On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee 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. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
Today, all around the world, Christians raise their voices in rejoicing. They sing songs, join hands, and share together in the good news, news that can change a life. However, this good news, this gospel, is probably the hardest pill to swallow for even the most reasonable of people. The good news is that though Jesus was killed, dead, put in the ground, he has risen again. At the rising of the sun in the sky, we celebrate the rising of the Son from the grave.
Like I said though, our doubtful and grief addled minds are skeptical of anything so impossible, so unlikely, so downright strange as the fact that the man we put in the ground on Friday would rise from the grave on Sunday. The Resurrection is one of the most controversial miracles in the entire gospel, but it’s the one that should mean the most to us, more than the miraculous birth of Christ, more than the miraculous ministry of Christ. But even to the people who loved him the most, the ones who followed him around and heard him speak, witnessed the many signs and wonders that Jesus performed, they still had a hard time believing in the most amazing event of all.
Our story, repeated countless times, remains as unbelievable as it was that Sunday morning long ago. The women awoke early as the sun peeked out over the hilltops. They carried spices for the care of the dead, because the day before, they could not do what they are doing this morning because it was the Sabbath. So they walked, and came upon the hill where he was crucified, and the tomb that was nearby.
And then they see it. The Stone was rolled away.
Instead of a dead man whom they loved, they see two strangers in white. They tell them that he has risen, and that they should have expected this, if they were paying attention to anything Jesus had said while he was alive. They put two and two together, and decided that they should go tell the disciples, his closest followers, his closest friends, so that they can share in the joy and amazement that they felt. The one whom they put their faith in, the one whom they loved, is no longer dead! He is alive!
But instead of an enthusiastic acceptance of the good news by the ones who knew him best, what did they receive? A big fat eye-roll. The women who witnessed the miraculously empty tomb were met with disbelief and dismissal. Their witness was responded to as nothing more than idle talk, a silly story, an unimportant trifle not worthy paying attention to. These men who should know better were dismissive of the truth of the resurrection.
Should we be surprised though? What would we do in their stead? These men watched their best friend get taken away by the authorities and then hung on a cross to die. They were in the midst of grief, and hiding from the authorities. They had their hopes dashed against the rocks. They threw their lives away to follow this man who claimed he was the Son of God, and they believed him, but when he got on that cross, they saw all their hard work go with him. And so they were skeptical, partially because of that, but also because of who was talking. There is no way to sugarcoat the institutional sexism present in this story. The ones telling the story were women, and therefore not to be taken seriously.
This story comes to us as a stark reminder of the times that it takes place in—but also in our own inherent discrimination. It wasn’t so long ago that men treated women with just as much disdain and disbelief as the disciples did, and yet there is still so much further to go when it comes to gender equality. Such is the nature of sin and injustice. So with that in mind, we need to hear not just what the story is saying, but who is saying it. It reminds us that the good news often comes from unexpected places, and from seemingly unbelievable people. It reminds us that Jesus came not for the greatest, but for the least of these, the sinners and the disenfranchised, the ones looked down on by society and held in low esteem. Jesus revealed his resurrection first to the women, and then to Peter and the twelve, to teach us a lesson: the gospel comes from the ground up. The good news is given to those who need it the most.
So the disciples were disbelieving about the message told to them by the women. But how many people today are just as disbelieving about the resurrection? It’s probably the most difficult miracle to understand, for most people. For many, at best it’s a nice metaphor for rebirth, or a fairy tale for people who can’t take death seriously, and wish for a better life than the one that is given to them right now. That’s why we need to take seriously the resurrection and its message for us. That’s why we need to not just rattle it off as something we just say we believe in and not give a second thought to.
The truth is, we should take the resurrection seriously because we take death seriously, and the reason why death exists—sin. We know that the reason we die is because sin entered the world through us and our actions. We therefore know the devastating truth of death, it’s finality, its grief, and its effects on the world. Because we do know the power of death, that’s why we celebrate the truth of the resurrection. We celebrate because Jesus really, truly, did die. He did not go into a coma, nor did he fake his death. His side was pierced, his breath stopped completely. He was dead as a doornail. If he wasn’t dead, the soldiers wouldn’t have let him down off of the cross. We know that Jesus was crucified, completely dead, and buried while dead. The grief of Good Friday was real. He didn’t fake it.
The resurrection is hard to believe because of that very fact. Death is final, as final as it gets in this world. Things don’t die and just come back to life. That’s not how things work. So no wonder the disciples had a hard time believing, though they have eyewitness testimony, and though Jesus himself said he would rise again. It is one thing to hear it said, and quite another to experience it. They experienced his death, and so the finality of it all is hard to overcome.
Thankfully, at the very least, Peter managed to listen to the women and sprint down to check out the tomb, where, sure enough, he saw what the women said there would be. He was amazed, as Luke tells us. Amazed. We use that word so often, we forget that amazed means to be affected by great wonder, to be astonished, to be bewildered or perplexed. In essence, he came, he saw, and what he even saw he had a hard time believing. Even with proof in front of us, we have a hard time believing.
But here it is. The day of resurrection. The story is before us. The proof has been given to us, the truth shown to us, and now it’s up to us as to what we do with it. We could, as the disciples did, dismiss it as idle talk, as nonsense, as a nice story with no bearing on the world. We could deny the resurrection, and live as if it has no bearing on our lives, as if it did nothing, and continue living a life that leads to true death.
Or we could believe it.
We could believe in the resurrection. We could believe that God indeed defeated death, and therefore we have been given new life. We could believe that something amazing happened when the Son rose again that Easter morning. We could believe in the impossible, the incredible, the amazing. We could believe in the good news, that Christ died for us and took on our sin, that Christ paid the debt that we put upon ourselves, that Christ, in death, managed to heal the wound that sin has put upon us all. We could believe that Christ rose again, proving once and for all that we have nothing left to fear, that the final enemy has been defeated, and that we have been given everlasting life along with him. We could believe in the salvation of the world.
But it’s up to us.
It’s up to us to believe in it, but it takes more to believe than just intellectual assent, it takes more than just acknowledging the story. It takes living a life that responds to the good news. Yes, by faith we are saved by the grace of God, that we can do nothing to earn this grace. We are given new life, and we are saved solely by it. In response, however, we must live like we are saved. We must draw ever closer to the good news, to be changed by it, to be molded by it, to live like it has made a difference to us.
We must live a life defined by salvation. We must live a life of love, because we have been given new life by love. We must then live out the commandments that were given to us by Christ himself: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. We must love without restraint or reservation. We must serve others as Christ served us. We must forgive others as Christ has forgiven us.
We must also do what we can to change the script, and live in a way that goes beyond the disciple’s reaction to the good news, good news given by the women. We must do what we can to work for justice and equality in this world. While these problems may be overwhelming, we must believe in the healing power of the resurrection, and believe in what may seem impossible. We must lift up those who are the least of these. We must strive for justice for the disenfranchised, for the poor, for women, for the immigrant and the foreigner—and everyone else! Christ died for all people, and was risen again for all people. When we do not stand up for all people, we deny the resurrection. When we fail to live with love, peace, and justice in mind, we fail to live up to the power of the gospel.
So it’s up to you. It’s up to you to believe in the good news, to believe that the Son has risen. It’s up to you to make the world know that death is defeated, that you have been given new life and salvation in Jesus Christ. It’s up to you to live with love for God, and love for others. Never forget that God will be with you through it all. It is through God that we can live the good news. It’s through God that we are given new life, and so we praise God on this holy Easter Sunday. Glory to God! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Amen!