There is a sacred place and a sacred symbol in Oklahoma City. The symbol is a tree and the place is the shaded area beneath the tree.
The tree’s an elm over 90 years old. Tourists drive considerable distances to see it. You can see the tree on posters and letterheads. Which seems surprising because it’s not a particularly good-looking tree. Its size isn’t amazing and its bark isn’t unusual.
But one day someone named Timothy parked mere yards away from the tree in a Ryder rental truck. The man’s last name was McVeigh and the tree was in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. You know the story. The truck was packed with homemade explosives that went off on April 19, 1995.
In just over three weeks it will be the 26-year anniversary of the bombing. The blast destroyed a third of the building, killing 168 people and injuring more than 680 others. It destroyed or damaged 324 other buildings in a 16-block radius and destroyed 86 cars. The blast stripped the tree of its branches and buried it underneath rubble.
The tree was ignored until the first green sprouts starting pushing their way through burnt, dust-covered bark. And now the tree is strong and alive and has been named the Survivor Tree. It is a beautiful testament to how life can survive in the face of overwhelming destruction.
But it is the Survivor Tree, not the Resurrection Tree. It did not die and come back to life; it simply stayed alive through amazing violence.
This Sunday is Easter. Why are Christians celebrating? We will celebrate the life of a sacred man. But he is not sacred because he survived against the odds. He is not sacred because of the wonderful things he taught or did. He is sacred because he is God. He came to this earth and died because of his love for us. He died completely and thoroughly. He was buried. And on the third day he rose from the dead.
His body was not wounded and then able to recover. Jesus did not beat the odds; he defeated death.
That’s why we celebrate Easter. And many of us would say that’s why we celebrate, period. No matter how tough the times, no matter how angry the angry, no matter how violent the violent, we can live with celebration at the very core of our being. Even the greatest loss of all, death, cannot stop our celebration. Though we grieve when people we love pass away, we live with the hope that we will meet again.
When death could not hold Jesus, it suffered a mortal wound. As said in the last line of John Donne’s wonderful sonnet, “Death Be Not Proud”, “death, thou shalt die.”
So join us or your church family this Easter. It will be a celebration! But it won’t be a celebration of survival, as awesome as that can be. It will be a celebration of resurrection!
Rick Cupp ministers at Kenai Fellowship, Mile 8.5 Spur Highway. Worship is at 11 a.m. on Sunday and is streamed live onto Facebook. Go to Rick Cupp’s page, looking for the picture of the church sign. Worship will be posted there.