Sunday, April 24, 2011

Meditation for Easter Sunday

Sometimes, when you know a story really well it is difficult to realize what the people were feeling and experiencing as they went through that "story". It wasn't a "story", it was their life. So it is with Easter. We know what happened: Jesus had risen from the dead; the various people discovered and reacted to what they saw in their various ways. As day was dawning that first Easter morning, several women left their homes and headed for a tomb outside of Jerusalem. They weren’t going there anticipating any great surprise or joy. They were going there to perform the customary funerary tasks for a beloved friend that had been left undone two days earlier. They anticipated at least one obstacle, a large stone blocking the entrance of the tomb, but went hoping to find some one willing to aid them by rolling it aside.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." And they remembered His words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened. (Luke 24:1-12, NASB)

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again to their own homes. But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and that He had said these things to her. (John 20:1-18, NASB)

Coming to the tomb, the grieving women expected to see its entrance blocked; it isn’t clear whether they knew a guard had been placed there by the Jewish religious leaders and Pilate. Arriving, they found a mystery. The stone had been rolled aside (no mean task, as it was large and was resting in a depression to keep it where it had been placed) and the entrance to the tomb was wide open. Walking in, they found it was empty! Coming out, mystified as to what happened, they found themselves in the presence of two “men” in bright white clothing (this was before the age of modern washing detergents!), who told them very incongruous, astounding, things. Alarmed, excited, probably only half understanding and less than half believing what they had been told, they ran and told the Disciples. A similar scene was replayed with Peter and John. Of all who came to and went from the empty tomb that morning, probably only Mary Magdalene, having seen and spoken with Jesus, fully understood and really believed Jesus had risen from the dead.

It would be easy to criticize Jesus’s followers, but then, we know the story. We imagine hindsight to be 20-20. These followers of Jesus had just come through the mental horror of seeing their beloved Master cruelly executed! Jesus’s death was excruciatingly real to them. And they had been living in fear of the prospect of being next! And now … an empty tomb? … two mysterious “men” saying Jesus was alive? They just could not wrap their minds around all of this in an instant! Knowing "the rest of the story", we know Jesus soon appeared to them, they became convinced that He was again alive, and after Pentecost these very ordinary people started on the task of turning their world upside down. Just so. But their initial shock and disbelief were entirely natural. Had we been in their place we probably would not have responded much differently.

Were this but a neat story about a cool moment in history, we could be justified in asking, “So what?” Well, indeed! Why is Jesus's resurrection so very important? Paul explained:

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:16-24, NASB)

The resurrection of Jesus is not merely important in the Christian faith. The resurrection is at the very core of the Christian faith, of the redemption Jesus accomplished. No resurrection, and Jesus was an usually pleasant, sometimes profound, but seriously deluded dead guy. The resurrection was the triumphant culmination of the redemption Jesus accomplished. More than that, the resurrection is a promise, a prototype of believers’ future resurrection … to eternal life with God.

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