Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Is it possible to have a more hopeful day of the year than Easter? For all of Christendom, the day of the Resurrection is one to shine above all others. If you are of that faith, then Easter Sunday is the eternal light at the end of every tunnel, a guaranteed happy ending for those who follow through faithfully.
Yet, as with so many great events, there have been disagreements. In the early years of the church, many Christians are noted as having been vehement in their condemnation of various groups who celebrated Easter on different dates.
Easter can be traced, or tracked, on the calendar with regard to the First Nicean Council in 325, which fixed Easter as “the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox.” Ecclesiastically, the equinox is defined to be on March 21 even though the full moon often occurs on the 20th of the month. So, Easter may be held any time between March 22 and April 25 in our western culture.
Whenever it happens, the day is celebrated by millions around the globe as the day when Jesus overcame death three days after being crucified. Although the Gospels chronicle a host of miracles that He performed, ranging from turning water into wine, healing the sick, directing the weather, and feeding thousands in amazing ways, the fact that a return after three days as he had predicted remains unchallenged among biblical writing is the ultimate wonder.
In what could be called a series of later miracles, Jesus is said to have remained upon the earth for another 40 days after leaving the tomb. Jesus appeared to men many times and in Luke 24, is reported to have spoken with two of his disciples on the Emmaus road literally hours after the return from death.
A famous phrase, that of the “doubting Thomas” comes from Jesus’ invitation to his follower, Thomas, to put his hands in the wounds suffered on the cross. Jesus says, not without much irony, that Thomas then believes, but “blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe” in a stirring reference to the ages hence when followers will have such faith that actual visual evidence will not be required at all.
Although the great Apostle, Paul (Saul) of Tarsus, was not one of the original disciples, he had a fateful meeting with Jesus on another road, this one leading to Damascus, and was blinded by a great light. Paul had been a Jewish zealot heretofore famed (or infamous) for his persecution of any and all Christians. He had, in fact, been present at the stoning of the great martyr, Stephen.
Still, when Paul got the message, he took it to heart in a way that perhaps no one has before or since. He ended up writing a great deal of the New Testament, devoted the rest of his life to carrying the message of Jesus to the world, and never wavered from his faith despite a never-ending struggle for the rest of his days. His successful effort to “keep the faith and finish the race” has remained a beacon to followers across the centuries.
Still, simply the fact that Jesus had returned from the dead did not truly complete the Easter miracle. He said that he was going to “prepare a place” in order for believers to go and enjoy the fruits of his sacrifice forever.
For that to happen, it was not going to be possible to remain in the midst of the people on earth.
In Luke, Acts, Ephesians, Romans, and Colossians, the writers note that Jesus was as good as his word and that after 40 days, he was taken up and returned to heaven itself.
In a stirring series of events, Jesus reminded the faithful that it was not for them to know just when he would come back to reclaim his own and that it was to be the mission of those left here to go out into the world and spread His message among all encountered.
The angels told those who were present for the ascension that Jesus had returned to heaven in such a manner as to be once again in the rightful place from which he had come and was there again in a place where he could do good for human kind. In a thrilling account, it was also revealed that as dramatically as he had risen up into the clouds to leave this world, he would as triumphantly return to reclaim it an hour not yet known to men.
Patience, being a virtue, may be sorely tested at times, but surely Paul would agree the message of Easter will be the greatest blessing to those who successfully fight the good and faithful battle.
Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.