By the Rev. Darren Miner
Some 2000 years ago, in a backwater of the Roman Empire, something happened that changed the world. On the first Good Friday, Jesus of Nazareth was executed on a cross. On the first Holy Saturday, he was buried in a borrowed tomb. And then on the first Easter Day, he was raised from the dead, as a sign of God’s love for his Son—and for us. For we are told that if we have faith in God’s saving love, we too will be raised from the dead. That in a nutshell is the Easter message.
But faith is such a tricky matter! If we watch the news coming out of Syria or Egypt or Russia or Sweden, it is ever so easy to believe in Good Friday. It is easy to believe that the world would torture and kill a gentle man whose only wrong was to teach God’s love. It is easy to believe the Holy Saturday message that this man of peace lay dead and buried. But it is harder to believe in the Easter message, that sin and death did not—and do not—get the last word.
We may imagine that ours is the first generation of doubters, but that just isn’t the case. St. John wrote the Gospel account of the Resurrection that we heard proclaimed today for one reason and one reason only: that doubters of every generation might know the truth about what God did on that first Easter Day and, believing that truth, might have eternal life. Of all the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, John’s is the most vivid and detailed—and the most convincing! In the midst of the miraculous, we get real, believable portrayals of how various disciples of Jesus reacted both to his death and to the mystery of the empty tomb.
The two boys, Peter and the Beloved Disciple, upon hearing that Jesus’ body has gone missing from the tomb, compete in a footrace to see who will get there first. The Beloved Disciple wins, but then chickens out, letting Peter be the first to enter the empty tomb. The Beloved Disciple believes, even though he doesn’t understand, while Peter is just plain confused. The impatient boys head home. And because of their impatience, they miss out on a miracle.
Mary Magdalene, evidently, doesn’t even try to keep up with the boys. Maybe her knees weren’t up to the task! Sometime later, she arrives at the tomb. And like the boys before her, she peers into the dark emptiness of the tomb. But the tomb is no longer empty! She encounters a pair of messengers from God. They start up a conversation with her, but, before they can even deliver their message, they are interrupted. Jesus himself appears to Mary Magdalene, albeit in a form not recognizable even by this dear friend. Why, one wonders, did Jesus interrupt the angels in the performance of their duty? Perhaps because Mary’s love and grief called out to him. Perhaps only he could give her the consolation she so desperately needed. And so he came to her and called her by name. Though his glorified body was no longer recognizable, Mary recognized the voice of the Good Shepherd when he spoke her name.
Mary wanted to cling to the Master. She wanted him back as her teacher and companion. But Jesus indicates that she must let him go, so that he may ascend to the Father. For as we are told elsewhere in the Gospel, only then can the Holy Spirit be sent to watch over the struggling Christian community. Jesus then gives Mary a commission: to carry the news to the other disciples, who are hiding out in their homes in fear and despair. He makes her an apostle to the apostles. She is to tell them that Jesus has been raised from the dead for their sake, and for their sake he will be ascending to the Father in Heaven. Mary fulfills her commission, prefacing Jesus’ message with her own simple testimony: “I have seen the Lord.” Perhaps they didn’t all believe, for later that evening Jesus reveals himself again to a group of disciples hiding in a locked room.
To this day, some Christians are unable to believe the story of Jesus’ Resurrection. They say that the Resurrection is only a metaphor for how God can bring good out of evil. And I freely admit that some stories in the Bible, stories that convey deep spiritual truths, are probably not based on historical fact. But, in my opinion, the Resurrection story is both spiritually true and historically factual. Ironically, the most convincing evidence is the fact that the first person to see the Risen Lord was a woman. If the disciples, or the early church, had decided to fabricate a story out of whole cloth about Jesus’ returning from the dead, you can bet your bottom dollar that all the witnesses in that story would have been men! For in Jesus’ day, the testimony of a woman was not considered trustworthy.
Moreover, if the Resurrection were a hoax, it is inconceivable that the disheartened band of disciples would regroup as they did and go out into the world to spread Jesus’ message at the risk of their very lives. For who would be willing to die a martyr’s death for what they knew to be a fraud?
So if you harbor any doubt at all about the Resurrection, let it go! Believe in your heart that Christ was raised. Trust that God’s love for you and for the world is stronger than sin and death. And then act on that trust, and lay claim to the gift of eternal life. If you are already baptized into the Body of Christ, I invite you to renew your commitment to Christ at this “beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts.” And if you are not yet baptized, I invite you to commit your body and soul to the Risen Lord and to take the plunge into the waters of eternal life. For the tomb was truly empty, and the Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.