They had watched the person die. They checked the body – yes, definitely dead. And so, having made sure that the body had been buried, and knowing that the grave was subsequently sealed, they thought it was all over. The only problem was that subsequently someone saw the person again – apparently alive. Or was it a ghost. They can’t be alive, surely, thought those who knew the body must still be buried. And then they were confronted by the person they thought gone for ever, alive and talking to them. The grave is empty.
Yes – Eastenders (For those outside the UK – a widely watched British TV soap opera and a bit of a national institution) have done it again. For those of you who don’t watch Eastenders you don’t know what you’re missing. Or perhaps you do, which is why you don’t watch it. Let me explain.
Vincent and Patrick, have a somewhat noisy and violent argument with Vincent’s mother Claudette, during which she manages to fall down the cellar steps and hit her head on a brick. Vincent checks the body. She’s most definitely dead. Worried about the consequences Vincent buries her under the cellar floor. The cellar is undergoing renovation. And the next morning the builders come and lay a new concrete floor over the grave, unaware that there is a grave there. It’s all over – Vincent and Patrick just have to keep quiet and no-one will ever guess what they’ve done. Except Patrick thinks he sees Claudette in the street. He’s sure he has. Vincent thinks it must be a ghost. And then Claudette confronts Vincent.
Turns out she wasn’t dead at all, but came round, managed to crawl out of the grave and stagger out, ending up in hospital. And having thought it was all over, Vincent and Patrick find out it’s not all over at all. The bad news of Claudette’s apparent death, is turned into the bad news that – understandably – she’s not happy with Vincent and Patrick.
We’re here today because the bad news of Jesus’s death turns into the good news that he’s alive again. And that it’s not all over!
The gospels tell us how those who were there at the time of the crucifixion – the disciples who fled, the women and John who stayed and watched, thought it was all over. Their teacher was dead. Some of them had seen him die, and his body and been buried in a tomb. It wasn’t until they came face to face with an empty tomb and a risen Jesus that the truth about Jesus – who he was and why he had come and why he had died – began to dawn upon them.
For on that first Easter Day, the disciples not only faced the most important event in human history – they also realised a truth which up until then they had been unable to see. Jesus had tried to explain to them what he was about, who he was, why he had come – but they never really understood. Let’s face it – the Twelve weren’t always particularly bright. And the realisation of what had happened sometime between the burial of Jesus and the discovery that his tomb was empty took time to sink in.
We heard this morning Luke’s account of that moment when the reality of what had happened is presented to Jesus’ followers. Mary Magdalene and her companions go to the tomb and are confronted by two angels who tell them that Jesus is risen. Remembering the promise of Jesus that he would rise on the third day they go back to tell the apostles and the others what has happened. But they are not believed. Then Peter goes and sees the empty tomb for himself.
And gradually the light begins to dawn for the followers of Jesus. Jesus has risen from the dead, just as he said he would. Although their eyes saw only an open door and discarded cloths, their hearts saw the glorious truth that these signs added up to: Jesus’ life and his message would go on. It didn’t seem to make sense but it must be true. And then, later the same day, Jesus comes and stands among them. They see him in the flesh. He’s alive. And he says to them: Peace be with you! And their lives were never going to be the same again. How could they be? Meeting with the risen Jesus is a life-changing event.
We now look back nearly two thousand years to the resurrection. And yet, we are much like the disciples who thought at first that it couldn’t be true. Like them we often we don’t grasp the reality of what has happened. The truth does not immediately sink in – we see the empty tomb, we kind of know that Jesus rose from the dead, but we do not grasp the reality that the risen Jesus is here among us, and that he changes lives. It took the followers of Jesus time to figure it all out – they had their doubts at first – and there’s no reason we should be any different. For we can often have doubts or feel unsure about it all, or sometimes feel our faith isn’t as strong as we feel it ought to be.
And yet, if we can but grasp the sheer wonder of Jesus being alive again, despite dying on a cross and being buried, our life can never be the same again. For the resurrection of Jesus is a life-changing event not just for the disciples who had to deal with the empty tomb on that first Easter Day but for everyone who comes into contact with him.
And like the first disciples of Jesus we can only begin truly to see what the risen Jesus means for us, and for the world, if like them we have lived through the suffering of the cross with Jesus and felt the despair that the disciples had felt at the death of their beloved teacher. Only when we have shared in the suffering of Jesus – and understood that he laid down his life as a sacrifice for our sin – can we truly begin to understand the nature of the resurrection life of Jesus and the resurrection life he offers us. The chance for forgiveness, for a new way of living. Like the disciples we can begin to see not just an empty tomb but the risen Jesus among us, active in our lives. And, like the first disciples, follow him no matter what.
Do we, as we gather together on this Easter Sunday morning, see just an empty tomb. Or do we see the transforming power of the resurrection of Jesus, a power which changes our lives and compels us to go out and change our world? Do we see and believe? May we be like the disciples and allow the risen Jesus to come among us and turn our doubts and fears into faith and a determination to live out the good news in our lives. For he just waits to say to each person – the tomb is empty. Here I am, I am risen: Peace be with you.