I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures.
Three friends were discussing death and one of them asked:
"What would you like people to say about you at your funeral?"
The first of the friends said: I would like them to say, he was a great humanitarian,
who cared about his community.
The second said: He was a great husband and father, who was an example for many to follow," said another.
The third friend said, I would like them to say, "Look, he's moving!!"
That might be a bit of wishful thinking. We all know that
once weíre dead there is no coming back. We have so many questions about death
and the life after death. Questions I get asked the most are ones like:
"What will it be like at the moment when we die?"
"Do we go straight to heaven or do we stay in the ground until Jesusí comes again?"
"What is heaven like?"
"Wonít it be boring in heaven Ė like - thereís no sin and all we do is sing God's praise all day?"
The question that everyone struggles with at one time or another is the one that begins with "why". "Why has death come to this person at this time? It is so unfair!"
A person who struggled with death is the editor of The Lutheran magazine. When she was at High School a fellow student and friend was killed. She wrote this:
"At the age of fourteen, my friend was hit by a truck. I prayed and prayed that she would live. A week later, when her life-support was turned off, my hitherto warm and fuzzy feelings about God shattered into tiny pieces. For the rest of Year 10, every time I sat next to Vickiís empty chair, I told God that death was his stupidest idea.
Not long after Vickiís death, I paused at the duck-shooting stall at a country show. Here was a snapshot of human life, I thought. The tin ducks were born without their consent, destined for a life they didnít ask for. I observed their pitiful helplessness as life fired pot-shots at them. I watched as one was wounded, wobbled a bit and then struggled on. That one was my mum.
Others took a direct hit, early in life, or in mid-life, and disappeared into oblivion. Vicki. With grim inevitability, the surviving ducks approached the end. There was no escape. No reward for all their determination and perseverance. One by one, right on cue, they toppled over the edge. Grandma.
When you consider the ducks moving ever onwards towards their dead-end, you wonder, whatís the point of it all? Whatís the point in creating a garden, or a painting, or anything thatís beautiful? Whatís the point of anything you do or achieve if ultimately it dissolves into black oblivion, if, at the end of your days, you are just another duck disappearing into a bottomless pit? (1)
Have you at some time thought like that? Have you asked similar questions about the purpose of life and death when grieving the loss of someone through death? At one time or other most of us question why a person who is full of life and who still had so much to offer suddenly drops off into oblivion like one of those ducks at the sideshow.
The disciples and their friends must have wondered this
very same thing when they saw their master nailed to a cross, executed when he
was only in his early 30s, in the prime of his life. They must have wondered
what the purpose of his death was when there was still so much to be
In fact, God most have got it all wrong when the most wonderful man, the most kind and caring person who ever lived is suddenly yanked away from among them. What a terrible waste! Struck down when life still held so much for him, disappearing into oblivion like the ducks in sideshow alley.
When Jesus died so did their hopes, their convictions, and their faith. They huddled together behind locked doors confused and afraid.
The women who went to Jesusí tomb went there not with the expectation of seeing Jesus alive, but rather to finish the job of burying him. No one expected the resurrection. In spite of what they had heard Jesus say about dying and rising 3 days later on more than one occasion, the last thing they expected to find was an empty grave. The message of the angels, who were sitting where Jesusí body had been laid, "He is not here Ė he has been raised" was totally unexpected. Somethingillogical, unthinkable, unnatural, and incredible has happened. The one who had been certified dead has come alive.
The last person Mary Magdalene expected to see in the
garden was Jesus Ė the gardener yes, but not the resurrected Jesus.
When the disciples were behind locked doors and Jesus appeared to them, they thought he was a ghost.
The last person they expected to see was Jesus. They had seen him buried in a cave but miracle of miracles he was now standing right there amongst them in the flesh.
The resurrection might have been unexpected but there is no doubt that it happened. The gospel writers give a clear account of what happened that first Easter morning.
In fact, the resurrection is the most important thing we
believe as Christians. The resurrection is of first importance to us, not
because it is a nice ending to the story of Jesus,
but it is the centre of our faith;
it is basic to our lives as the people of God - we have been joined with Christ and his resurrection and so have forgiveness and reconciliation to our heavenly Father.
The resurrection is essential to our understanding that we have a living Saviour who journeys with us through life Ė a friend who has experienced the worst that life can throw at a person and so understands what pain and suffering and doubt are all about.
The resurrection is the thing that gives us hope and comfort as we stand at a grave of someone dear or face the day of our own dying.
There are those who scoff at the whole idea of the resurrection of Jesus and those who believe that when this life is over thatís all there is - there is nothing else to look forward to. They are like Ďdead ducksí. When you drop off the perch thatís it Ė nothing more.
Iím sure youíre as glad as I am that a central part of our faith is the fact that after we have taken our last breath we will go from this life to eternal life. We will not only experience the joy of being welcomed by Jesus on the other side of death but we will also experience the joy of being among all the faithful who have gone home before us.
That is the confidence that we can have because of Easter Day. As we face our own dying, or that of family and friends, we can be sure that there is something to look forward to. Death is not a full stop at the end of our lives, but it is the beginning of a brand new life. We will rise from the grave and be given a new life, a new and refreshed body, and we will enjoy God's new heaven and earth.
Didn't St Paul say, "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)?
And didnít Jesus say, "I am the resurrection the life Ö whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 10:25)?
And what about the promise, "There are many rooms in my Fatherís house and I am going to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2)?
What can be more certain than that? Jesus lives and we too will rise from death to life.
Today we are celebrating a victory. Christ has won the
victory over the grave and assures us that death will not hold us down. But
there will be times when
we will be sad,
we will question Godís wisdom and get angry,
we may lose faith (like the disciples).
To be sure, we will have pangs of fear and anxiety shoot through our minds when we think of our own death, the thought of leaving everything we know and love in this life.
At times we may even think of our journey through life on this earth as ducks in a shooting gallery randomly dropping into oblivion.
It is just at those moments when we think of ourselves as
doomed ducks that the meaning of the word "Saviour" has its greatest impact.
Jesus has saved us. Through his death and resurrection life he has given us the victory over sin and death. There is life beyond this life.
Jesus has saved us. He had the choice of saving his own life or ours. He chose us. He gave his life and on Easter morning we hear the cry, "He is risen!" Because he is our Saviour we are no longer dead ducks. We will rise from death to life, a glorious new life. In this we are sure.
(1) Linda Macqueen, The Lutheran vol 34.3, a magazine of The Lutheran Church of Australia, used with permission.
© Pastor Vince
12th April 2009