Read Luke 24:1-12; Colossians 3:1-4
Have you ever lost something, and known that nagging feeling of deprivation and frustration that haunts, making it difficult to concentrate on anything else till you’ve found it?
Have you ever lost someone, in any way, from your life, and so experienced that void of loneliness, an ache which accompanies you wherever you go?
That hollow, empty feeling of loss can consume us and in a life without Christ can cause us to become bitter or hard.
The women who were Jesus’ special friends had not anticipated feeling so bereft. Yes, Jesus had tried to explain what would happen. He’d tried to prepare them for this loss, and its greater significance, but we can’t brace ourselves for loss – it powers on into us against all our carefully built walls of defence.
The thing is we don’t hear what we don’t want to hear. We don’t want to prepare ourselves for bad news, because we don’t want to anticipate sadness in our lives.
Jesus definitely dropped hints about what would happen to him. He alluded to both his death and resurrection, and even when he only spoke of his resurrection – well, there has to be death before resurrection!
In Mark’s Gospel, which is generally agreed to be the earliest Gospel, written around the year 70 Jesus predicts his death three times. In Luke 9: 22 just after Peter’s lightbulb moment of revelation about who Jesus really is, Jesus tells Peter, as he warns him not to tell others that he is the Christ, sent from God, that “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Other indications Jesus gave of what lay ahead for himself, and therefore also by implication for the disciples are given in two verses in John’s Gospel – precious and personal words of Jesus to his disciples, preparing and teaching them – John 14: 19 “In a little while you will see me no more” and John 16: 1 6 “Before long the world will not see me anymore.”
We don’t know that the women friends and followers of Jesus were not with the disciples when Jesus entrusted them with these confidences. Nor do we know that Jesus’ disciples didn’t tell some of the women this earth shattering news. It’s not only women who readily share other people’s news!
The reality is, for those hands on witnesses and near followers of Jesus, as for us in our daily life, our ears are closed to news we don’t want to hear. Jesus’ death was still an almighty shock to the women and men who’d given up much of their normal routine to soak themselves in Jesus’ presence and teaching. That’s why, also, they couldn’t make that jump from the reality of the cruel torture and death that Jesus suffered to the promise given of his glorious resurrection. They were far too stunned and grief-stricken to remember or absorb that amazing prediction.
It took the reminder from God’s messengers – men in shining clothes quoting Jesus’ words about his future to reassure and re-charge the women. ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” Now the penny drops. Then, only then with God’s inspired message, do the women remember Jesus words from back in Galilee.
Then when the women – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, James’ mother, and others who were with them, unable to contain their joy and incredulity, told the 11 disciples and the other apostles about the empty tomb, with its large, wheel-like stone rolled away from the rectangular doorway, those guys listened with mouths wide open, and said wow! That’s wonderful, how amazing ‘Thank you God’! Yeah right!
Of course they didn’t believe the women. They called it an ‘idle tale – a tall story! The Greek word they used to describe such nonsense is the word that Greek medical writers used to describe feverish babblings. In that time women’s witness wasn’t seen as at all reliable. Women’s low rating in the pecking order in ancient society meant they weren’t taken seriously, but wondrously this sometimes worked in their favour as they could come and go, and hear things without raising suspicion as we see by their presence at Jesus’ crucifiction, and here now at his empty tomb.
Only Peter had the fortitude and insight to go and investigate for himself. Still hurting from and living with the shame of having denied Jesus, Peter shows his rock-like identity emerging as he courageously ran to the tomb, determined to know for himself the truth, desperate to have an opportunity to redeem himself. Peter’s love for Jesus proves greater than his shame. Peter is full to the brim with confidence in Jesus now he’s been restored by Jesus to a place of intimacy with Christ, and the blessed tasks of serving, nurturing and teaching God’s people following Jesus’ welcome command to ‘feed my sheep’.
Now Peter knows, following his fall and rise, those blessings of restoration, invitation and forgiveness, hallmarks of the fullness of God.
Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders who were suspicious of his teaching, revealing more of his identity, as he spoke, is also an invitation to abundant life on both sides of the grave, to each of us. I have come he says to the suspicious Pharisees who were dying to trip up Jesus, so that you have abundant life. I have come he says, to the women who befriended him and to whom he gave confidence because he took them seriously ‘I have come so that you may have life and have it abundantly.’ I have come, Jesus says to you and to me so that you may have live life to the fullest, here and now, and with me in glory for ever, because you are precious to me, because I lived and died and rose again for you.
I hope you are thoroughly surprised again this morning. I hope we are all overwhelmed by what God gave us in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, whether we understand it fully or not – and who can?
For this is grace, undeservedly poured out on us who keep on straying, on us who struggle to pass on that same grace to those we live with, worship with or work with.
As the New Testament scholar Tom Wright comments, ‘Easter is always a surprise, whether we meet it in celebrating the feast itself, or in the sudden surges of God’s grace, overturning tragedy in our own lives or in the world.” (Luke for Everyone, by Tom Wright, SPCK, 2001, p.291).
Two clashing realities were at work when the women came innocently, grieving, lost in their own world and sadness, and were confronted by the angels with their heavenly truth – ‘why do you look for the living among the dead?’ The earthbound and the heavenly realities align here in the mysterious way the angels greet the women who think they’ve come to anoint Jesus’ body.
Although we know how this true story ends, in a sense it never ends because the truth of the resurrection of Jesus keeps on and on unfolding in ordinary lives, like yours and mine.
Each time we can respond to hostility with love, when we serve others by caring more about their needs than our own, and when we refuse to rest till justice is won for all people, not just for those who are like us, those are resurrection moments. When we refuse to give in to our contemporary secular culture which ignores the majesty, authority and power of God, we are greeting Jesus risen from the dead and joining him in the delights of a foretaste of heaven on earth.
And as for our own resurrection? Just as the disciples and women followers of Jesus couldn’t quite grasp the incredible truth and life-changing news of future hope when Jesus spoke about his rising from the dead, so too we struggle to believe the glorious promises of God for our future. Even people who’ve been Christians for years still sometimes struggle with fears about what will happen when and after we die. It’s all too easy to absorb the fear of those around us who don’t yet know Jesus and His life-giving assurances.
However, we can ‘raise our eyes’, and look up to see the glorious things that God is doing in his world.
‘’So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.” (Paul’s Letter to the Christians in Colossae)
At Easter, and beyond, we can refuse to be held back by those things which irritate us and prevent us from entering the fullness of God, from experiencing the abundance of God, so that instead we can bask in the glory of God, Saviour, King and Lord, – crucified, risen and ascended to glory where we will appear with him in our own risen glory. Live this new resurrection life with Christ, not just today, but each day, striving to stay close to Jesus who overcame the grave for you, for me, for everyone who will say a resounding ‘yes’ to his invitation to a life overflowing with purpose and grace.
Let’s pray as we respond to God’s gracious call on our lives…
Living Lord Jesus,
Take us by the hand as we come to you.
When we are hesitant to trust you, breathe your strength into us,
When we doubt you fill us with your truth,
And when we’re too timid to peer into your empty grave, meet us and surprise us with the wonder of your life-changing resurrection.
Lord Jesus, we come to you in need and hope and trust, bringing our emptiness to your fullness, and finding rest in your loving arms,