Audio transcript available at https://youtu.be/qRFXDuW1iI0.
Well, this is an incredible story isn’t it? This story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you weren’t in church on Good Friday you didn’t have to suffer through the terrible story of Jesus’ death. Actually, that bit is not at all hard to believe- we see human cruelty all around us, we see people suffering and dying for things they believe in everyday on the TV. No, but this story of the resurrection of Jesus- that bit is hard to believe.
And let me say that if you are struggling with the idea you are in exactly the same boat as the women who went to the tomb, and the men who remained at home waiting for something but they didn’t know what. The fact is that when people are dead, they are dead and they don’t walk again.
The women get up early on the first day of the week to go to the tomb to finish the burial rituals that got interrupted by sunset, which marked the beginning of the Sabbath. They have the things ready and they go to do what they need to do to give Jesus a decent burial.
When they get to the tomb the stone is gone and the tomb is empty. Now, this is not what they are expecting- dead bodies don’t move unless someone moves them and who except for them would care enough for Jesus to move his body? They are perplexed, the text tells us. Can’t you imagine the conversation with them wondering and puzzling over what could have happened. Suddenly they are confronted by two men, we would call them angels, who are clothed in light- the Greek word that we have translated as “dazzling” is the word used for lightning so it is very, very bright light. The women fall on their faces in terror. They don’t have to struggle to believe in the angels, like we do, because they are right there in front of them. The angels ask them a troubling question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” What does this mean? The poor women went to the tomb expecting to be looking for the dead body of Jesus and now they are being told that instead of looking for someone dead they are looking in the wrong place for someone who is alive. Jesus is alive because he has risen from the dead.
Now do you find this hard to believe? I think that most of us would say that unless it was something that you had been taught as a fact ever since you were a small child as I have been, it is very hard to believe. And, I think that if we don’t find it hard maybe we haven’t really thought about it.
The angels remind the women that Jesus had predicted, not only that he was going to die, but also that he was going to rise from the dead. The problem is, I think, that it was so unlikely that they hadn’t been able to take it in, hadn’t been able to process it, but now that they can see for themselves that Jesus’ body is not there they can begin to remember. They have an “AHA” moment when they do remember- can’t you imagine the deep feeling of joy that must have welled up in them? “Yes, that’s right,” they would have said to each other, “remember when we were going through Galilee and he told us that? I didn’t understand at the time.” All they can think about is going back and telling the men. They want to share this incredible news. So that’s what they do. They tell “all this”, so the empty tomb, the angels in their dazzling clothes, the words that they have been reminded of about Jesus’ suffering and death and rising to new life. And the disciples sit there and listen and then they jump up full of joy? No, actually they don’t. The disciples think it is an idle tale. That’s what it says in the version of the bible we read- that’s putting it very politely. What the Greek really says is they think it is a load of crap. They think the women have gone mad. And they don’t believe them! The women have reminded them about the things Jesus said, but it isn’t enough. The disciples will not believe this incredible thing until they see it with their own eyes. Even though it is their trusted friends that tell them, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the others, they cannot believe until they can confirm it.
Peter, has been in the most awful state, you would imagine, over these last days because of his denial of Jesus. He must have felt absolutely despairing and so he wants it to be true, probably the others can’t bear the disappointment if it isn’t true, but Peter is in such a bad way that the tiny flicker of hope happens and he runs to have a look for himself. Imagine what it was like for him. He runs to the tomb and just as the women said, it is empty and he can see the linen cloths that would have wrapped Jesus’ body lying there, but there’s nothing else there. And he goes home amazed. In Luke’s account none of them has seen Jesus. None of them have yet been in the presence of the risen Christ but they have been able with various degrees of faith to believe in the promised resurrection.
What about us? We are just like the men who are waiting at home, we haven’t seen the empty tomb, we haven’t seen the angels, we haven’t even seen the linen cloths as Peter did. And yet, somehow we are asked to believe this thing. And when we believe it, it should turn our world upside down. If the resurrection of Jesus is true then the things of life that we think we can count on have suddenly become unstable. We all know that there are just two sure things in life, death and taxes, and suddenly death no longer means what we have always believed it to be. Death is no longer the end of everything, it is, in fact the beginning of a new thing, the beginning of eternal life with God. That is what Jesus has promised for us, that in dying on the cross he has broken the power of death, he has dealt with our sin that separates us from God and we can be reconciled with God and begin new life with him. We should no longer be numbered among the dead but now we should be counted among the living. Once we have believed in the resurrection, we can put our trust in Jesus and begin to share the resurrection life with him.
But how can this happen? Jesus, after he rose from the dead went back to be with God the Father in the eternal realm but he sent the Holy Spirit to be with us, to live in us and to transform us day by day into resurrection people. And the reality is that it is the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives that enables us to believe in the resurrection. It is also the Holy Spirit that enables us to live lives of love, lives of humility and gentleness, lives of kindness and lives of peace. It is the Holy Spirit that teaches us how to serve one another and to love one another and do you know, that it is through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives that others can see Christ.
We are people who are called to live lives of resurrection, even before we are dead.
This is what happened to those disciples, isn’t it? They were people transformed by the knowledge that Jesus was alive. They were people who one minute were huddling in rooms frightened of what the Jews might do to them and the next minute were out preaching all over the city, Christ, crucified and resurrected. They met a lot of opposition because as we have just established it isn’t easy to accept the resurrection. Some of them died because of their faith, but that didn’t matter to them because they were so sure of the new life after death. And some of them survived long enough to pass the message on, and to establish the church to keep the knowledge of the resurrection alive. But you know, the church was only able to survive because of the life of the Holy Spirit moving in it, transforming ordinary people into people of power so that others could see and believe. We members of the church have the job of keeping that message alive, of telling the story of Jesus, even in the face of disbelief, even in the face of people who think our words are a load of crap. And then it is our job to convince them because of the Holy Spirit shining through our lives, and our actions. Let me encourage you who believe to allow the Holy Spirit free reign in your lives so that you end up dazzling like the angels at the tomb.
Jesus lives! Let us go out and show that in our lives!