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It happens every spring. Mother Nature comes out of hibernation and decks herself in a bedazzling array of variegated splendor that shakes us out of the winter doldrums. For Christians, the consummate event of the annual reawakening is Easter. It is interesting to me that it is also the season of Passover. Appropriately, the celebrations are almost concurrent on our calendars. I say "appropriately" because you can't have one without the other.
Humanly speaking, had the Lord not chosen to miraculously deliver the Chosen People from the clutches of the Pharaohs, there would have been no Israel. And had there been no Israel, there would have been no Christianity. Spiritually speaking, the doldrums would be perpetual. But not so, and we have a season celebrating the miraculous.
For me, the essence of Easter is etched on a piece of wood attached to the door of an empty tomb in a quiet garden near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. It says simply, "He is not here, for he is risen."
Some people question whether the Garden Tomb or the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City is the actual place of Jesus' entombment and resurrection. And though I opt for the Garden as the most likely ancient site, location is not the point, but rather, what was transacted there. All the Gospels find their summation in the words "He is risen," and one might add, as He said.
That message reached me in springtime in 1948 when I became a believer in Jesus through faith in His death, burial, and resurrection. These three elements, we are told by Paul, the Pharisee turned apostle, constitute the essentials of the Christian faith. Ironically, my spiritual birth occurred within days of the physical resurrection of the modern State of Israel - an event that, in concert with my Christianity, would shape much of my life in the years to come.
SO EASTER comes to me as not just another day of family, friends, church services, and convivial gatherings. It is rather a day to commemorate my transformation. The day I found a new life, one assuring me of an even better life yet to come when I take leave of this planet. It is a day when the words "up from the grave He arose â€¦ Hallelujah Christ arose," from the hymn "Christ Arose," will be sung in virtually every Christian congregation the world over and embraced as a mingling of faith and historical reality.
In the modern arena of theological and scientific debate, the words historical reality form the crossroads where faith and the lack of it have a head-on collision. I can remember the days when holy week was a time of relative reverence that permeated the culture in the "Christian" West. Skeptics seemed to keep their distance. Such films and productions as Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth were mainstreamed into the media presentations of the season. But that era of respect, or at least benign tolerance, has gone by the boards, and the long knives of unbelievers have been unsheathed.
The prestigious National Geographic Society is in the forefront with its spurious "revelations" that challenge historic Christian beliefs. Its sensationalized trailer for the Gospel of Judas "documentary" makes the point. It claims this so-called Gospel is a "biblical text" that will "challenge our deepest beliefs" and "could create a crisis of faith."
A few nights ago I watched another program featuring a fellow who was on the well-worn search for the historical Jesus. In fact, however, he was on a journey to substantiate his own unbelief. His oft-stated thesis was that no biblical references or accounts of the miraculous were credible. He capped his argument by standing over a human skeleton, implying he might have discovered where Jesus was buried.
Will these programs "create a crisis of faith" for Christians? Of course not. Despite the exaggerated assertions of agencies promoting such shows, they will not produce even a ripple of unbelief for people grounded in their faith.
And let us not forget that these pseudoscientific historians will have the same things to say about anything related to the biblical account of the Jewish people's deliverance under Moses' leadership.
The basic issue, therefore, is unbelief in the miraculous workings of God on the human scene. This is the central issue. And can it be far off the mark to say that these people's preconceptions pretty well determine that they will arrive at faithless conclusions?
For me the matter is one of simple agreement with the words of Scripture: "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain." Without the resurrection we have no credible basis for our faith. "But now Christ is risen from the dead," says Scripture.
So on Easter Sunday, I'll be one among the millions celebrating the resurrection in the sure hope of my own. That, for me, is what Easter is all about.
The writer, a pastor, is a leader of the Christian Zionist movement in the United States.