‘We need Easter’, is an unexpected line we’ve been hearing. For many, Easter is a metaphor for ‘new life’ or ‘new hope’. It is not a reference to the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ.
A journalist once put it like this: ‘The historical, literal truth about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has little connection with the Easter celebration of Christian believers. Faith thrives on doubt and therefore, even if Jesus didn’t live, die and come back to life again, Easter would still have meaning.’
But this is something the New Testament refuses to accept. All four Gospels testify to Jesus’ empty tomb. Every New Testament sermon references it as well.
In John 20:1-2 we read: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him”.
Witnesses. Despite the testimony of women being treated as secondary in 1st Century Judaism, women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb. Focusing our attention on Mary of Magdala, one of the women who went to the tomb, John records that she saw the stone had been removed from the tomb. Doubtless fearing that Jesus’ body had been desecrated, she raced to tell Peter and John.
Both men ran to the tomb. While John arrived first, Peter went right into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head… rolled up in a place by itself (20:6f). The evidence was clear: human hands had not removed the body. For his part, John saw and believed. However, neither yet understood what Jesus meant when he said they would see him again, physically risen from the dead.
Like John, we may believe that Jesus has gone to be with God, but we find the idea of a physical resurrection impossible to grasp.
Doubts. One of the encouraging things about the Bible is its downright honesty, and not least about its heroes. Thomas, one of Jesus’ first followers, expressed disbelief when told that Jesus was alive. “Unless I see the nail marks on his hands and put my fingers where the nails were… I will not believe,” he said (20:25). He hadn’t been with the other ten disciples when Jesus appeared to them on the day that changed the world.
However, he was present when a week later Jesus appeared again to the disciples. Sensitive to Thomas’ doubts, Jesus said to him: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (20:27). Thomas’ response is probably the first recorded confession of faith in the risen Christ: “My Lord and my God!”
Belief Today. In God and Stephen Hawking, Dr John Lennox, emeritus professor of mathematics at Oxford University, observes that many scientists say ‘miracles arose in primitive, pre-scientific cultures, where people were ignorant of the laws of nature and so readily accepted miracle stories’ (p.82).
In response, Lennox comments: ‘In order to recognize some event as a miracle, there must be some perceived regularity to which that event is an apparent exception! In other words, we don’t need the benefit of modern science to define an extraordinary event’ (pp.84f).
He also notes a second objection to miracles that says: ‘Now we know the laws of nature, miracles are impossible’ (p.86). His response to this is: ‘From a theistic perspective, the laws of nature predict what is bound to happen if God does not intervene… To argue that the laws of nature make it impossible for us to believe in the existence of God and the likelihood of his intervention in the universe is plainly false’ (p.87).
God’s people understand that ‘the laws of nature’ are the observable regularities that God the creator has built into the universe. However, such ‘laws’ do not prevent God from intervening if he chooses. When he does, we are able to identify the irregularity and speak of it as ‘a miracle’.
Jesus’ resurrection is not the result of a natural mechanism. Rather, as the New Testament tells us, it happened because God intervened, using his awesome, supernatural power (Romans 6:4b).
John 20 concludes: These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (20:31).
God’s ‘Yes!’ The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s ‘Yes’ to the hidden meaning of the crucifixion. When Christ died, he perfectly satisfied God’s just judgement of us all. Once and for all he dealt with our broken relationship with God.
More than ever our anxious world needs to hear this good news from God. In the course of his redemptive actions in history, God’s messengers said – to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth, and the women in the empty tomb – “Do not be afraid…” (Luke 2:10, Matthew 28:5). When we turn to the risen Christ, he says to us, ‘Have no fear’ and ‘Peace be with you’. We also have Jesus’ promise: “I will be with you the whole of every day until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Reflect: For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,… (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Prayer: Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory. Amen. (BCP, Easter Day – adapted)