Resurrection means new life, here and beyond, to Blount pastors
By Frank “Buzz” Trexler (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Today, in churches and at dinner tables all over the world, there’s a celebration going on.
The ancient church referred to it as Pascha, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, whom Christians believe died for the sins of the world and defeated death once and for all by rising from the grave three days later.
In the contemporary Western Christian church, it is called Easter. It’s a day of new clothes, cantatas and in some churches the baptism of new converts — or confirmation of adolescents who have been baptized as infants — as they formally enter the faith.
In Western culture outside of the church, it’s a day of colored eggs (destined to become deviled eggs), chocolate bunnies (soon to be melted on little hands and smeared on faces) and familiar family rituals — rituals that may have had roots in the Christian tradition, but might have long since lost that connection.
So, what does the Resurrection mean to those in the church today? We decided to ask a group of Blount County clergy the question, “What does the Resurrection mean to you?” Here are the responses we received:
Freeman Tomlin, pastor at First Baptist Alcoa, celebrates Easter every day and explains why.
“Baseball’s all-time most colorful catcher, Yogi Berra, coined the expression, ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.’ There was a time when people thought it was over,” Tomlin says. “In 1st Corinthians 15:3-4 it says, ‘For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried. ...” If you stop right there it sounds like it was all over. It certainly would take the world’s greatest comeback to ever overcome that. Paul immediately announces the world’s greatest comeback. Verse 4 says, “... and that He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, ... ”
“Easter for me is not just a day, but a life I live as a Christian. Easter is every day in my heart because once I received Jesus by faith as my personal Savior His Resurrection power is in me to stay by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
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Emily Anderson, senior pastor at New Providence Presbyterian Church, points to the centrality of the Resurrection as it relates to Christianity.
"If you asked me to define Easter theologically, I’d tell you that it’s the most important part of the liturgical, or church, year,” Anderson said. “The Resurrection is the central doctrine of the Christian faith, and none of the rest of Christianity makes sense without it.
“In more personal terms, I’d tell you that Easter is God’s reminder that the-way-things-are doesn’t have to be the-way-things-will-always-be,” she said. “One of my favorite writers talks about being ‘Easter people in a Good Friday world.’ Certainly there’s plenty of Good Friday all around us, whether it be Japan or Libya or Alzheimer’s or whatever loss or grief or disappointment you may be facing personally. But Easter suggests that that’s not the end of the story. Easter says that the story is not over when the stone is rolled across the tomb. God has something better in store, and we get to be a part of it.”
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Jeremy LaDuke, pastor at The Remedy, writes, “Resurrection! Death by death has been conquered and Jesus reigns as victor over all death and sin! This is Good News! No longer does our selfishness, gossip, lust, anger, bitterness or any other manifestation of darkness hold us in its grip because he has broken its hold on us. No longer are we resigned to live the dull sort of life, the life of temporal peace and fleeting pleasure, the best life this world can afford and which ultimately leads to death. No, we are free to have joy, kindness, self-control, gentleness, love, faithfulness, generosity, and a peace that surpasses our circumstances because with him, we have died to ourselves and just as Jesus was raised from the dead we now walk in a newness of life with all power to take back what Satan has stolen. Resurrection means where death once reigned those who follow Christ now exercise dominion over life and see the hungry fed, the mourners joyful, the sick healed, and unlovable loved.”
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Aaron McCarter, pastor at Maryville Vineyard, also looks to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth when reflecting on the Resurrection, citing I Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
“If the resurrection isn’t real, Jesus was an egomaniacal con man who pulled off the biggest hoax of all time,” McCarter says. “He’d just be another freak show cult leader with a messiah complex.
“But if it is real, then it validates everything he said and everything he did, and he really is Son of God and the Savior of the world,” McCarter said. “Logic leaves no room for middle ground. So what does the resurrection mean to me? Everything.”
His words bring to mind the words of C.S. Lewis, who wrote in “Mere Christianity,” “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg — or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
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For Larry Carroll, co-pastor at Maryville First United Methodist Church, the reality of the Resurrection is the reality of hope.
“It was Wednesday, November 29, 1995. I received a phone call. My father had died. What happened? Heart attack? Aneurism? Didn’t matter. He was dead. Life is fragile, fleeting. When death comes, life is painful beyond measure. There is a darkness that infiltrates the soul that seems, for the moment, impenetrable. On Friday, we had a family viewing. I approached my father. He looked like he was sleeping. I touched his hand, kissed his forehead and the cold pallor of his skin reminded me he was dead. The next day, there was a service of celebration. After the service, we proceeded to the family grave. I stayed after graveside service, grabbed a shovel and started shoveling dirt on the casket. I felt healing and hope in the hard work of tossing dirt. For me, that is the meaning of Resurrection SEmD healing, restoration, hope and life beyond life SEmD even in the darkness.”
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Willa Estell, pastor at St. Paul A.M.E. Zion Church, explains that Bill Gaither truly defines the Resurrection for her.
“While I could say a lot about what Easter means to me, there is a familiar hymn of the church that personifies its meaning for me,” she said. “It is ‘Because He Lives’ and the first stanza says ‘God sent his son, they called him, Jesus; he came to love, heal, and forgive; he lived and died to buy my pardon, an empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives. Because he lives, I can face tomorrow; because he lives, all fear is gone; because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living just because he lives.
“Often when people give their lives to Christ, they believe that something magical is to happen and all of their problems, frustrations and hardships will disappear. What I have learned on my Christian journey is that that is far from reality — life happens to everyone and no one is exempt, including Christians. The wonderful thing about being a Christian and trusting in God is that no matter what life brings your way — Christ is there with you. Christ encourages, strengthens and provides the hope and stamina needed to continue on this journey of life until that day we see Him face-to-face!
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Ronnie Hepperly, pastor at Restoration International Outreach (RIO), recalls a ministry setting that speaks of new life, but also pointed to the Gaither song:
“When I think about the resurrection and what it means to me I’m reminded of the song ‘Because He Lives.’ In the late eighties as a young Christian I went to Brushy Mountain prison. We were in the chapel which had been the library where James Earl Ray was stabbed as he was serving time for killing Martin Luther King. We had an old out-of-tune piano and an old, grisly, elderly, tattooed-and-scarred inmate gave his testimony and then sang ‘Because He Lives.’ He said he probably would never get out alive, but because of the Resurrection he could face tomorrow, all fear was gone; because he knew who held the future, life was worth the living just because he lives.
“Twenty-five years later, many bumps bruises and setbacks, but many victories later, I agree with the old inmate. Because Jesus rose from the grave, I have been raised from a grave of drugs, alcohol, and violence, and am now part of the family of God. Thank you, Jesus, for the Resurrection.”