Isaiah 25:6-9 John 20:1-18
By Henry J. Rafferty CLP -April 4, 2021 Easter Sunday
What a glorious morning- beautiful weather, the music of bird song, and the spring flowers of the daffodils, the forsythia, and the snowbells. It makes you feel good to be alive and what a wonderful setting for the day we celebrate our Risen Savior.
What a week, we have had joys and sadness, we have had bad weather and good, a lot like the last week of Christ’s life here on earth so long ago, extremes in every way. He started the week with the joy and excitement of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where the people shouted ‘Hosanna’ and ‘Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.’ He experienced cheers and jeers daily while He was teaching in and around the temple. There was a noticeable heaviness in the air though whenever the Jewish hierarchy was around. It has always been present with them, you could always feel their jealousy, their envy, and their worry that Jesus was becoming more and more a figure to be reckoned with, but this last week was different in that you could feel the hatred and the contempt that they had for Jesus as they plotted to end His life. Jesus had recently raised Lazarus from the dead and that, for them, was the last straw. In the Sanhedrin’s eyes, Jesus was dangerous to their power and way of life even if they didn’t believe He had really raised someone from the dead. The people believed it, and that was all it took, if they believed, then Jesus was a threat and He had to die.
I mentioned in the Good Friday sermon that Holy week is very much like a three-act play. The first act is Palm Sunday, the joyous event, where everyone is happy. It is the feel-good part of the play, when you think that everything is great. The second act is not the same at all as the first act. It is the part of the play where everything falls apart. It is the downer, when all feels lost, and everyone starts to question how they felt in the first act. The betrayal, the beating, the journey to the cross, the crucifixion, and the death of Jesus is like the second act. The disciples were scattered and terrified, wondering if they were next. They were not filled with the Holy Spirit yet and were not as brave and bold as they would become after Pentecost. The Jewish leaders were happy about Jesus death, but still concerned because there had already been talk of a resurrection. This idea, they would have to squash right away, they even placed palace guards at the tomb, just in case some of the followers would steal the body and make it look like He had risen. But, in truth, they were spooked. They could not shake the happenings of Friday when the sky darkened in the afternoon, when an earthquake shook the area violently, and when the heavy curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn in two. All this happened right at the end of Jesus’ life and many were witness to it, both believers and non-believers. The Jewish leaders must have wondered, “Have we really killed the Son of God?” Imagine that feeling. The followers of Jesus are lost, in their mood and in their thoughts. Could they have been so wrong about Jesus? How could He have died? What about all the miracles? The disciples had heard Jesus’ fatalistic stories and they didn’t believe what they heard, but soon they would start piecing it all together.
Jesus was dead, He was pronounced dead by the Roman soldiers, who were
professional executioners. They knew when someone was dead or not, they had ways of knowing or doing things to make sure. When they suspected Jesus of being dead, they checked by thrusting a spear into His ribcage, with no response other than a discharge of blood and water, He was definitely gone. He was anointed with oil, wrapped in burial cloths, and placed in a tomb. Pilate allowed the temple guards to be placed at the tomb and no one had any other reason to think that Jesus was anything now but a problem in the past.
Friday evening goes by, then Saturday, then on the third day since Jesus’ death, Sunday, the first day of their week the women returned to the tomb to finish with what they did not have time to do with the body at the burial. When they got to the tomb though they were struck by the fact that the large stone that covered the tomb was rolled away and the tomb was open. This worried the women immensely, has someone desecrated the body of their Lord? When they got closer, they saw that the body was gone and all that was left was the burial cloths. Then angels told the women that Jesus had risen as He had said and to go tell the disciples. They ran back and told the disciples who didn’t believe them, but Peter and John ran to the tomb only to find it empty as well. Later on, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and to His disciples, alive and well, but still bearing the marks of His crucifixion. Jesus performed many miracles and appeared to many people before He was taken back up into Heaven where He goes to prepare a place for all of us who believe in Him.
How’s that for a third act? No one saw that coming, even though it was prophesied, and Jesus told many what would take place, they still did not get it. We would have been no different. We all make the mistake of putting God on the same playing field as human beings, that is a common mistake and one I wish that we would correct. God is not us, He is all powerful and all knowing. He cannot be placed in a box and kept there so that we feel in control. God achieved, through Jesus, what all the prophets could not do, He defeated death once and for all. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
What wonderful words, the words that come to have a whole new meaning after Good Friday, and the triumph of the resurrection. We do not serve a God of the dead, but of the living. Jesus is our risen Savior, and our lives are worth the living because He lives! Thanks be to Almighty God. Amen.