But on first day of the week, at dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, lo, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24)
Following Jesus is an adventure. It’s not always a barrel of laughs, but it’s always an adventure.
Ange has been known to muse over where her life might be now, had she not married me, and so‘married into the church’ (so to speak). We’ve reflected numerous times on how she might have had a high-powered job, money, a nice car and house and better-groomed children had she taken up one of the many other options that lay open to her as a teenager. Still, she always tends to finish such ponderings on a note of consolation: ‘well … it’s never been boring!’
I was having the same thought after our mid-week BBQ this week.
We said goodbye to a dear mate from the Fight Club this week – former British County boxing champion and all-round nice guy, Steve Connolly. It should have been a quiet BBQ with Steve and his family and the boys and girls of the Fight Club, and it would have been, were it not for the appearance of a rather imposing local woman, who walked to the top of our driveway and started screaming at some of our young people at the top of her voice.
I think she was trying to break the record for the greatest number of times you can use the ‘F’ word without taking a breath. Admittedly, she’d had someone break in to her house, and so had every right to be upset. Even so, we did feel that our driveway was not the ideal place to work through her concerns.
I approached her and pointed out to her that she was on my property and that she hadn’t been invited. She responded very cleverly, by taking three steps backwards, so that she was technically in the area of the church building, and then continued!
I thought, after it was all over, ‘well, it never gets boring here!’, and it doesn’t! Following Jesus, in my experience, is an adventure – a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows with very little resting time in between. It’s exciting, but I wouldn’t say always ‘fun’.
Now, maybe that sounds like I’m just making an excuse for not being in more exuberant spirits on this, the most joyful of days, Easter Day!
Certainly Easter is the most significant of all festivals of the Christian Church, and why shouldn‘t it be, for today we celebrate the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and if ever there was a reason to be joyful, surely this is it, is it not?
One would think, surely, that today – the day of the resurrection – would be the happiest of all days in the Christian year, and yet what fascinated me this Easter, as I sat down to prepare a sermon on our Bible passage dealing with the resurrection, is the complete lack of joy displayed by any of the actual characters in the st
“On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.” (Luke 24:1-3)
The ‘they’ referred to here, we are later told, were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some other unidentified women. These appear to be the same group of women who had stood by Jesus as He died on the cross. So far as we can work out, these women were indeed the only disciples, with the exception of John, who had stood with Jesus as He died.
They come across to us as faithful, caring, and courageous to the end. Even so, they don’t appear to have had any more clues about what Jesus was on about than did their male counterparts, for they travel to the tomb with no expectation of anything beyond doing some final embalming of the body.
They came looking for closure. I think that‘s clear enough.
I know that‘s not the term they would have used, but I think you know what I mean. We all strive to find closure on painful events in our lives so that we can move on. These women had travelled with Jesus, eaten, listened and laughed with Jesus. They’d shared the hopes of the other disciples as to where it was all leading, and they had stood with Jesus after all those hopes had been shattered!
It had been a roller-coaster ride, and now they sought closure. And what better way to find closure than to give this final honour to the lifeless body of Jesus – massaging the corpse of the person they once loved with burial ointments.
I still remember vividly when we buried young Avia Taetuli – a lovely young member of our Youth Centre community, who died in a football game one weekend. It was one of the only Samoan funerals I’ve ever been to, and the most powerful thing I remember was how, after all the words of the priest had been said and done, the men gathered around the grave, and we took up spades and started shovelling in the dirt while we all mourned and sang.
Death in our Anglo-Celtic tradition is often so sterile nowadays. We rarely have any contact at all with the body of those we have loved once they die. There was something about that ‘hands on’approach of the Samoans that really did help bring closure to that tragic death for me, and I imagine that the process of massaging a dead body with spices and ointments would be another very effective way of dealing with your grief.
They sought closure, but they didn’t get it! Indeed, they couldn’t find the body at all, and their response was one of fear and confusion. Even after the two strangers in white spoke to them (perhaps especially after the two strangers had spoken to them) their response seems to have been confusion and fear!
They weren’t expecting this. They hadn’t looked for this. Maybe they weren’t even sure whether they wanted this?
That might sound ridiculous to suggest – that the disciples might not have wanted Jesus to rise again – but look at the response of the male disciples to the women’s story! Most of them don’t want to talk about it at all, whereas Peter goes to check things out for himself, and we are told that he was ‘amazed’ (some translations say), but the more exact translation would be simply that he was simply ‘left wondering’, perhaps with mixed emotions!
Why such an ambiguous response? Well … keep in mind that Jesus had taken His disciples – men and women both – on a very rough ride!
When they started out with Jesus, they probably had some reasonably fixed ideas as to where the whole campaign was going, and all those expectations had been smashed to smithereens over three years of ministry with Jesus, and most especially at the cross.
Perhaps they’d come to Jesus initially to find healing and wholeness. Perhaps they’d come to Him because they wanted to know God better. Quite likely they’d come to Jesus because they saw Him as being the one to fulfil the hopes of national Israel, for freedom from foreign oppression and for self-determination as a sovereign state.
Whatever hopes and expectations they had started out with, they certainly would have abandoned all of those by the time they reached Easter morning.
Perhaps they’d once hoped that Jesus would make them wealthy and powerful. Jesus instead had gone the way of powerlessness and poverty!
No doubt they’d come with their own agendas, believing that there was going to be something good in it for them, and yet the only thing Jesus had promised them as His followers was a participation in His persecution and suffer
Perhaps they had initially only signed up with a view learning something briefly and then moving on with their careers, but Jesus had told them that their commitment to Him had to be so total and all-encompassing that it would cost them all their time and resources and probably their own life as well!
And now He was dead. And it was tragic and confusing, and they were still trying to process all of that, along with the whole roller-coaster ride of the previous three years. And so they come to the tomb grieving, but no doubt, at one level, a little relieved that at least the whole ordeal was now at an end.
At least this time they knew where to find Jesus. At least this time they knew what to do. It had been exciting and dramatic and something of an adrenalin rush, but there was some comfort in knowing that at least now things would be a little more predicable … NOT!
There is no closure in the death of Jesus. For it turns out that this is not the end of the story. On the contrary, it’s just the beginning of the next chapter of the ongoing story!
Jesus is not dead! He has risen!
How could that be?
Well, I don’t know. Go ask those guys in white!
I did, and they don‘t know either, but do you know where He is now?
I don‘t know the answer to that either.
So what did all this mean?
Well … what we do know is that it means that the adventure is going to continue.
Is that Good News?
Is it Good News? Sure … so long as you weren’t looking for a quiet life, it’s very good news!
If you’d been looking forward to resuming your career as a fisherman, it may not be great news.
If you had been promising yourself that you were never going to get yourself into trouble with the Roman occupation forces again, it’s not terrific news.
If you’d decided that you appreciate security more than you do freedom, power and money more than ministry and service, or that you value titles and success more than you do faithfulness, this is not the best news.
But if you’re willing to follow through with that commitment you made to Jesus many years ago.
If it still sends a shiver up your spine, every time you hear Jesus proclaiming the new world coming.
And if you are perfectly willing to lay down all your earthly joys in this life for the sake of building Christ’s Kingdom and spreading His love and His justice, then this is very good news indeed, for the fact that Jesus rose from the dead means that nothing can stop him now – not politicians, not clergy, not disease famine, fire nor drought. Not even death itself can stop Him!
His work will go on. His life-giving stream will continue to flow. His Kingdom will come! And for us, the adventure will continue.
First preached by Father Dave Smith at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, Easter 2007.