts, ‘Gottcha!’ but right then Jesus is waiting to reject that, as he gives life eternal to the one who has just died.”
Nate lingered between earth and heaven for many hours before his death in the fall of 2009, and I like to think that on that last day God’s Spirit was speaking to him. Scripture tells us the Lord can communicate with us even as we sleep, and I believe a coma-like sleep is no exception. Maybe the Spirit said the same thing Jesus said to the repentant thief on the cross: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
I’m confident one day he’ll say the same thing to me and every other Christian as he or she dies. When that happens, giant bubbles of delight will burst forth big-time, and we’ll all be crying for joy.
And none of it would happen if it weren’t for his miraculous resurrection.
“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7)