By Everette Chapman
Euripides, the Greek tragedian, wrote a play called “Alcestis,” which has been made into musicals and updated versions over the years. It is the story of a king name Admetus, who makes a bargain with the Devil to be able to live past his appointed years. The evil one, always cunning, agrees that if Admetus could find someone else to die in his place, he would be spared. His father offers to do so, but his offer is rejected. At last his beautiful wife, Alcestis, strikes the bargain with the Devil to die in the stead of beloved husband.
She dies, and is taken to her cave tomb, as the whole city mourns. However, there is a champion named Heracles, who courageously goes into the tomb, grapples with Death, and defeats him. The climax of the play comes when Heracles emerges from the tomb, leading by the hand the lovely queen. The two of them come to King Admetus and as Heracles places the hand of Alcestis into the waiting hand of the king, he says to him, “Here, O King, I give her back to you.”
Those Grecian audiences would shout and weep and applaud at this wonderful story of the sacrificial love of Alcestis and the courage of Heracles to defeat death, but all of them knew that it was just a play, only a myth, nothing more than a fanciful story.
As Christians around the world approach Easter, they celebrate an even more wonderful and heroic story than this, a story of One who came from God Himself, who gave His life to redeem those who believe in Him, who went down into the grave and grappled with Death, and who came out of the tomb bearing the keys to death, Hell, and the grave. Unlike those ancient Greeks, however, we believe that it is no myth.
There is a majestic English hymn often sung at Easter, and its words are descriptive of the victory that Christ has won and the victory that anyone can win through faith in the risen Christ. Here are those words:
This joyful Eastertide,
Away with sin and sadness;
My Lord, the Crucified,
Hath come again to life with gladness!
My being shall rejoice
Secure within God’s keeping,
Until the trumpet voice
Shall wake me from my sleeping.
Death’s flood has lost its chill
Since Jesus crossed the river,
His love shall hold me still,
His mercy is forever.
And then the marvelous chorus:
Had Christ who once was slain
Ne’er left His three-day prison,
Our faith had been in vain,
But now is Christ arisen,
But now is Christ arisen.
My favorite of those lines is “Death’s flood has lost its chill since Jesus crossed the river.” One of the euphemisms Christians have always used for death is “Crossing the chilly Jordan.” The glorious truth of Easter is that Jesus has already made that crossing and his taken the fear and the dread out of it for those who follow Him in faith.
Heracles, the champion and hero of Greek myth, had nothing on our Champion and Hero, for He has come back from the grave and gives this assurance to us in regard to those whom we have loved long since and lost for a while, “Here, O Christian, I give them back to you.”