1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Some years ago someone received a letter from the then DHSS, informing him that his benefit would be stopped at the end of March 1986 because he had died. The letter then went onto say, “you may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances.”
Someone once wrote into the problem page of a magazine:
“Our preacher at Easter said that Jesus just fainted on the cross and that the disciples nursed him back to health. What do you think? Yours sincerely, Bewildered of Tunbridge Wells.”
The reply read:
“Dear Bewildered, beat your preacher with a cat-of-nine-tails with 39 heavy strokes, nail him to a cross; hang him in the sun for 6 hours; run a spear through his side, and put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens.”
There is no conjuring trick with bones: Christ is risen!
According the newspapers this week, our Prime Minister has encountered Jesus, but his Easter message failed to mention Christ, the cross, or the empty tomb – interesting as his thoughts may be, the Easter message is not vague and irregular, but very real.
The reality of the resurrection is not to say that Jesus knew everything would be alright in the end. None of us can ever be absolutely sure that things will be all right in the end. We may believe they are going to be all right, we may have faith in the future, but there’s always that nagging doubt. And there are times that are so awful that we may be convinced things will never be all right again.
That’s the position the two Marys were in when they went to the tomb in the garden early on the Sunday morning. Their favourite person, the person in whom they had invested all their hopes, had been killed. And he hadn’t done much to prevent it. He hadn’t even protested his innocence or attempted to load the dice in his favour. So on that Sunday morning the women must have been experiencing a huge tumult of emotions, anger and terror and shock and horror all overlaid by immense grief.
All four gospels are slightly different in how they describe things, and the resurrection is no different. Mark is the no-nonsense factual account, the one most like a set of minutes, rather than the James Bond version of Matthew, or the overly-dramatic version of John. The women are made of stern stuff. Presumably they were afraid, because the young man reassures them, then proceeds to give them a message. He invites them to look inside the tomb implying that they won’t find anything. Then their task is to search out the disciples and tell them the incredible news that Jesus’ body is not in the tomb, for he has been raised from the dead and is alive. The disciples are to leave Jerusalem and go to Galilee where Jesus will be waiting for them.
It’s a fantastic tale, quite different from Matthew’s and Luke’s and John’s versions of what happened that morning. Perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that the story was not believed. After all, they hadn’t even seen him, they’d only seen a mysterious visitor and an empty tomb.
What are we to make of this story today? Because each of the gospel writers has a different version of the story I don’t think we’re expected to literally believe every detail we’re told. But however they report it, all the gospel writers consistently report an event which was out of the ordinary, an event which had a huge impact on the lives of those who witnessed it, and an event which they all refer to as resurrection from the dead.
There seems no doubt that many people at several different times experienced Jesus in a very real way after he had died. The disciples met Jesus in several places. Paul never met Jesus in the flesh, but he did have a dramatic experience in which he saw a blinding light and heard a voice from heaven, and he immediately identified this as an experience of Jesus. I think this is what he was talking about when he wrote in our other reading today that, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death”.
Such experiences of Jesus continue today. They may not often be sudden and dramatic, they may be more often slow and gradual, an almost imperceptible growing towards God. All of us have God within us. Discovering this, and sensing the new life is how we can know the resurrection of Jesus. It doesn’t mean that nothing bad or painful happens ever again, but it does mean that when anything bad happens, we have strength to handle it. In our darkest moments, God is within us, offering hope to us. Often people tell me they wonder how they’ll find the strength to cope with something. Even more often, people look at someone and ask how they find the strength to cope. Of course, that strength is the risen presence of Jesus, and if we can discover that in us and our world today, then the power that rolled away the stone, and brought new life in seemingly impossible situations can be real in our world and our lives.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!