Easter and the end of death



By Spencer D Gear

Funerals are generally not our favourite occasions. However, they have a startling way of bringing us face to face with the facts. I attended one following the sudden death of a friend who died at age 50.

I was shocked by my friend’s unexpected departure from this life. At the time I was reading Philip Yancey’s, Where is God when it hurts (1990). Yancey reminded me of therapist,, psychologist and non-Christian, Rollo May’s, observation.

Rollo May visited a monastery at Mt. Athos on a peninsula in Greece. It was there that he visited an all-night Easter celebration in a Greek Orthodox Church. There was a strong smell of incense; the only light was from candles. Then at the climax of the service, the priest gave the familiar Easter proclamation, Christos anesti (which means, ‘Christ is risen’) and the congregation gave the Greek response, ‘Christ is risen indeed!’ Rollo May wrote after this event, ‘I was seized then by a moment of spiritual reality: what would it mean for our world if he (Jesus) had truly risen?’ (May 1985:60, cited in Yancey 1990:252).

This is what the women were told when they arrived at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, ‘He is not here; he has risen!’ (Matthew 28:6 NIV).

Easter holds the promise that death is not final. Death is reversible. But there are conditions.

The first Christians were overcome by the impact of Christ’s resurrection. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians, ‘If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith’ (1 Corinthians 15:14 ).

When he was Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said that ‘belief in the resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith. It is the Christian faith’ (1992).[1] However the citation seems to have come from Oxford University theologian and Congregationalist minister, John S Whale, who stated: ‘The Gospels do not explain the resurrection; the resurrection explains the Gospels. Belief in the resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith; it is the Christian faith’.[2]

However, by contrast, another Anglican (Episcopalian) and former Bishop, John S. Spong, gives a contrary view: ‘A deceased man did not walk out of his grave physically alive three days after his execution by crucifixion’ (Spong n d:2).

But how can we know for sure that Christ’s resurrection really happened? There are a number of convincing proofs.

One is that women were the first witnesses of the resurrection. This is hardly a story that a conspirator would invent among the Jews of first century A.D.  Besides, the women were ‘afraid yet filled with joy’ (Matthew 28:8).

Like many other things in Jesus’ life, his resurrection drew two responses. Firstly, those who believed were remade and went out to change the world with courage. Secondly, others rejected the powerful evidence.

Jesus predicted this: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

On that first Easter Sunday there was no spectacle like angels singing “The Hallelujah Chorus[3] or kings from foreign lands bringing extravagant gifts.
The circumstances were very ordinary. There was a private, personal meal. Two men were walking along the road to Emmaus. A woman was weeping in the garden and some fishermen were doing their work with nets at the lake. This was unspectacular stuff!

Most remarkable of all was what happened to that timid band of unpredictable followers of Jesus. Of those 11 who deserted Jesus just before his death (one other betrayed him), they were turned into fearless evangelists who became ancient equivalents of Graham Staines.

Staines, born in Palmwoods, Qld. was an Aussie missionary who was burnt to death while he was sleeping with his two sons Timothy (aged 9) and Philip (aged 7) in his station wagon in Orissa, India, in January 1999. Staines went to a martyr’s grave faithfully proclaiming the resurrected Christ.

Graham Staines and his two sons, Timothy and Phillip, were burned alive in Manoharpur village of Orissa’s Keonjhar district of India early on the morning of Jan 23, 1999. A politically motivated mob blocked the doors of their ancient Willy’s station wagon where they were sleeping, poured gasoline on the vehicle, and shouted political slogans as the father and two sons were burned alive (source).

This is hardly evidence for a fake or myth! But their message was more than just faith in Christ’s great personal comeback, but a hope of reversal of death for all who trust in Christ.

‘The last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (1 Cor 15:26) was how the apostle Paul put it. Christ’s great comeback guarantees the resurrection for ‘those who belong to him’ (1 Cor 15:23).

Therefore, the Christian believer can have guaranteed hope at death.

Jesus was at the grave of his friend Lazarus before he raised him from the dead. Jesus’ own words are: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11:25-26 NRSV).

British agnostic journalist, Frank Morison, set out to show that the resurrection was a gigantic myth – a falsehood. The evidence for Christ’s return from death so overwhelmed him that he wrote a very different conclusion that has become a classic, Who Moved the Stone?

Risen Indeed


Works consulted

Carey, G 1992. London Times, April 19.

May, R 1985. My quest for beauty. Dallas, TX: Saybrook Publishing Co Inc.

Spong, J S n d. Resurrection – Myth or reality? Beliefnet (online). Available at: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2001/04/Resurrection-Myth-Or-Reality.aspx?p=2 (Accessed 18 December 2013).

Yancey, P 1990. Where is God when it hurts? Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.


[1] This article claims that the George Carey quote came from The London Times, April 19, 1992: http://www.riversoflife.co.uk/index.php/teachings/22-resurrection-evidence/113-resurrection-evidence-index. However, I have not been able to locate the quote in The London Times.

[2] This quote is located in many places on the Internet but I have not been able to find its exact location from John S. Whale’s writings. See the article, ‘John S. Whale, 100, Theologian And Congregational Historian’ at: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/22/nyregion/john-s-whale-100-theologian-and-congregational-historian.html (Accessed 18 December 2013). Whale died in 1997 in Scotland. This brief article stated: ‘Dr. Whale studied history and also trained for the ministry at Oxford University. He became Mackennal Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Oxford, was awarded an honorary doctorate in divinity from Glasgow University and held other educational and religious posts in Britain’.

[3] This is The Royal Choral Society: ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s Messiah.

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 March 2018.