The Easter thrill

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

The Easter thrill

March 4, 2008    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0808}

NOTE: A headshot of Whitaker is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

The gray shadows of mist hovered over the Mississippi River in the west. It was still dark, but some pink streaks began to emanate from the eastern sky. A mockingbird started singing through the repertoire of calls. By the time the sun had risen, the crowd had gathered. After some choral pieces and trumpet tunes, a human voice cried, “Christ is risen!”

That is the way I remember the Easter sunrise services I attended on top of Fort Hill in Vicksburg, Miss., when I was a youth.

It was exciting to be a part of a large public gathering. There was something primeval in assembling together in the dark of the dawn under an astral sign. Even our feeling uncomfortable because of the early rising and the chill in the air contributed to the sense of making a sacrifice. All of these elements must have made an impression on my young mind, but the reason I remember Easter sunrise services with such a deep sense of gratitude for what I experienced is because of the message I heard.

I head the proclamation, “Christ is risen!” On this day, the preachers spared me their psychological analyses, their appeal to my piety and inner states, and their chidings and warnings. No, this was a day to proclaim God’s action, and it was thrilling. They told the stories of finding the empty tomb, hearing the message of the angels and encountering the appearances of the risen Christ. But on Easter morning, the preachers were no longer mere storytellers; they were heralds announcing the great deed God had done in raising Jesus from the dead.

I remain grateful to this day for those preachers whose names I can no longer recall. I think how fortunate I was to hear the Easter message proclaimed rightly. Since then, I have been able to study more carefully the meaning of Easter. I have pored over the form critics’ analyses of the narratives of the empty tomb and the appearances. I have weighed the arguments of the theologians of both the past and the present. Yet, I still think the preachers on Fort Hill whom I heard on early Easter mornings had it right. The message of Easter is “Christ is risen!,” and this is the deed of the almighty and all-loving God that gives hope to the human race and all creation.

To know that we rise with the sun each morning in a world in which Christ was raised is to be transformed. No longer can we look at anything the same way. Our old enemy death may still cause us to dread, but not to fear any more. Suddenly, the teaching of the One who was raised from the dead takes on authority. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount no longer sounds like a Hallmark greeting card, but a call to transform human culture and politics. And, if it was here on this good earth where God raised Jesus from the dead, then a flower, a tree, an animal must be treated with respect, since God’s presence is hidden in God’s creation.

You may not celebrate this Easter on a high bluff overlooking a river. It may be on some other hill or in some quiet grove. It will probably be in a sacred space where joyful voices will echo through the halls. It may be at night during candlelight Easter Vigil. Wherever you gather with others to celebrate Easter, may you hear with faith the good news that “Christ is risen!” and be raised with Christ to newness of life.


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.

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