As a boy growing up in the church, one of my favorite Easter morning songs was “Christ Arose.” It began with the lyrics, “Up from the gravy arose…” No. Wait. That’s what I heard. The real lyrics are, of course, “Up from the GRAVE HE arose!!” Man, that song was powerful! And still is!

Think about this. Christmas and Easter are the two biggest celebrations of the Christian church each year. They both have a “build up” period—Advent for Christmas and Lent for Easter. Many churches today don’t really put much emphasis on those preparatory days.

Which of those celebrations is more important for believers—Christmas or Easter? Both have a startling reality to them. A virgin birth. A life resurrected. However, the crucifixion of Jesus—bearing the weight of all human sin—and the resurrection—proclaiming that death has been defeated—make the worshipful days of Easter significantly more important than Christmas.

Sound almost like heresy? Not at all. We do not find anywhere in Scripture the call to celebrate Jesus’ birth. We don’t even know the specific time frame of the year of that occurrence! But we do know that we’ve been called to celebrate through communion the “body and blood” given for us. And we know within a couple of weeks the time frame of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Many in the early church even began meeting on Sundays rather that on the traditional Sabbath Saturdays.

Like Christmas and the illusions of a man coming down the chimney, we’ve taken to embrace bunnies and Peeps and the like for Easter. None of the secular activities around Easter bring us closer to the dramatic reality of that first Resurrection Day! The experience of seeing Jesus alive was overpowering.

We must avoid allowing our children to miss the critical importance to our faith of Easter. It might begin by changing our reference point to “Resurrection Day.” Many already do that.

Let’s keep the accurate story front and center, as life changing as it truly is!

Jesus’ ability to deeply understand the human fear and dread of death came about in His crucifixion. Bar none, His final hours were among the most painful a human could experience. At the end, He “gave up His spirit”—as we most likely all will do. (Unless Jesus returns first, of course.)

Theologians refer to the time we leave our earthly bodies behind and receive our glorified and resurrected bodies as the “intermediate state.” While there is mystery to this, note that Jesus was very much alive when revealing His resurrection to the disciples. And yet, He had not returned to His glorified state with the Father. In John 20:17 we read, “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (ESV)

Scripture gives us further insight into the intermediate state being consciously experienced by those who have died. Check these passages, 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-24; Revelation 6:9-11. Here we see that the deceased believer has “departed” to be “with Christ.” That person will be “with” Christ when He comes (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

And what is the timing after death to be “with Christ? In 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 we learn that Paul believes that to be in the body (i.e., physically alive) is to be absent from the Lord, and to be out of the body (i.e., physically dead) is to be present with the Lord. So with confidence we can establish that when a person of faith dies, he or she immediately enters into Christ’s presence. It is just not the final glorified body we shall one day have.

Understanding this clearly helps remove any concerns over a belief in purgatory or leaving a soul in limbo. Absent from the body…present with the Lord. Immediately. Hold on to this assurance.