The Easter season is the time that those who know and love Christ celebrate with particular focus the historical death and resurrection of Jesus. In truth however, every Sunday is resurrection Sunday for the Christian, because Sunday, the first day of the week, was the day when Christ’s victory over sin, death and our alienation from God was completed. Each Sunday we are reminded of and participate in the ongoing resurrection life of Jesus Christ as he transforms our lives from cradle to grave. So what we focus on today is not simply a matter of history, it is a present, living and dynamic reality.
Of course, it would be easy to question that dynamic reality today in the West. We hear often about the decline of Christian faith in the Western nations – even as it rises like a star in the global South and East. In Canada we see many empty churches converted into condos and we are witness to radical de-Christianization of many aspects of our culture that has left many bereft of objective meaning or a sense of true identity. The Christian calendar is increasingly ignored or spurned as time is evacuated of transcendent meaning.
Despite all that, however, God has not changed, and now in particular we remember the power of Christ and the gospel. History has seen many seasons of the rising and falling of the numerical and socio-cultural impact of the gospel of Christ; God is patient! As G.K Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man, “Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”
The resurrection confirms Christ’s word and works and assures us that he will bring to completion his redemptive purposes for time and eternity. This means that the resurrection is the crux, the fulcrum, the pivot upon which true Christian faith turns. We either reject the resurrection of Christ and so remain blind to the truth of the living and powerful Word of God, or we believe and trust and are released from the power of sin and death whereby a new world opens to us. Christ identifies himself will all those who believe the Word.
The Empty Tomb
Mark tells us that the women present for the death and burial of Jesus did not tarry in Jerusalem (Mk. 15:40-47). His internment had been done in haste and so they came with more spices to embalm his body – it was now the first day of the week and they went to the tomb at sunrise, where the hope of their lives lay buried. Without Jesus and the Word of His grace there was no true life for them. Jesus had died. Where now was the healing and redemption of life? The rest of the disciples mourned in hiding.
But as these women came close to the tomb cut from the rock, asking themselves who would roll away the stone for them for the work of embalming, they looked and saw that it had already been rolled away. Entering the tomb, they saw that the body of Jesus was gone. Instead they saw an angel who looked like a young man in a white robe sitting on the right side and they were amazed. But the angel said to them:
Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.
Christ’s Word had been fulfilled. Jesus was no longer under the curse of death! Our sin had been the cause of his suffering and death – but he had conquered our sin, and thereby its penalty – death. He was alive, having all authority and power committed to him by God, never to lay his life down again.
The women are then instructed to tell the disciples that Jesus will see them in Galilee as he promised. The angel mentions Peter in particular, who must have been in agony of soul over his three-fold denial of the Lord. He was not to think he was excluded – there was grace for him also. What a comfort that must have been for Peter to have later heard. What a comfort for us to know that if we have denied Christ in Word and deed there is still grace for us also!
The gospel then relates that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. She brought the news of the resurrection to the disciples who were mourning and weeping, but they could not believe it – to them it was nonsense. Then Jesus appeared to two disciples, whom we know from Luke’s gospel were on the road to Emmaus, and they reported it also to the disciples, but again, they could not believe it from them either. Such news was so astonishing, so wonderful, how could it be?
The words of the triune God who raised Jesus from the dead, his words are active words of power. They are creative and creating words that transform history. He calls into existence, he sends forth his Word, and springtime comes. When Jesus spoke the word to the dead Lazarus who had been in the tomb four days, whose body stank, whose brain had turned to liquid, he spoke the Word and Lazarus came forth alive and knew exactly who he was – memories intact! That is the Word of power that upholds all things.
The reason we think and breathe and live today is the grace and the powerful Word of God. The disciples had seen Jesus raise the dead several times, but those revived and resuscitated ones were aging and would die again. But here was one who was resurrected in GLORY – never to die again. Here was the ruler over death. But they could not understand it at all this time.
But then, while the eleven were in hiding and eating at table, Christ appeared amongst them and rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe those who had first reported his resurrection. We know from the other gospels that there were other appearances, and that he ate with them and they put their hands on the marks on his hands and feet (cf. Lk. 24:36; Jn. 20:19).
Often we are so trapped in the prison of our sin and guilt that we cannot believe in deliverance. But belief in Christ’s resurrection must not depend on his appearing to us, but on the Word of Christ. Moses, the prophets, and Christ himself had foretold it. Yet the Lord Jesus made clear to the disciples that he knew them in the depths of their sin and unbelief. It is because their sin was revealed to them that they were saved and delivered and restored. The light of God’s all-conquering grace broke into their hearts. Until we likewise see the depth of our sin and guilt we can never embrace the resurrection of the living Word, Jesus Christ.
The Lord Jesus chastised unbelief, for its presence in us shows that we are keeping the shutters of our hearts closed to the light of truth. But when we hear that chastisement and acknowledge its justice and throw ourselves in faith upon the resurrected Lord, we are redeemed – bought back from the guilt and penalty of sin. The powerful Word that spoke peace and life to the fearful disciples speaks likewise to us.