Isaiah 25:6-9, Luke 23:50-24:12
Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014
Throughout Lent, we’ve been talking about the Road to the Cross. And when Holy Week came, we remembered how that road Jesus was on took some serious turns. Those who were determined to do away with him finally prevailed. And they did so, not so much by turning the people against him, but by taking him secretly and putting him on trial in the middle of the night, and turning him over to the Romans before anyone had a chance to do anything about it. Not that they would have, though. I’m not sure who they were intimidated by more, the religious leadership, or the Roman occupiers?
It was more than that, though. The hopes of the people were crumbling! As Cleopas, one of the two travelers on the Road to Emmaus, said, “But we had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” Well now, as day dawned on Good Friday, their “Redeemer” stood before them in chains, beaten, bleeding, a crown of thorns thrust down on his head. He was about to die, and all their hopes were about to die with him!
How could it all have led to this? I’m sure they were all thinking that. How could something that was so good, so hopeful, and so promising, go so wrong so quickly?! And for the disciples it was like a heartbeat! As Jesus hung on the cross, it had been less than 24 hours since they had been with him in the Upper Room. Then, they were taking part in what would become one of the most important events in Christendom! Jesus was sharing the Passover with them, and he was giving them and the world one of it’s most sacred rituals – the sacrament of Holy Communion. Now, it was just the next morning. And now, all their hopes and dreams and aspirations were fading very quickly!
The word despair just doesn’t describe it, does it? “Crushing despair,” maybe. Maybe Tolkien described it best. Near the end of his trilogy, when the ring was finally gone, but Frodo and Samwise were being threatened with death in the tumult of the disintegrating mountain, Frodo said, “I’m glad you’re here with me, Sam, here at the end of all things.” Maybe that phrase describes it for the disciples. Maybe they thought they too were “at the end of all things.”
Then came Easter morning! And as we’ve said on previous Easters, the predominant reaction to the resurrection was that of what? Disbelief! In Luke’s account that disbelief was described the best. He tells us that, when the women came back from the tomb to tell the disciples, they thought their words to be “an idle tale” – a fairy tale – “and they did not believe them!”
How could they possibly believe? I know sometimes we secretly think ill of them for not believing the Good News of Easter. But remember again, our perspective is always the best. We know the story. We know the truth of the story! They didn’t. So we need to “cut them a break.” Because the one thing we can’t begin to know is the depth of their despair. Had we known that depth, had we been as sure as they were that this was indeed “the end of all things,” I am absolutely sure, we wouldn’t have believed it either!
But Sunday dawned! And the world was changed – forever! The certainty of that change is as Isaiah prophesied hundreds of years prior. “He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:8) And I hope, at some point, the disciples remembered the next verse, for they were certainly part of it. “And it will be said on that day, ‘Lo, this is our God! We have waited for him! Let us be glad, and rejoice in his salvation!’” (Isaiah 25:9)
On Easter morning, at the moment of the Resurrection, death and despair were “swallowed up” forever. Not that those things wouldn’t come again, and again, and again. We know that in our lives. You have experienced it. I have experienced it. We’ve all had times in our lives when we can’t believe that things will ever get any better! And even though we’ve heard the greatest news, our despair doesn’t let us believe it.
The Good News is that it is true! It is true, whether we are capable of believing it or not at any given moment. If you’ll allow me a triple-negative in one sentence, I would say this. “Our disbelief does not cause Jesus not to be resurrected!” The Resurrection is a fact! The only question is whether we believe it or not. And thank God it’s validity is not based on our ability to believe it! It’s just like the existence of God. If someone doubts the existence of God, that doesn’t effect his existence! Not in the least! He doesn’t cease to exist, he doesn’t cease to be true, just because of someone’s inability or refusal to believe! And it’s the same thing with the resurrection.
So, we’ve been talking about the “end of the journey.” But even though it seemed like Good Friday was exactly that, “the end of all things,” we find that, in reality, it was only the place where the real journey begins! The only question that remains is, “Will we be on that journey?”
We can only imagine how that question affected the people who lived this story for the first time. Easter was the day that question was first asked. “Will we be on that journey?” And in that day, many were presented with the facts of that question, and for many days afterwards. I’m sure they questioned if it was even possible. But we can look back and know it was! So the question is the same. Our perspective on it might be different, but our response is still the important part.
We have before us, today and always, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is an historical fact. Will we follow the new journey that began that Easter morning? Or when we think of Easter will we think only of bunnies and eggs and jelly beans? Not that I’m against bunnies or eggs or jelly beans! (Except those black licorice ones!) But this journey is so much greater than all that. It’s beyond all that, just as the good news that first Easter was so much greater than the despair of Good Friday.
Will it be so for us?
Eternal God, our Heavenly Father, your plan for our salvation is amazing! We are grateful this Easter day for the great love you showed us in sending your son to be our savior and now our risen Lord. Help us to continue to follow him along this new journey. May we rejoice this day and always, in the amazing news of the empty tomb, and the risen Christ! For these things we pray in his name, Amen!