This morning I had the privilege of engaging in spirited discussion with a group of lovely women over tea, orange rolls and fresh fruit. Our conversational foundation was the book “The Centurion’s Wife” by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke. Taking the account of the healing of the centurion’s servant (found in Matthew 8 and Luke 7) as their starting point, the authors pieced together a narrative dealing with a quest for truth, Roman and Herodian court intrigue and the infant Church in Jerusalem. While not appearing to be a “deep” book at first glance, the authors’ central focus, the reality of the Resurrection, gives the reader pause.
Jesus is familiar to us. We “get” Him. Born of a Virgin, started preaching and healing about the age of 30, religious leaders hated Him, crucified three years later under Pilate’s purview, an earthquake, a veil torn, a body in the ground for three days, Jesus rises. This is a comparatively “boring” piece of theology for most of us. We’ve heard it a thousand times. Let’s talk about the use of tongues or the end times. Something fun and controversial!
I don’t mean to imply that we don’t love Jesus. It’s just that He doesn’t blow our minds. We are comfortable with Him. In a way, this is a really good thing. Jesus should be a best friend to us. We should know His story backward and forward. We should feel safe talking with Him and being with Him.
Think about it for a moment, though. This Jesus, of Whom we so casually sing, in Whose name we purport to live ROSE FROM THE DEAD. As in, He was dead, and now He’s not. His body, cold, lifeless, stiff, scabbed over from the horror of His torture, bruised, out of joint… quite simply sat up and walked out of that tomb.
Can you imagine what that must have been like for the first disciples? Their eyes took in this reality. Joseph of Arimathea wrapped Him up and laid Him down. Mary Magdalene and some other women came back to finish the embalming process. In the meantime, the stench of death pervaded the tomb. The bandages were soaked with His blood. The stench of death hung around the disciples, too. They had utterly failed Him. They had fled.
Those three days that Jesus was in the tomb? They were all about death.
We know what that’s like. Loss is part of daily living here on earth. We know what it is to bear the excruciating pain of a loved one’s death. We come up with fancy terms for it, but, all the while, we know that nothing can erase the horror. The sense that this just isn’t right, somehow. Death hurts, pure and simple. It hurts all involved.
That’s the wages of sin. We die a little every day until that moment when the last breath escapes our lips. Our bodies are left a shell, an empty version of what once was. No matter how “life-like” anyone claims the appearance of corpses to be, it’s a lie. There is nothing life-like about being dead.
Death is real. It is, perhaps, the most real thing we face in this life. There’s no way to sugar-coat or avoid it.
That’s what the followers of Christ were dealing with. Their eyes were swollen from tears and lack of sleep. Their bodies were weary with waves of grief. In one moment, they thought that there were past it. The next, the reality of it all came crashing in like a falling ceiling in the midst of a hurricane. Jesus was dead. He was gone. Someone must have punched a wall. Refused to eat. Picked a fight with another. All the things we do when we grieve.
Jesus. Mutilated, torn, an anguishing sight. Jesus. Lovely, loving, dead.
The third day dawns. Mary Magdalene and the women go to do their work. Do you ever wonder how they planned to roll the stone away? Or what they were going to do about the guards? Maybe, in their agony, they just needed to do SOMETHING. Maybe a fight with a Roman guard would have been a decent way to let some of the pain out.
Then…an angel. An empty tomb.
He is not there.
HE IS NOT THERE.
Imagine if someone told you that the person you loved most in this whole world died. Your spouse, a grandparent, maybe a child. Imagine all the emotions that you would feel, all the pain that you would wrestle with. Then – what if, a few days later, this person got up again? Came to you with a smile and a hug?
What would you do?
The Resurrection should sweep us off our feet every single time we hear about it, read about it, sing of it or think on it. This Man was DEAD. He wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t in a coma and it wasn’t some kind of an elaborate hoax. The Romans were good at making sure people died. There is no doubt about it, though some might purport there to be. Jesus was dead in every way we think of the word. Now, He is ALIVE.
This is the glory of Christian faith. Death could not claim Him. The grave couldn’t hold Him.
Isn’t that worth celebrating? Worth being blown away by? Worth being reduced to tears over, no matter how familiar the story?
HE IS RISEN!