Isaiah 25:6-9, Luke 23:50-24:12
Easter Sunday April 8, 2012
Today, in all the “tweaking” we’ve been doing, we have what I believe to be “the biggest tweak of all!” We’ve been trying to rethink our mental images to make them better reflect the reality of these stories. But in this case, I don’t know if we can. I don’t know if we can even begin to imagine the reality of the events of this day we now call Easter!
I’ve seen the Resurrection portrayed in many ways in movies, on TV, and in various works of art that have come to us down through the centuries. And frankly, no matter how well the special effects are done, no matter how dramatic and heavenly the music has sounded, no matter which of the masters painted the picture, none of them really has done it for me!
This an unimaginable event. At the same time this is the event. This is the milepost in all of history. No matter how people have chosen to count the years in the western world – and frankly in the rest of the world too, since most countries are on the western calendar – this is the event. This is the starting point for the modern calendar. This is “year one!” Oh, some may choose to call it “C.E.” “The Common Era” to be “politically correct,” but it’s the same number! This is AD – Anno Domini – “The Year of Our Lord 2012!”
Seriously! I don’t think we can begin to picture this event adequately enough. But, we can picture what it looked like in the lives of the people involved. We can imagine their reactions to this event. And that’s what I want us to do today. So, first I want us to think back to chapter 23. There in verse 50 where we began reading, Jesus had died and was still hanging there on the cross. And from that point, I want you to think about the people who became the “players” in this story.
First, it was Joseph of Arimathea. He was the one who went and asked for the body of Jesus. And he was a courageous man in this story, for two reasons. He was courageous at this point because he was then identified with being a supporter of Jesus. Remember, the religious council, the Sanhedrin, was divided over Jesus. And of course, those in opposition to him prevailed. But there were supporters of Jesus on the council. And this man Joseph was one of them. We’re also told by John that Nicodemus was also involved here. He was the one who brought the burial spices – myrrh and aloes. (A hundred pounds of them!)
Joseph was also courageous because asking for body of Jesus was an unusual request! Remember that a crucifixion was an example! So it was always a public event. Crucifixion sent the message, “Don’t defy Rome or this is what will happen to you!” Because of that, the victim was often left on the cross for days, until consumed by the animals. (So the name “the place of the skull” was an accurate name!) And of course, the problem with that was that the victims were not afforded a proper religious burial. That alone was appalling to the Jewish people!!
So Joseph asked and Pilate said yes. And again, notice, it wasn’t Peter. It wasn’t even John, who scripture tells us was at least at the cross. That makes me wonder who actually was there when they brought Jesus down? I’d like to think some of the disciples came back and helped. But scripture simply doesn’t say. It does say “they all forsook him and fled.”
Then think about who it was that that would actually prepare the body of Jesus for burial? Who was it that went to the tomb bringing the burial spices? Again, was it Peter or James or John? No, as scripture records for all time, it was these women. And again, that preparation usually didn’t happen in the case of crucifixions. In this case it did. But they had to wait. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus was hastily covered and laid temporarily in the tomb of Joseph. So these women planned to come back the next day. If you think about it, they were prepared for their task, but neither they, nor the rest of the disciples, were prepared for what happened that morning! That’s the “unprepared” part of this!
This glorious event happened. And when the women arrived at the tomb, they found out. And I love Luke’s account, because it is only Luke that records this question asked by the angelic figure. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” I think this question, this announcement, came with great joy! Don’t you? Sometimes we miss that.
These women are the first to know that great joy. So they went and told the Apostles. And what was their reaction? Again, only Luke gives us this response. “But these words seemed to them an idle tale” – a fairy tale – “and they did not believe them!” Can we blame them though? Would we have believed? In fact, when it comes to Easter, we have to ask ourselves, do we believe now?
There was more than joy here, though. In Mark’s Gospel he takes us back one step. He first tells us that, “the women said nothing to anyone because they were afraid!” That doesn’t mean they didn’t go and tell their story later, of course. But it does give us an idea about how fearful this event was. Think about it! Encounters with the spiritual realm are scary! If we all saw a ghost right now, we’d be frightened! Wouldn’t we? I know I would! And that’s the kind of experience they assumed was happening to them that day!
So, as much as Jesus prepared them for this day, as much as he told them time and time again it was going to happen, still they were unprepared for this event. So, we need to ask, “Are we prepared?” Do we believe?
This event is arguably the greatest event in history. Certainly it is the most important event for the Church. And it was definitely viewed that way in the early Church. A couple of years ago, I told you about the article I read that said for the first four centuries, the cross was rarely used in Christian symbolism. Instead, it was the empty tomb that was portrayed in art and architecture. The resurrection was the central event!
I’ve also mentioned that for centuries, the Church celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus Christ every week! That’s why our Sabbath day is on the first day of the week, and not the last day, as it had been before. It wasn’t until later, when the Church Fathers designed the “church year” that they designated one Sunday a year for this celebration. The aim was to celebrate all the various events in the life of Jesus throughout the whole year.
But, the resurrection remains as the central event of the Christian faith. Paul would later write to the Romans, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain.” Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. Think about it. Either he was who he said he was, either he was raised from the dead to prove he was what he said he was, or he was the biggest fraud in history.
The early Church knew that from the earliest days. That was their reaction. That is what they believed about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, even though they were scared, confused, and skeptical that first Easter morning.
So, what about us? What is our reaction? What does the resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to us? We prepare for this event in many ways, don’t we? But it would seem sad if we were unprepared for what it means in our lives. So, as we close, let me suggest to you some things that Easter means. I hope this will help, in your understanding, and in your celebration of this great event.
First, the resurrection means that God has the power. Sometimes we forget that. We think he is powerless to do anything in our lives. On Easter he brought Jesus Christ back from the dead. He showed us that he has the power!
Second, it means that Jesus is who he says he is. If you believe in his resurrection, which I hope you do, you have to know that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God. At the very least, the resurrection proves that.
Third, because Jesus is who he said he is, because God proved that by using his great power to raise him, we can know that our salvation is secure, that our sins are forgiven, and that God’s amazing grace is ours! Sometimes that’s hard to believe. Sometimes we think we are undeserving. And the fact is that we are! But the fact also is that God has given us grace – and that means we get something we don’t deserve!
Because of those three things, (and much more!) this event we celebrate today gives us hope and peace beyond imagination in this life – no matter what! So, I urge you to believe that this Easter Day! Believe that God loves you – each and every one of you, intimately and personally. That’s why Easter happened!
The Lord is Risen!
Eternal God, by your power we receive your Grace. Help us now to live in your joy, knowing that nothing can separate us from your love, in Jesus Christ our risen and living Lord. We pray this in his name, Amen.