Updated: Apr 14
“Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.
He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.” Matthew 28:5-6
When my daughter, Annie, was a senior in High School, the New Creation Youth Group I led wrote and produced an Easter Sunrise Service. It was in a very small, rural town in Iowa, surrounded by cornfields. The sunrise service was held early on a chilly Easter Sunday in the small park at the outskirts of town. From where we sat, we could see off in the distance, totally unplanned by us, three electric poles, standing side by side, with the sun coming up behind them. It was nice to have that special effects background for the skit the youth had planned. Their skit was about the women who went to the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus. The youth had it all planned out.
If you have had the pleasure of getting to know my husband, Fred, you know he has a great sense of humor, always loving to make people laugh. But there are times when he sincerely wants to enhance something, not intending it to be humorous, even though it may turn out that way.
That morning, as the young people were gathering and getting ready, Fred donned his own costume – a long, brown tunic and a big cover for his head. Unnoticed by anyone, he then walked out into the cornfield where the corn was already getting as “high as an elephant’s eye,” as the song in the musical Oklahoma, goes. And so, the skit began. The youth were doing a fine job of portraying the women going to the tomb and finding it empty. But every so often, unexpectedly, this person who looked like a monk, came popping up out of the corn, yelling, “He’s not over here!” And then he would disappear into the rows of corn again. Later, he would pop out in another place and shout again, “He’s not over here.” The youth would stop as all heads would turn to the cornfield to see the strange monk backing into the corn. After a while, Annie came over to me and asked, “Mom, what is he doing?” I just shrugged and said, “He’s enhancing your story,” which is exactly what he intended on doing. He planned on helping to make it even better and it actually was, in a humorous kind of way!
Most of us present-day Christians have known Easter to be a mixture of glorious worship, celebrating the resurrection of Christ, combined with holiday traditions of hiding and hunting eggs (from a bunny), wearing new clothes, gathering with extended family and eating a delicious Easter meal. We are good at combining the fun stuff with the serious stuff of our faith.
This Easter, however, we find ourselves in a very different place as we “shelter at home,” practice “social distancing,” and try to stay safe from the Covid-19 virus that has invaded the world. A great number of people worldwide have been infected and an alarming number have died. On top of all that, tornado’s have furiously blown through the south, taking lives and destroying homes. What an Easter!
I saw a post on Facebook from a friend who was saying that in the history of the Christian Church, this may be just the second Easter where Christians were “sheltering in place.” Alone. Trying to stay safe. The other time was the very first Easter when the disciples of Jesus were hiding in a room, in deep grieve over the horrible death of Jesus. They were in great sorrow and fear of what would happen next. It must have felt like their normal lives were completely destroyed, never to feel joyful again. All their hopes were dashed in Jesus’ death.
Matthew tells us that the two Mary’s went early in the morning to Jesus’ tomb. They too, were in agony over the loss of the one they loved so much. And they must have been fearful as well. Afraid of the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb. But they went anyway. There is something that compels us, after a loved one dies, to go to the grave and just be close to the place where we last saw them. I did that when my mother died. I would just stand there and weep. But these women ended up with a very different experience indeed! Matthew says there was an earthquake and the guards were terrified and the stone rolled away from the entrance. An angel in bright, dazzling light sat on the stone and said, “I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified but he is not here. He is risen! He is alive!” And then, Jesus himself appeared to them and they knelt and cried for joy. And Jesus told them to go tell the others that he is alive and to meet him in Galilee. They ran back and told the good news to the disciples. Jesus is not in the tomb. He is not dead. Jesus is alive!
I was reminded today of something Frederick Buechner said. “Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.” In this time when so much in our lives feel frightening and devastating, we can cling to that resurrection promise. The worst thing is never the last
thing. God has the last word in all things and his last word is LIFE!
Resurrection gives us new life, eternal life, life that means we too shall rise and not be dead in our graves, that we will be where he is, as he promised. Jesus’ resurrection –
the empty tomb – is the reason we cling to the faith – the hope that is more than hope, – the faith that we will see our loved ones again someday. The belief that, as bad as things seem, God is still with us and things will be okay. As the words in the song proclaim “Because he lives,
I can face tomorrow! Because he lives, all fear is gone because I know he holds the future. And life is worth the living just because he lives.”
Why do you look among the dead?
“He’s not over here! He is risen as he said.”
Alleluia! He is risen indeed!