St Barbara’s; 27.03.16
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Can I confess to you a slight disappointment? There are times when I feel that the Gospel writers missed a trick; there are times when I feel that I wish they could have written a slightly less honest account.
You see, after the seriousness and sadness of much of the events of Holy Week, and in particular, after the events of Good Friday, when we get to Easter Sunday, I would like the Gospel accounts to burst forth in a crescendo of faith and celebration, to describe the first few hours of that first Easter Sunday as a whirl of ecstatic utterances of faith; of the disciples immediately falling down on their knees in worship, wonder and adoration; of Jesus appearing before crowds, and all proclaiming amazement and conviction in the truth of his resurrection.
This does indeed happen, but not immediately. It happens in a house in Emmaus, seven miles away from Jerusalem, much later on in the day, and even then, only after several hours of long conversation when the two disciples had no idea who they had been talking to. It happens to Mary Magdalene and to Peter, but only after they have first failed to recognise him. When Jesus appears in the upper room, Thomas continues to express doubts.
All the Gospel accounts report fear, confusion, indeed even skepticism. According to Luke, the women’s words of an angel and empty tomb appeared to the disciples to be “nonsense”.
You see, no one other than Jesus was expecting the events of Easter Sunday. Jesus has told parables of a son who was dead and was now alive; of himself being killed and then raising from the dead. But no one else had such an expectation. Resurrection, if it happened at all, was what happened to everyone at the end of time, certainly not to one person in the middle of time. It was beyond comprehension.
The women certainly weren’t expecting it. They were not taking the spices to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday thinking, “We’ll take the spices just in case his body is still there but he has probably risen from the dead.” In the midst of their grief, there was not the slightest glimmer of hope, of expectation. And that was true too for the disciples. Fearing for their own lives should they be seen anywhere near Jesus’ tomb and identified as his followers they kept well away.
What the women witness at the graveside – the empty tomb, the angels’ extraordinary message – however prompts in them the beginnings of faith and belief. They go back and tell the disciples what they have seen and heard. As they were the ones brave enough, compassionate enough, to stand at the foot of the cross, so they are the ones who are first to believe. In a society where women were treated as second-class and inferior to men, it cannot go unnoticed that women were the rock on which the faith of the early church began. They were the first to care for the dying Jesus; they were the first to believe in the risen Jesus.
But for the male disciples, they are less ready to believe, more skeptical, more ready to find objections.
I wonder as you think on the Easter story of Christ’s resurrection who you identify with this morning. With the women, believing even though you feel you haven’t grasped everything there is to know. Or with the male disciples, unsure, finding it too big a leap of faith, wondering whether it is all just nonsense. Or with Peter, somewhere in between, searching for answers, wanting to believe but needing more faith.
The events of the last few days in Brussels I’m sure have appalled and saddened us all. They have been a terrible reminder of the depths of evil and sin that humans can fall to, and they have been a reminder of the fragility of life. Fit, healthy people left home that morning, maybe without even time to say goodbye before they rushed for the underground or airport, and are now dead, their lives cut short with no notice, no preparation, no goodbyes.
Wherever we are on our journey of faith, we may be left wondering, what does Christ’s death and resurrection mean? Indeed, what difference does it make, when such events can occur, not to mention the personal tragedies and griefs, the hardships and struggles each of us may be carrying?
What difference does it make? It makes all the difference in the world; but may God give us the faith to see it.
For Christ’s resurrection from the dead assures us of two remarkable hopes.
Evil, sin do not have the last word. On the cross, the full weight of evil, the sheer depths of sin, the full burden of human suffering, was placed on Christ. Christ bore it. On Easter Sunday, in rising from the dead, he showed that it could not overwhelm him. He showed that love was greater than hate, greater than sin, greater than despair. In dark times, Christ’s resurrection is a beacon of light – God’s love does win through.
Christ’s resurrection also shows us that death is no longer the end. Weeks like this one remind us that life can be cut suddenly short, and we can be left asking: “Is that it? Is there nothing more of the beauty, the vibrancy, the potential, of that person’s life. Snuffed out just like that?”
Christ’s resurrection points us to an infinitely greater and more positive hope. He has gone ahead of us. He has turned the dead end of death into the doorway to life in all its abundance and vitality. Death is no longer the end.
The disciples, some quickly, some more slowly, came to that point of realising that Christ had risen from the dead. And as skepticism turned to faith; as doubt turned to hope; they realised that life could never be lived the same again.
Christ’s resurrection blazes the light of hope into our dark world. He has overcome sin; love will triumph. He has risen from the dead; eternal life is now possible for all.
So wherever we find ourselves – with the women, believing but still with questions; with Peter, searching, but open; with the men disciples, skeptical and doubtful – may God give us faith that we may encounter Jesus, the one who is risen from the dead.