The crest displayed at the center of the flag of the Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon had for many years read under its splendid artwork “Ne Plus Ultra” “Nothing Further Beyond”. After Christopher Columbus returned from his voyage to the new world, the crest stood in need of a rewrite. “Plus Ultra” “More Beyond” was emblazoned on the flag, a motto that is there to this day.
For centuries human beings had stood at the open mouths of graves and tombs, wondering if perhaps there was more to us than meets the eye, asking with the ancient longsuffering Job, “If a man dies, will he live again?” Many would’ve concluded “Ne Plus Ultra”, nothing further beyond. Until Easter. When Jesus Christ came back from the realm of the dead, resurrected from the dead and not merely resuscitated, it meant that the whole human race could confidently proclaim “Plus Ultra” Yes! There is More!
Not that Easter is simply about Life after Death. It was perfectly common for people in the ancient classical world to believe in the afterlife, whether in the Shades of Sheol for Hebrews or the Elysian Fields for the Romans. The early Christians were not announcing their belief in life after death when they proclaimed that Jesus was raised from the dead. That wasn’t news, and it would’ve elicited not much more than a yawn. No, what they were announcing was life after life after death: that the BODY the physical, material, flesh and bone body of Jesus, totally dead and buried had been resurrected, and that this resurrection was our ultimate destiny too. That was news, and it was very, very good news indeed. It still is.
This is why the Hope of Easter is so transformative. Not only does it announce the forgiveness of our past wrongs, it points us in very trying days to a future that encompasses who we are now, but perfected. That means that right now counts forever, that the way we treat people, care for creation, and employ our gifts in service is not lost to the mists of history but is instead emblazoned on the pillars of destiny. It means that our mourning will turn to dancing, that our tears will be wiped away, and that we can trust the words of the SaviorExplorer who traveled through the valley of the shadow of death, defeated its darkness, and has come back to tell the world, “Peace be with you.”
Old Ben Franklin got Easter exactly right when he penned this epitaph for his tomb:
The body of
Benjamin Franklin, printer,
(Like the cover of an old book,
Its contents worn out,
And stript of its lettering and gilding)
Lies here, food for worms!
Yet the work itself will not be lost,
For it will, as he believed, appear once more
In a new
And more beautiful edition,
Corrected and Amended
By its Author
A joyful Easter to all.