Growing up, we had a saying on Easter. In fact, it’s a saying that has a long history of being proclaimed on Easter.
As I’ve grown older, the words taste sweeter and sweeter, starting deep in my soul and- often- traveling up and out through my tear ducts (because if I can cry about something, I will). Maybe you know the words, too?
My pastor-father would stand on the stage, calling, “He is risen!”
And the congregation would reply with joy, “He is risen indeed!
This is decidedly my favorite moment of Easter. Just the other day, I found myself tearing up just thinking about it. It compelled me to create a piece featuring the response. It’ll be in the shop eventually, but right now I offer it as a free printable for you.
(Just click and save to print off your copy! This is an 8×10 piece.)
Because it’s the least I can do. Because he- Jesus- accomplished something greater than the greatest possible thing I could even imagine accomplishing. Even that would be wretched and rejected compared to what he did, what he gave.
Something I read in 1 Kings 8 struck me as I consider what Easter means. It’s the dedication of the temple, which Solomon’s workers had recently finished. This was presumably one of Israel’s greatest moments as a nation. It was a culmination of everything that had happened to them since the Exodus, 500 years earlier!
Now, the holiness of God would commune with them from a tent no longer, but from the temple. God had established Israel, given them a homeland, and this dedication was something akin to the Olympics, according to commentary author, David Guzik. (If you don’t use the Blue Letter Bible app, it’s wonderful for quickly accessing resources about Scripture. That’s how I encountered this commentary specifically.) Solomon sacrificed “so many sheep and cattle that they could not be recorded or counted,” aka he wanted to be over-the-top to honor and praise God on that day.
The priests carry the ark of the covenant and take it to the Holy of Holies. After they do this, the cloud of glory- the Shekinah glory- of God fills the temple, such that they can’t even keep ministering. Guzik mentions it being hard to define the glory of God (kind of an understatement right?) but that “we could call it the radiant outshining of His character and presence.”
To be in the Holy of Holies was intense enough (I’m inferring this from other stories of that temple), and this, as Guzik says, “intense sense of the presence of our holy God is not a ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling. Men like Peter (Luke 5:8), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5), and John (Revelation 1:17) felt stricken in the presence of God. This was not because God forced an uncomfortable feeling upon them, but because they simply could not be comfortable sensing the difference between their sinfulness and the holiness of God.”
I have to pause here because what he says next is what I’m really getting at:
“We can also think of the priests as those who ministered unto God under the Old Covenant. The New Covenant- the covenant of grace and truth (John 1:17)- offers us a better access to God.”
I confess, after reading that, I felt a little stricken myself. Better access to God? Better access than that granted to the line of priests especially chosen to minister in the house of the Lord? To carry the ark of the covenant? To enter the most holy place?
Yes. Because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, yes. His perfect blood and perfect love satisfied what countless sheep or goats or bulls never could.
It makes reading Hebrews 4:14-16 all the more powerful:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Approach the throne of God’s grace- with confidence? Yes. And not only this, but this:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
We are a royal priesthood. That is a striking fact. Less striking, more comforting is that in the same sentence we are called “God’s special possession.” All this so we may declare his praises- Jesus, who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.
No wonder this call and response of “He is Risen”- “He is risen indeed!” prevails throughout the church at large. You can look it up yourself to see how many church denominations hold this tradition, often called the Paschal greeting.
I remember my dad telling us about visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem several years ago.
He entered the part of the church that houses what is thought to be the burial place of Jesus. The Greek Orthodox control this area and have priests stationed inside the doorway, which is followed by a smaller door to the tomb itself. He told us how it occurred to him as it has to so many who visit this site, that Jesus isn’t there; he is risen.
As he walked out he passed one of the priests, to whom he offered the Greek greeting, “Khristós Anésti!” Sure enough, the priest replied, “Alithós Anésti!” It gives me chills hearing about it. Like the old hymn says, “Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble.”
This is what binds us together. This is the new covenant of Christ’s blood, shed for you and me and the whole world. It gives us a spring of the soul- new life. Doesn’t that make the annual coming of spring even more beautiful?
Don’t forget, when you feel the brokenness telling you otherwise, that you have better access to the throne of the Lord- to intimacy with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- than even the old priests of Israel. You and I? We’re Easter people. Because of the blood and because of the resurrection of Christ.
He is risen indeed.