It’s easy isn’t it. Easter Day. The church looking wonderful. The flowers, the candles, the Spring sunshine coming through the windows – Lent behind us and the weeks towards Pentecost and summertime and fulfilment ahead of us. What’s not to like? Easter = Joy.
But not the first Easter. It begins in darkness, a solemn task to be carried out by the women who had seen him die and also seen him laid in the tomb. God fearing women, they had kept the Sabbath: no rules broken here even though their elders and betters had driven a coach and horses through the Jewish Law to see Jesus killed. No, these faithful disciples make their way to the tomb with the spices they had been unable to get together as Sabbath approached on the evening of what we call Good Friday. They are here to perform one last act of love for their Lord.
But then what they expected was overturned. Just as the stone had been shifted so their whole perception of who Jesus was, what his teaching meant and what has taken place must shift – the mental furniture of their minds must reshape itself around what they find (or let’s be honest) what they do not find at the tomb….for they don’t find Him.
They go to find a body, but it is not there. So rather than Easter Joy we have confusion, bafflement, terror and misunderstanding. To this ‘less than promising mix’ the rest of his disciples add ‘disbelief’ and (on Peter’s part) curiosity and amazement.
The gospel accounts of this first Easter Day differ but they give us details that recur or overlap in the parallel accounts. In Matthew and John’s Gospel Jesus appears: to Mary Magdalene as she weeps at the tomb, to the women as they make their way from the tomb. Not so here in Luke. The star of the show, Jesus, is notable for His absence from our reading. ‘He is not here’ say the men…who we know to be angels. The women aren’t even instructed to ‘go to Galilee’ to see Him there – for now they have an empty tomb and not a lot else other than their recollection of Jesus’ words, his teaching.
Jesus’ words. The two men in ‘dazzling clothes’ who provoke the stock response associated with angelic visits (fear and terror) and who prove their divine credentials through their knowledge of Jesus’ teaching of the women ‘while he was still in Galilee’ – these men tell the women to ‘Remember’. Remember his teaching.
So what was it that they needed to remember? It was this: ‘That the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again’. It is not just that Jesus foretold his death and resurrection that the women must remember: it is that this was something that must happen – his teaching was that this suffering, death and resurrection was part of the Divine plan. The women return to the rest of the disciples both to tell them what they have seen at the tomb but also to pass on this message to – ‘remember’ his teaching….and whilst we mustn’t really cheat and read on in the story our passage is immediately followed by the story of Jesus meeting with tow of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, a meeting through which he interprets to them ‘beginning with Moses the things about himself in all the scriptures’.
Is it enough? His teaching? We will read again the accounts of the resurrection appearances as we make our way through these 50 days of Easter, as we do so we may well have (at the back of our minds) the thought that ‘it was alright for them – for Peter and Mary and Thomas and the eleven disciples- they saw Him, but what about us, those of us who (like the women) bring our love to Him but just aren’t totally sure, are confused, don’t know. Those who want to believe but wonder if wanting is enough?
It’s not so easy is it? Easter joy? Easter certainty? Thankfully our Gospel today makes room for those who need to do some more thinking, some more wondering. We’re allowed to be like the women. There’s room here even for the disciples to give what for all intents and purposes is a wholly natural response – dead men don’t rise. But the story must move on: the tomb is wide open but there is now a crack in the way these disciples are thinking. A ‘what if?’
‘What if it’s true?’ Peter runs to the tomb. This question won’t let him go until he has investigated for himself. He still doesn’t see Jesus: no. But he is beginning to think in a new way, becoming open to the possibility that God, in Christ, was doing something new. Perhaps the world is not how he thought it was? The whole world order, his understanding of God…and power…and forgiveness….and inclusivity…and faithfulness and right and wrong and what matters in life and what doesn’t…and who Jesus was and is – these things are all beginning to shift in his thinking. How do we know? Well we read part of his sermon on the day of Pentecost as our first reading.
It will take Peter 50 days to get to these great statements of faith but he is on his way. And us? Maybe we’re still journeying towards faith, still wondering, still perplexed. We’re not alone – but we’re here, this Easter, because something of this story won’t let us go. For now that’s enough: the tomb is empty and a doorway to faith has been opened for us to step through. Perhaps, as we reaffirm our baptism vows you might take that step? If you do, let me know.
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