On the first day of the week after Passover, about 2 thousand years ago, something incredible happened! The normal laws of life and death were turned upside down! A man was dead, then he was alive again! This miracle, this resurrection, is the very centre of the Christian faith. The story of Jesus’ birth, his virgin mother, his childhood exile, his learning in the temple, lead to this point. The work of his life was building up to this point. There was life bubbling up through all of Jesus’ ministry on earth – people were healed, set free from evil spirits, even raised from the dead! It should come as no surprise then that this Jesus who had so much life flowing from him to others would not be held down by death!
Jesus died a cruel death, at the hands of the Roman soldiers, urged on by the Jewish leaders and the crowds. These were the same crowds who had seen him heal. They knew he was the real deal. And yet, he seemed so very human in his last days, so frail and vulnerable. Maybe those who had started to believe that he truly was the son of God were beginning to doubt, just like the thief on the cross beside him, who scoffed that if Jesus was really the son of God he should be able to come down from the cross.
But that was not yet the time for Jesus to take up again his divine nature. He had to go through the whole journey, to death and to hell, and when he burst out from death into life, not only did he conquer death for himself, he conquered death for everyone, once and for all!
His resurrection took away the power of death and of sin, for everyone who believes in him.
During cafe church this week we were considering why we follow the journey of Jesus to the cross and out of the tomb every year. Why go over a story from history? Some churches treat every Sunday as resurrection Sunday, or Easter day, and indeed every Sunday is a celebration of this. But having the focus on the bitter and painful journey to the cross gives us more insight into who Jesus is, and what he experienced. If Jesus endured suffering and pain, betrayal by his friends, and all sorts of loss, he knows what those things are to us. He can walk our journeys of pain with us, and show us the way through them, out the other side, to renewed life! We can trust Jesus with our own pain because he has been there before us.
Let’s look a bit more closely at the readings we have just heard. They both are very vivid, first-hand accounts, written by people who were there. They are not hearsay, written many years after the facts. Luke and John who wrote them were part of the story.
The Gospel reading starts with Mary Magdalene who goes to the tomb to weep. She is surprised to see that the massive stone which closed the tomb has been rolled away. Already things are different to what she expected. The dead body of Jesus is not lying in the tomb!
She runs and tells the disciples, confused. Maybe she was starting to hope that the strange things Jesus had been saying about raising the temple in three days had indeed happened! The disciples leap straight into action, and run as fast as they can to the tomb. Usually Peter is the most impetuous, the most energetic,
but this time it is the other disciple, John, who wrote the gospel, who gets there first. They see the grave clothes, with the head cloth neatly folded in the empty tomb, but, confused, go back home. Mary however, isn’t prepared to give up. She came to the tomb to weep for Jesus, so she stays there with her sorrow.
She looks in again, wondering about the empty tomb, and sees two angels! Can you imagine how you would feel if you saw angels where someone was supposed to be buried? But she seems to take it in her stride, sharing her grief with them. It is only then that she sees someone who she takes to be the gardener. He asks her the same question the angels asked. Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for? She presses in for information. She wanted to know where he was. Mary wasn’t going to give up.
She was so blinded by grief that she did not recognise that he was in fact Jesus! She wouldn’t be expecting to see Jesus standing up whole and healthy in the garden, after witnessing his death just three days earlier. It was only when he spoke her name that she knew it was her Lord!
When Jesus speaks our name we too can recognise him as our Lord. Sometimes we might hear an audible voice, more commonly feel a sense of warmth, love and belonging, as we worship him.
Jesus tells her not to hold on to him, but to go and tell the others that he is ascending to the Lord.
The resurrection of Jesus was not a resuscitation, like someone doing CPR to restart a heart. It was not like the raising from the dead of Jairus’ daughter, who carried on her normal life, or that of Lazarus, who was restored to his sisters.
Jesus was different after the resurrection. His divine nature, which he had put aside so he could die on the cross, was once again apparent. He was not the same as someone who has had a near-death experience, or whose heart has stopped and been started again. He had not only cheated death, he had conquered it.
Why then is there still death and sin in the world? Jesus won the war, but the skirmishes still go on, because the enemy that was defeated hasn’t got the message yet. Every time someone accepts Jesus into their life that victory becomes more complete, and our eternal life is the ultimate victory over sin and death.
Peter tells the people in our reading from Acts that this victory is for every person on earth.
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality,but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Dear friends, this Easter season, let us spread this message of hope for everyone. Jesus died for all people, no matter what race, whether rich or poor, sick or well, straight or gay, National voter or green supporter, lovely people and annoying ones. Because Jesus is for everyone, let’s share that love with the whole world, in our actions and in our prayers.