One more grim farewell remained for those who went to the tomb. Then they would get on with life. The people responsible for the execution of Jesus had done their duty. The would-be King of the Jews had been crucified for his dangerous talking about the kingdom of God, whatever that meant. For Mary and others, everything had been turned upside down. Jesus, kind rabbi, healer, teller of parables, had been condemned by the religious and political leaders. “Put him to death so we will not be accused of aiding and abetting insurrection,” they said, for fear of the Roman army.
Jesus the nonviolent peacemaker was convicted of disturbing the peace, upsetting the people with false hopes about a kingdom. It’s a story as old as the human race, of different people seeing the same event in totally opposite ways.
The political and religious leaders believed they had done the right thing. The followers and witnesses to his goodness believed a terrible tragedy had taken place.
The death of Jesus of Nazareth ended the dream. Zion would not be restored. They lost all hope. Tragedies come – illness, injury, insults, injustice, addiction, anxiety.
How many of us have ever lost hope? Just two or three, or nearly all of us? How many of us have had difficulty believing that better times were ahead?
How many of us thought to hunker down and accept the blows of life? Has even God disappointed us?
The descendants of Abraham almost completed their long walk from Egypt, during which Moses told them they were God’s chosen people. Now they were almost to the Promised Land. Now Joshua stood before them, to warn of dangers ahead.
He said, “I want you to be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid and don’t give up hope, because the Lord God is with us wherever we go.”
The resurrection of Jesus Christ compels and challenges us to look ahead, not behind, and to do so in the light of his resurrection.
Mary thought she could look to the immediate past and so predict the future. She is not the only one stuck in the track made by the past. Does our past predict our future? Mary and the disciples thought if the bloodthirsty mob that stormed Pilate’s palace were not satisfied, they would bring the disciples and followers to trial also.
Above all, Mary was unable to think of the possibility of a new beginning.
Jesus was dead. The experience left no future. Everything she and others had hoped for was gone, defeated, finished. Jesus loving the children, Jesus teaching the multitude, Jesus healing the sick, even raising the dead — all those pictures in the wallet of her memory were only embittering reminders of what once was, but no more. The past couldn’t be undone. The dead stay dead. Wrongs stay in place, and sin just lies there with the guilt that will not go away. We all know that from our own experience, do we not?
Mary went to the tomb expecting the predictable, that the good man who had been killed was still dead. Does she have company? She could not think the most impossible thing, that the unthinkable is precisely what God, who is unpredictable, would do. The Christian religion does not center in Joseph’s lovely garden near Mt. Calvary, the garbage dump where criminals were executed, nor are we trapped where we have buried our hopes and dreams.
The Christian faith does not look backward to take a reading for the future.
Our faith does not look to the betrayal in the garden of Gethsemane, nor to the afternoon on Calvary — as the final word. Our faith says the end does not come until we have heard from God. Don’t be afraid and don’t give up hope. The risen Lord is with us wherever we go.
When Jesus Christ went to the cross, he took with him all the sin and guilt, evil and death, the works of the devil. There he absorbed into himself all the tragedies visited upon us, subjecting himself to them all on our behalf.
God says our past will not be the last word for the future. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ shows us God will do anything to save his people from sin and death, the grasp of evil. God will prove his love, even to doing what he could not allow Abraham to do on Mt. Moriah, by making his son the scapegoat. God will have the last word by raising him from the dead.
Now, like every other congregation this Easter, we, all of us, live between a tyranny of slavery in Egypt and the terror of the unknown ahead.
The resurrection calls us to be strong, courageous. We come to celebrate what we often have difficulty accepting, and that is, that Jesus Christ lives in our midst.
Mary and the disciples could face the future expecting only a shattered life. Their hopes were gone, and they were willing to remain disappointed, frustrated, victims of injustice.
Is anyone here acquainted with great tribulation?
We may think we can gut it out and go on living with our burdens, carrying our load of pain and injustice, thinking ourselves to be victims. End of story.
We’re overcome with fear, doubt and discouragement, burdened with unfortunate sin and guilt, mired in helpless, hopeless remorse or regret or disappointment.
We may think that if there is to be any relief, we shall have to find it for ourselves.
But the world is filled with tragic victims of the truth that if you do not receive the work of Christ’s self-sacrifice for yourself, then you are doomed to repeat and to relive that pain and abandonment and death.
We can be cleansed, forgiven, saved from our past only by the blood of the risen Lamb of God who by his death has conquered the sins of the world.
The meaning of his resurrection is that even while we plow through the mud and muck and swamp and death of this world, we have become the eternal people of God upheld by his hand and headed toward an eternal Zion.
The message of Easter is “Don’t be afraid and don’t give up hope. Don’t be afraid of life or death, of sin or guilt, of remorse or regret, of tragedy or failure.”
Only the eyes of faith can look at the cross and say this is the beginning. Only the eyes of faith look over a broken bleeding world and say God will have a new Garden of Eden.
Only the eyes of faith can look upon disaster and death, and say with Joshua that the Promised Land is out there. The promises of God will be kept.
Emily Dickinson imagined she saw the meaning of victory when she wrote these lines:
Not one of all the purple host who took the flag today,
Can tell the definition of victory,
Half so clear, as he defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear, the distant notes of triumph
Burst agonized and clear.*
There are many who will not reach the promised land in this old world, many who will never win the great battles of life, or overcome personal disasters.
Yet, Easter says that God is in charge. His power will win. And as we lay dying, time after time, suffering defeat,
we can take heart upon hearing the distant strain of Easter triumph burst in, agonized and clear. It is the defeated who understand triumph.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ signals final victory. Mary turned from her despair, looked to the future, and announced, I have seen the Lord.
Are we ready to look to the future?
The promise of Easter is that we are joined with Christ, and we, afraid, defeated, dying, can rejoice. his victory is ours.
All together now, Christ is risen!
(congregation’s response) He is risen indeed.
*these lines by Emily Dickenson