|Text: Luke 24:1-6a
Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, so they went in; but they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. They stood there puzzled about this, when suddenly two men in bright shining clothes stood by them. Full of fear, the women bowed down to the ground, as the men said to them, "Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here; he has been raised.
On February 27th 1991, a mother in Kansas was doing what she always did on a Wednesday, when the phone rang. It was bad news. Her son, Private First Class Clayton Carpenter, had stepped on a landmine in the Persian Gulf War and was dead. She was shocked and grief stricken. She was angry. People tried to comfort her but it was of no use. Her loss was too great. Her son would never come home again.
Three days later, she received another phone call. The voice on the other end said, "Mum itís me Clayton, Iím alive!" At first she couldnít believe it was the voice of her 23 year-old son over whom she had mourned for nearly three days. She said, "I laughed, I cried, I jumped up and down. I was overjoyed! You just donít know how much. My son whom I thought was dead, is really alive."
We can only try to imagine what it must have been like for this mother as her tears of grief and loss are turned into tears of unbelievable joy and happiness. What must it be like to be told that a person whom you believed to be dead in actual fact was alive?
Today we are celebrating the most important day of the year Ė the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We are celebrating the fact that someone who really died, really came alive again.
For the women who had stood beneath the cross there was no doubt that Jesus had died. They heard his last words above the jeering of the crowds; they had witnessed his agony and then his death. They helped Joseph of Arimathea get Jesusí lifeless body down from the cross and carry it to a tomb. They caught their last glimpse of the one they loved as the stone was rolled over the entrance of the grave.
Artists have tried to capture the pain of those who cared for the body of Jesus. Michelangeloís sculpture, Pieta, pictures Mary holding in her arms the torn and broken body of her son. Her expression of grief the same as that of a mother in Israel holding a broken child of war, her whole body crying "Why?". She represents all of us when we are faced with the same cruel reality of death, the pain and sorrow that death brings, the emptiness and the sense of a dead-end that fills our souls. The pain that Mary, and the other women must have felt as they laid Jesus to rest in the tomb must have been excruciating. Excruciating is a good word. It comes from Latin which means "from the cross" Ė it includes pain, agony, despair, in fact any kind of feeling that might be associated with death.
When these same women went to the tomb early on Sunday morning itís no wonder that they were puzzled at first when they found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. This puzzlement turned to fear as they saw two men with the brightest of bright clothing standing in the tomb. "Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here; he has been raised." And then with the same excitement and joy that the mother of Private First Class Clayton Carpenter, they raced off to tell the disciples what they had seen and what the angels had told them. "Jesus is alive. He has risen from the dead".
That doesnít mean there is no more dying. You and I, our loved ones, and strangers in far-off places, will die. Children will still die in bloody conflicts. Cancer and heart disease will continue to take their toll. Old age will still be the prelude to dying. The sadness sculptured on the face of Michelangeloís Mary will still be seen on the faces of those who hold a loved one in their arms for the last time.
As Mary and the others witnessed Jesus die not in the privacy of a hospital room, but hanging naked on a cross for all to laugh and jeer at, his death came as cruel blow. Death hits us hard when someone dear to us passes away or we are faced with the sudden death of someone young, someone whom we thought would be around for years to come. Remember, Jesus death was a premature death. He was still a young man. Parents think that it is only right that they should die before their children but when it does happen that a son or daughter is prematurely taken, the grief is so much deeper. That was the grief of Jesusí mother, Mary, and all the women who cared who laid Jesusí body to rest in the tomb.
But Easter morning brings a new light on death and it impact on our lives. There will always be death in this world, but the angel tells the women in Jesusí empty tomb, he says to us, "You have nothing to fear". The message tells us that even in the cruellest times, there is hope.
When I use the word "hope" I am talking about a certainty, something definite and true. Easter gives us a definite and certain future beyond the grave. The apostle Paul talked about this quite a bit in his letters saying that because of Easter we can be sure that death has been defeated. Death does not have the last say over our eternal future. Jesus removed the power of death to harm us when he died and then rose again from the dead. Paul said, "The truth is that Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised" (1 Cor 15:20). Death is not the end, but the beginning of a glorious new life in heaven.
Unfortunately, this is not the hope that many people have. People in contemporary society live very much for the moment. The house, the car, the overseas holiday, making lots of money are things that consume the time and energy of people in the 21st century. They live and work as if there will never be an end to the pleasures of this life. They give little thought that all of this will stop the day their heart stops beating. They act as if this life is all there is. Once we die thatís the end of us.
The philosopher Soren Kirkegaard once said that we are like smooth stones. You remember the kind you used to pick up and skip across a lake or dam. The stone would bounce once, twice, maybe three times or more, but then it drops silently beneath the surface gone forever. Is that what happens when we die?
Others have said that when we die its like a candle the flickers and goes out never to be seen again. Its once beautiful light is soon forgotten as the rest of the world go on about living out the rest of their days on this earth.
Still others believe that there is a heaven. A lot of people think there is something beyond the grave but they canít be certain. Perhaps they remember someone telling them about heaven in Sunday School, or perhaps they canít bear the idea that when this life is over thatís end of them, they have this vague idea about heaven but donít know if they will ever get there.
Easter brings the great good news that He is risen. Jesusí resurrection from the dead has made our own life beyond the grave certain and true. He is lord and master of death. He has made it possible for all the trust and believe in him to have life forever. There is no doubt about this. This is certain and true. Life is not a matter of skipping across the surface of a lake like a smooth stone only to end up sinking beneath the surface, gone forever. Heaven is not some vague idea of a place we hope to go to when we die. It is certain and true. Heaven is real. Eternal life is real. Jesus has given us the victory. There is life after this life.
A primitive tribe in the jungles of East Asia were shown the Jesus film by missionaries. Not only had these people never heard of Jesus, they had never seen a motion picture. On one unforgettable evening, they saw and heard the gospel in their own language. They watched intensely as they saw this good man Jesus, who healed the sick and was adored by children, held without trial and beaten by jeering soldiers. As they watched this, the people became unsettled. They stood up and began to shout at the cruel men on the screen, demanding that this outrage stop. When nothing happened, they attacked the missionary running the projector. Perhaps he was responsible for this injustice!
He was forced to stop the film and explain that the story wasnít over yet, that there was more. So they settled back on the ground. Then came the crucifixion. Again, the people could not hold back. They began to weep and wail with such loud grief that once again the film had to be stopped. The missionary again tried to calm them, explaining that the story still wasnít over, that there was more. So they composed themselves and sat down to see what happened next. Then came the resurrection. Pandemonium broke out this time, but for a different reason. The gathering had spontaneously erupted into a party. The noise now was of jubilation, and it was deafening. The people were dancing and slapping each other on the back. Jesus has risen from the dead!
Yes, today we celebrate a victory. Christ has won the victory for us over the grave and assures us that death will not hold us down. We join with Paul in his shout: Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
15th April, 2001