DECISIVE DAYS IN THE LIFE OF CHRIST (8)
THE DAY HE DEFEATED DEATH
SCRIPTURE: JOHN 20: 1-18
In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!
There once was a crotchety old man who lived with his wife in the backwoods of Tennessee. One day the old mountaineer fell and stuck his head against the rock. When his wife found him, she was certain he was dead.
This all happened before funeral directors would venture up into the hills, and it was before the practice of embalming. The wife dressed her husband in his suit and then asked a few neighbors to help her put her husband in a plain box and take it to a place for burial.
One of them carrying the coffin, stumbles, which caused the coffin to fall and crash into the gatepost. The crash apparently revived the old man, and he knocked open the coffin cover and raised a terrible fuss.
One year later, the old man fell sick and died…again. Once more the body was placed in the box and the neighbors began carrying the coffin from the house to the burial ground. At that point the widow said firmly, “Watch out for that gatepost!”
Obviously, one resurrection was enough for her. But for many modern-day Christians, one resurrection may be one too many. It is not that we do not want to believe, but for some it is difficult to believe. Let me assure everyone here this morning that is struggling with the meaning of resurrection that your struggle may very well make the resurrection of our Lord believable.
One of the customs of this day is to have an Easter sunrise service where the community of faith actually gathers in darkness and moves gradually into a darkened sanctuary using candles to light the way. As more people enter the sanctuary, the candles dissipate the darkness.
When the black veil is lifted from the cross, the power of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection begins to sink in, and for the rest of the day people boldly proclaim that Jesus Christ is risen! That comes very close to what would have happened on that first Easter morning!
The process of becoming aware of the resurrection is sometimes gradual. That was certainly true of the first witnesses.
NOTICE THAT MARY CAME INTO THE MIDST OF DARKNESS, DESPAIR AND DEATH.
Mary did not enter the graveyard singing the “Hallelujah Chorus.” There was no one there in that darkness of despair and death singing, “Christ the Lord is risen today.” She did not come to celebrate. She came to take care of the body of someone she greatly loved.
An empty tomb greets her. This may be good news for us, but for Mary it was simply another tragedy. Had she not suffered enough? Now someone had taken the body. She runs to find someone to help her cope with the newest tragedy.
Her words to Simon Peter and the “other disciple” are a pathetic and powerless plea. Peter sprints to the tomb more by adrenalin than agony. They are most uncertain what they are expecting, and while one believes, they return to their home not understanding.
But they are not nearly as uncertain as Mary is, who stands back outside the tomb wrapped in her misery, oblivious to the message of life and hope that the disciples were beginning to experience at the empty tomb.
Mary’s grief blinds her to the miracle she is witnessing. Even the sight of two angels leaves her cold. She responds mechanically to their words. She is the one entombed, buried in her grief, her faith lost, and her self-absorbed sadness.
Finally, she is confronted by Jesus himself, but does not recognize him. Why should she? After all, she is looking for a corpse, not a living human being.
But all that changes when Jesus calls her name. In that moment Mary is pulled back from the ragged edge of her grief, and back into faith. In that moment Mary moved from her darkness of despair and death into the light, boldly proclaiming, “I have seen the Lord.” And ever since then the world has been shouting, “Christ the Lord is risen. He is risen indeed!”
MARY’S STORY MAY VERY WELL BE OUR OWN
While we may sing great Easter songs, the truth is that many folks come to church on Easter Sunday with the same kind of fear and apprehension, as Mary did. It may be light outside, but for some who are here this morning there is the darkness of despair, doubt and death. Like Mary, some move about on this Easter Sunday mechanically.
Like Mary, there are some who are entombed, buried in their own grief and loss of faith.
Perhaps there are more of us than we realize who move about wrapped in our own misery, oblivious to the message of hope. There may be some here this morning that are carrying their burdens, sorrows and questions about the meaning of life and death.
We want to believe in the resurrection, but for some darkness of doubt may be overwhelming. My word of hope to you on this Easter Sunday is do not despair. Remember, it took Mary and the disciples a while before they believed. What brought them around was their faith that was tested in the darkness.
There is a story about a couple that had been married for 12 years when the woman was stricken with cancer. Medically the situation seemed hopeless. But each day at the hospital the couple read together how Jesus healed the sick. The Gospels are full of such stories.
As they read, their despair turned to hope and they began praying together earnestly, knowing that the Lord who loved her would heal her. But she was not healed. After her death, her husband wrote this letter to his friends:
“We were confident that she would be healed. We had prayed in
faith. But the prayer of faith that heals is a gift from God. It brought
us through the long days of suffering…with the feeling of
expectancy and confidence.
Clear up to the end, we knew the Lord would heal her, and, even
when the darkness came in close and cold, the trust remained.
For God’s way is perfect, and we know there is a greater miracle
even than the miracle of healing. There is the resurrection…”
If you are struggling with the belief of the resurrection, do not despair. Your struggle may very well be your salvation, for it is often in the darkness of doubt, despair, and even death, that we discover and believe the miracle of the resurrection.
ON THIS EASTER SUNDAY WE CELEBRATE THE DAY JESUS DEFEATED DEATH.
During the Lenten season we have been considering some of the decisive days in the life of our lord. On this Easter Sunday I bring the series to a close by looking at the day Jesus defeated death.
This proof that death has died is the resurrection of Christ. But here the proof stops. Are you aware that the New Testament offers no account of the resurrection of Jesus? We have reports of Jesus being crucified on the cross and buried in the tomb. We have reports of an empty tomb, and later we have first-hand experiences of the Risen Christ. But there is no testimony of anyone who actually witnessed the resurrection of Jesus.
What convinced Mary? What convinced Simon Peter and the other disciples? Well, it wasn’t the kind of proof most of us are looking for, but it was in their inner experience. As the old gospel hymn put it: “You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart.” As the apostle Paul said, there are some things we know to be true, not by seeing, but by believing.”
A distinguished physician, Dr. Benjamin Alexander, professor of American University in Washington, D.C. shares the power of this truth. In his teaching of medical students, he is often confronted by statements that God does not exist.
In general the students say, “God cannot be touched, cannot be seen, cannot be proven or verified, so, therefore, God does not exist!”
One day a medical student said, “I have opened every organ of the body, and I have examined a human cadaver completely, and I have not found any sign of soul there at all.” Dr. Alexander said, “Let me ask you something. When you opened the brain, did you find an idea?”
“No, no I can’t say as I did,” said the student. “Very interesting, isn’t it?”, asked Dr. Alexander. “Tell me,” Dr. Alexander said, “Did you examine the eye?” “Oh, yes sir” replied the student. “Well tell me,” said Dr. Alexander, “Did you see a vision in the eyes?” “Well, of course not, how could I?” answered the student. “Very interesting, isn’t it? Asked Dr. Alexander.
“Tell me,” said Dr. Alexander, “When you examined the man’s heart, did you discover any love in his heart?” “No,” said the student, “ did not”. “Very interesting, isn’t it?” asked Dr. Alexander.
Then Dr. Alexander said, “I know you believe in ideas, for there is no way to deny them. And I know you believe in love and vision, too, but there is no way to deny them either. So we must conclude. I guess, is that some things are real that cannot be touched and cannot be explained and cannot be proven at all. Right?”
The student nodded his head slowly and said, “I see what you mean. I guess there are many things which cannot be proven.” “That is true,” said Dr. Alexander, “and yet, they are all real!”
The proof that death has died is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The empty tomb symbolizes that death has been defeated.
Later, the Apostle Paul would write: “O, death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinth. 15:55-56).
Mr. Paul Rees, of World Vision International, wrote an article in a religious periodical that he called “The Four Easters.” He speaks of an Easter that rises historically, and Easter that returns annually, and Easter that recurs weekly, and an Easter that remains continuously.
There are many people who are quite willing to leave Easter and its story to history. And there are plenty of Christians who are quite content to leave Easter as a festival that is observed once a year. But for the Christians whose faith has grown and matured, Easter is that event which not only recurs weekly, but remains with us continuously.
That is why every Sunday is Easter Sunday for Christians. That is why Christians all over the world are known as Easter people, because we believe that the risen Christ is with us continuously.
Mary went to the tomb of Jesus weeping, and she came away rejoicing. Within a few moments her life turned from sorrow to joy. That in a single sentence is the story of Easter. Our most dreaded (but inevitable) event, death, can turn to our highest joy.
We believe this. Jesus Christ defeated death---your and mine! Alleluia!
MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH