A necklace of Easter thoughts:
“He is not here.” (Matthew 28:6)
Last Christmas, we visited Abhaya Bhavan, a home for the destitute and sick, run by the Missionaries of Charity. As we entered the Home, I glanced past the beautiful crib they had prepared. Tinsel covered the roof, and on the inside you could see colourful lights that blinked.I looked closer in surprise, a couple of decorating material and colour hangings and gift wrappers lay there, rolled together, in the middle of the manger, but no Jesus! It was Christmas and Jesus was no longer there in the crib.
For years, everyone had tried to tie baby Jesus down in a decorated manger. But he had left the manger because he was not meant to stay there, forever as a helpless baby; instead he was meant to become someone who exerted great impact on the whole world, which was more inconvenient to our lives than a pretty baby.
Following his crucifixion, the High Priests and other leaders tried to tie Jesus down to the tomb. But the mighty God, who became man was too powerful for them. Who imagined that someone would defeat death? They tried to keep the Good News in the tomb. But the news was too Good to be contained.
Easter is a story of transformation. In fact it is a story of the greatest transformation which changed the stories of many.
When the earliest rays of the to-be-Easter day were reaching Jerusalem, Mary Magdalene and the “other” Mary were nearing the tomb of Jesus. They would anoint Jesus’ body, a procedure that was part of a decent burial. After all he was dead. He had said he would rise on the third day, but now that he was dead, however disappointing that was, he deserved a decent funeral. May be some day, his tomb might become a great memorial monument where people come to remember the life of that good man.
What they saw at the tomb added fear to their already disappointed hearts. It made them doubly vulnerable. An earthquake and a supernatural encounter later, they were so afraid. This was too much to ask for when your teacher, who had good intentions, were dead and when they wanted to have good memories of him.
“He is not here”: Divine incapacitation giving new meaning to life.
Verse 2 picturizes the coming of the supernatural – heralded by an earthquake, followed by an angel who descends and sits on top of the stone which he rolls away from the mouth of the tomb. It stands for God’s power doing its thing in contrast to the feeble human efforts to keep him dead – as the High Priest and Inc. and the Marys tried. The soldiers who were meant to guard the tomb are said to have “For fear of him. . . shook and became like dead men” (verse 4). They wore uniforms of the Imperial army of Rome. Perhaps, they had the medals. They fought valiantly. They were brave, able men. But the able men were incapacitated by the Divine (read God). That is because the Divine had different plans.
As a result of the Divine revelation the Marys were so afraid too but the angel had sweet words of assurance,
“Do not be afraid.”
Both are incapacitated but the women are then told some-things that hadn’t been in their minds that Sunday morning: Jesus had been raised and he would go to Galilee and they would meet him there.
Now that gave them a whole new perspective on life – that their Rabbi was still alive and that they would meet him! Life had more to it, if this meant that Friday was not the climax. The incapacitation due to a fear inducing revelation from God, now led to a new perspective on life itself.
Have you felt incapacitated? That your plans were not working the way you thought were best? That you made plans and nothing of it has borne fruit and you simply can’t go ahead? Has something paralyzed your ability and determination to go forward? Easter tells us of God’s straight encounter that stops short-sighted human plans. If you were seeking Jesus, like the Marys, then you will receive a new perspective on his plans, even if that means you need a bit of correction in what you sought! But if you were trying to keep him away from involving in your life, like the soldiers, you are alive, yet “like dead”(verse 4). When you have the fullness of life bursting open in front of you, will you remain still or receive it?
“He is not here”: Drawing attention to the imperatives
In the Bible, we see that God often spoke through prophets and angels. And when they spoke, we had better listen, or we would be missing out on the most important matters of life. So when they say “He is not here,” then what is?
The Angel’s first imperative statement, “do not be afraid,” is reminiscent of angel Gabriel’s assurance to Mary – she could bank on it for she was covered by God’s grace (Luke 1:30). So could the Marys, in our portion.
The second imperative is, “Come and see the place where he lay,” (Verse 6). In the Greek original of the New Testament, deute (“come!”) is the same word used by Jesus when he calls his disciples in Matthew 4.19 and Mark 1.17. So the angel was a calling, on behalf of God, to a renewed witness!
To witness what? They are called to witness ton topon hopou ekeito (the place where he was laid). The root word of ekeito means to store, to be laid permanently, etc. They are invited to see the place where people thought he was laid permanently, so that they were done with his ‘I am the Messiah’ nuisance. It was an invitation that would change their life because what they saw and experienced (including the unexpected Divine encounter) filled them with fear and great joy (verse 8) that they couldn’t walk anymore; they were running to tell the news to the rest of the disciples, as commanded by the angel!
Notice the emotions: fear and great joy. Earlier, they were a disappointed duo who were hurt further by fear of the Divine encounter, but the imperative of Easter has now given them great joy, that they run. The joy is increased evermore when Jesus meets them and says ‘Greetings!’ the Greek of which is, “Rejoice!” Isn’t that the most wonderful first utterance from a risen Lord, who defeated evil and its consequence, death?
When God thwarts or stills your plans, do not be apprehensive or anxious about the future. Do not be afraid, comes the voice from God, for He has risen so that you may have a new purposeful and meaningful life which comes from realizing the significance of Jesus’ cross and resurrection for our lives and living in obedience to His words. In him, it is going to be a hopeful life so believe Him when he says “Rejoice!” They believed, and they immediately held his feet and worshipped him. What else would we do when the Divine Joy of Easter descends upon us?
“He is not here”: The Signal of a transformed and transformational beginning.
Following his joyful greeting, Jesus repeats the words of the angel. We could say the angel had spoken for him and now Jesus confirms his words by repeating them.
In verse 6, the angel said, “he is not here,” and after the imperative to go tell the disciples of the resurrection, indicated that Jesus was going to Galilee! (verse 7)
Of all places, Galilee?
That is where he grew up (Nazareth of Galilee); that is where he began his ministry; that is where he called his first disciples (Matt 4 :18-22). His disciples had fled right after his fellowship meal the previous night of his crucifixion. But he still had plans for them. He would go exactly where he had started his ministry, exactly where he had called them and “there they will see me”(verse 10). The Greek word for ‘see’ here, orao indicates not just regular seeing – orao means to perceive in an experiential way, to recognize… They would all meet at Galilee and they would experience him – the risen Jesus. This time they will recognize who he is and perceive the deep significance of all that he said in the past three and half years he had been with them. And he would send them again, in the name of the Triune God, with love and with authority, assuring them of his ever-abiding presence.
It was going to be a transformational seeing, leading to yet another beginning – the beginning of a renewed, refreshed, reinvigorated ministry. It became a transformed beginning which in turn, would be the beginning of transformation in the lives of many, sourced from the renewing personal experience of Easter.
And this time on “they would follow him whithersoever he might lead- even to a cross if need be, counting it now their highest privilege whereas it had been their most terrifying fear”(quote by Herbert Stevenson, Road to the Cross).
The risen Lord goes to the very beginning. Where you began and where you failed. He can transform you and give you a new start. Going by the narrative in the gospel, that seems to be the sole purpose for which he came – to transform people, give them a new beginning and make them transformational communities that continue his work of restoring the image of God in them. He is the beginning, he is the end.
Let us submit ourselves before the risen Lord,
experience him afresh,
Allowing him to still our plans.
Obeying his word.
Let us be set afire by his plans and purposes,
transforming us inside out, Only to transform lives, that are “like dead,” into
ones so confident
that they will not die, for
He has risen, abolishing the sting of evil and death,
and gifting us:
eternal life . . .
Mathews George, Easter 2013