Rev. Wm. Louis Piel: In the light of the empty tomb

Our neighbor George who has been thinking about resurrection and new life recently commented that he had met his old friend David at the Westminster Post Office. Apparently while waiting to purchase some stamps, they got into a discussion about the meaning of Easter for those who seriously follow Jesus. David said that Christ-followers live "beyond the cross" but always "in the light of the empty tomb."

I told him that I might change the wording a little to say that we are called to live in "the shadow of the cross" but always in the "light of the empty tomb."


For many people Easter is a yearly holiday that has come and gone. On the other hand, for the disciples of Jesus we are the Easter people! In the words of hymn writer Henry Smart, "every day to us is Easter, with its resurrection song." Every time we gather we celebrate a "little" Easter.

Living in the shadow of the cross means two things for me. First, we must take seriously the invitational command of Jesus "if any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23 NRSV). Denying oneself in our society today is not easy, especially when we hear "I want it and I want it now!" Author Mike Slaughter wrote "The church has redefined 'faithfulness' as simply showing up for worship, making a donation and then going back to our regular lives." That may be how we have redefined "follow me" but it certainly isn't what Jesus intended.

Second, living in the shadow of the cross means my life must be in obedience to the will of God. Jesus said "not everyone who says, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). For me, discerning the will of God means dealing with issues like loving our enemies when they want to kill us, death with dignity, health care for all, faith conversations about abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and people, especially children, who go to bed hungry when our food stores are full of available food. There is a cost to discipleship! Am I willing to say "yes" to the invitation "to follow me"? The key to meaningful discipleship is how seriously I believe the words of Jesus in the garden when he said "not what I want but what you want" (Matthew 26:39).

George pointed out that the celebration of Easter is not simply looking back to see what God in Christ did two-thousand years ago. Rather, it is what the resurrected Jesus is doing today and will do tomorrow in our lives. Our daily encounter with the resurrection not only changes us but invites us — or better yet, challenges us — to change the world around us. What was impossible for us to do alone is now possible with the presence of the resurrected one. Living in the light of the empty tomb is to be infused with resurrection power. It is found in the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote to the Christ-followers in Galatia "it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).

Easter is a "verb" — an action word! The Gospels talk about people running to the empty tomb and then running to tell others the good news. Resurrection is a "verb": It is people discovering what it means to make the radical change of "dying to self" and being "born anew."

I confess I still deal with faith and doubt when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus. My heart and head still have serious conversations. My rational mind says the empty tomb is impossible. Yet, as my wife Judy adds, aren't all things possible with God? Maybe a new way of thinking or believing is required. On the other hand, my heart sees the radical change taking place in the lives of ordinary people when resurrection enters their bloodstream. In my own life I can affirm the words of Job in the Hebrew Scriptures: "I know that my Redeemer lives!" (Job 19:25).

The invitation goes out to all that we are invited to encounter the resurrected Jesus once again for the first time. We are invited to "live as children of the light." Let the dialogue continue. I only ask that you think on these things.

The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis "Lou" Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at julo1@verizon.net.