The resurrection of Jesus Easter 2020
This is a very unusual Easter.
This is a very unusual Easter.
Last year, we were all in the courtyard, trying to light the Easter candle from the fire, and it was very windy.
This year, we are just a handful here and most of us are behind closed doors, unable to go out.
A little fearful of the authorities
Facing an unseen and scary enemy.
It may be unusual, but it is in fact not that different to the first Easter.
The first Jesus followers were behind locked doors.
They were afraid to go out.
They were fearful of the authorities, and of what could happen to them: they could have been arrested, imprisoned, and maybe even executed.
But what happened that first Easter morning transformed them.
Not immediately: they keep the doors locked until Pentecost (50 days later), until the Holy Spirit came.
But what happened, although they may not have opened their doors immediately, gave them hope
1. The stone was rolled away
Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and laid in Joseph of Arimathea’s grave. And then the stone was rolled in front and sealed in place.
The stone was like the full stop at the end of Jesus’ life.
Jesus now belonged to the past. All that was left of him were memories.
No doubt, that Saturday, as the crushed Jesus-followers gathered together in someone’s flat, with the doors locked, they began to reminisce. ‘But we thought that he was the Messiah, God’s king, the one who would establish God’s kingdom …’
But it was all in the past. The future was without Jesus.
Death had claimed its latest victim.
Nothing had changed.
But when Mary got to the tomb, the stone was not there.
Suddenly there was uncertainty. The full stop had become a question mark.
The body had gone.
It must have been removed, taken away. Maybe Joseph of Arimathea had had a change of mind. He wanted his tomb back and had found another place for Jesus.
2. The grave clothes
John writes quite a bit about the grave clothes.
In v40 of John 19, we’re told that they wrap Jesus body, together with 100lbs of myrrh and aloes (that is a phenomenal amount of spices – about 45kg, the weight of a large child), in linen cloths
But when John and Peter get to the tomb, they see no body, but they see the grave clothes in one place and the head wrapping, folded up, in another place.
Whatever had happened, it told them one thing.
Jesus body had not been taken away. Nobody would have removed the stone and gone into the tomb – especially as it was under guard, and then tried to unwrap the linen cloth, all now stuck fast like glue with the spices, and taken the naked body.
But clearly someone had been in the tomb, because the head wrapping was folded in a separate space.
I like that. The first thing that our Lord does when he is raised from the dead is tidy up. God is into order!
For John, the evidence of the grave clothes was enough. He saw and he believed.
Jesus must have risen from the dead.
3. The encounter
Mary Magdalene comes to the shut in Jesus-followers and tells them that she has seen the Lord.
She hadn’t been expecting it. She had really lost – big time.
But Jesus had met with her and had called her by her name.
And when she tried to hold on to him, he had gently told her that she needed to let him go. Not for her sake, but so that the story could continue – so that Jesus could go to the Father, and so that the Spirit would come.
This, by the way, is the first time that Jesus speaks of the Father as my Father and your Father.
That’s what the death and resurrection of Jesus does. It means that his God becomes my God; his Father becomes my Father. I have no idea how true this is to life, but in the film Gandhi, when he is shot, he says ‘O God’. The assurance that God desires to give us because of the death and resurrection of Jesus is that when the awful things happen we can say ‘my God’.
Of course, the disciples didn’t really believe her.
But that evening – we’ll hear about this next week – the risen Jesus appeared to them. And they met him.
Those three things: the stone, the grave clothes and the encounter turned the lives of those first Jesus followers upside down.
The doors may have remained shut and locked.
The fear may still have been there.
But something had changed. A light had been lit, hope had been kindled, faith was beginning to overcome fear.
Jesus had risen from the dead. Death was defeated. He was with them.
And when the time was right, and when they were able to come out from behind shut doors, they came out as different people, as new people, and with the risen Jesus they changed the world.
I don’t know when the time will be right for us to come out. We leave that to the authorities.
I pray that we stay in, not out of fear but out of love. Not out of fear that we will catch it, but in love for our neighbour that we won’t pass it on when our health services are not in a position to support those who are infected.
And I know that for some of you it is incredibly hard, and the latest regulations are just like another lock being placed on the door. And we pray for you and for each other: for our relationships – that this will be a time not only of testing, but also of deepening. And we pray for peace and strength and patience and kindness and grace.
And for some of us, we will need to go to even deeper darker places.
But I do pray that for each of us this will be a time when we meet with the Jesus who was shut in the tomb but who rose from the dead.
We have a hope.
We are not on our own.
Death is defeated.
Alleluia, Christ is risen!