Stations Of The Cross
The Easter Service is not some sort of a stand-alone thing. It is part of a series of events, the devotions of Holy Week, that the early Church treated as one worship service. It starts at the Thursday of the Command (also ‘Holy Thursday’ or ‘Maundy Thursday’), which marks Jesus’ mandates to serve, to take Holy Communion, and to love as He loved.
On that day Jesus was betrayed and arrested. At the end of the Thursday service, the altar (sometimes the whole sanctuary, the halls and entryways) is stripped bare and treated as if preparing for a funeral. That’s because it is for a funeral — Good Friday is the day of Jesus’ execution, the first day of Jesus’ death. Today, Good Friday services are usually in the early evening, but tradition puts it at mid-afternoon, when the gospels say Christ died.
The Catholic tradition has a lengthy Easter Vigil of believers awaiting Christ’s return by acts of worship, for Saturday or the early morning hours of Sunday. The empty tomb was discovered at sunrise on Sunday morning, so Christians often start celebrating the resurrection with worship at sunrise, with more worship services throughout the morning. Traditionally, the church uses the Easter services to baptize new adult believers, after using the Lent period for teaching them about the faith.
An empty tomb. In doing this, God’s not saying, “See? I did it, now you try”. God’s also not saying, “Now you’ll live and not suffer and die”. God is saying, “You’ll decay and die. But I’ve made it so death’s not the last word. Death won’t stop you from being with me and from living as I meant you to be. Please accept my invitation to the Kingdom.” This Resurrection RSVP does you no good if you put it in the trash can (though God keeps sending it to you, even more stubbornly than a direct-mail marketer).
It does noone any good if you go around telling people that the banquet’s actually being held at the house of the goddess of Self, or at the Citadel of Technology, or at the Power and Control Room, or at the Cuddly Bear School of Fuzzy Spirituality. They’ll go there and miss the Easter party at God’s mansion complex.
The big deal is not that God could overcome and transcend death. It figures the Almighty could resurrect, if such a being would think it worth bothering to do. The big deal is that:
– the Almighty actually did do it, and did it so we could live on;
– Jesus did it while treating death full-on for what it really is;
– after death we are being led by God into something much better, much more life-full than what we now have; and
– hints and glimpses of this grand new life can be seen and lived in our current world, and one of these glimpses is Easter.
This really is a big deal! That is what the empty tomb means, and why it’s cause for such joy.