Tag Archives: Easter Day

Christ did not ‘come back from the dead’

Acts 10.34–43
Matthew 28.1–10


This time last year, some of us had just concluded a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On our last day in Jerusalem, we were at the Garden Tomb, one of the possible sites of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. On the door of the tomb itself, there is this sign:

He is not here


‘He is not here; for he is risen.’

The Christian faith is squarely built on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Soon after his horrible execution on the cross, when his disciples were at their lowest, he appeared among them, and they were transformed.

‘He is not here; for he is risen.’

These of course are the words Matthew includes in his story of the resurrection, words spoken by the angel to Mary Magdalene. In the NRSV of our pew bibles it is

He is not here; for he has been raised …

He is not here. Not here where?

In Matthew’s Gospel, the two Marys go to see the tomb. They are expecting to see a closed tomb which contains the corpse of Jesus. That’s where a dead person belongs. Safely tucked away.

The two Marys are expecting to see that the dead is among the dead.

That’s the way it is, isn’t it? I visited my dad’s grave the day after his funeral. I didn’t expect to see that he had risen. And he hadn’t.

But Jesus is risen. And that turns everything upside down.

Now Jesus is risen, death is defeated. The risen Lord Jesus Christ brings life and healing to all people. In him is eternal life.

This life is for all. Jesus died as one of the rejected and excluded of the world so that the rejected ones might be included in the new humanity that he has brought to birth. That’s what Peter found out when he saw that vision of the unclean animals. No one is left out, everyone is included in the offer of eternal life.

We’re curious about death and what’s beyond the grave. So it’s not surprising that recently there have been a couple of dramas on TV which have been about people returning from the dead. We might confuse the Resurrection of Jesus with these other stories of people coming back from the dead. And that just won’t do, because stories of people returning from the grave can be quite disturbing.

Let me tell you about these TV shows.

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Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year A, 10 April 2011)

Blessed are those who mourn

Ezekiel 37.1-14
John 11.1-45

Blessed are those who mourn, 
for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5.4

Our community has mourned lately, and we’ve seen grief. We’ve mourned the damage done by the floods, and we see people continuing to grieve at the slowness of action to help them repair their homes. We’ve seen people mourning because of the damage done by Cyclone Yasi, in Christchurch and in Japan.

Yet Aussies are still not all that attuned to mourning. We seem to see it simply as a problem to be solved. We expect to be able to fix things up, or replace them. We want to keep moving forward.

A widow went to her doctor. She said she’d been told by her friends she was grieving too much for her late husband, and that she should be getting over it. The GP asked how long since he had died…her reply was Six weeks ago.

He was barely cold, and her friends wanted her to ‘move on’.

Blessed are those who mourn, 
for they will be comforted.

I don’t know about you, but ‘they will be comforted’ sounds like a very modest promise to me. It reminds me of Sigmund Freud’s rather unassuming aims in psychoanalysis, which were

to transform neurotic misery into common unhappiness.

Now that’s a promise even a pessimist could trust!

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ is a message that would never get Jesus a gig in one of the big mega-churches these days. If he were there, I think his message would have to be less modest, more like this:

Never mourn again!
You can be happy all the time!!
Your life will be wonderful every day!!!

Just come to our church, accept what we say, and put your money in the plate!

To be ‘comforted’ in a future time seems a little anaemic really. Yet it is Jesus’ promise to those who mourn. We shall be comforted. And this is the kind of world we live in, a world of hope and a world of promise, grounded in God’s word. The comfort may come in the future, or in the next life, but it is assured.

That said, it is a future promise. The Beatitude doesn’t claim that those who mourn are comforted now. As I said, it seems to be a modest kind of promise. Those who mourn, whatever they mourn for—

their own brokenness and sin;
the state of the world as it is;
or the loss of someone dear to them—

they will be comforted.

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In the end, we are the ending!

Mark 16.1-8

Christ is risen: 

Christ is risen indeed!

Three women go to a tomb with spices to anoint a body. That’s what they did in those days, in that place. Jesus’ body had been taken down from the cross in haste, to avoid it hanging on the Sabbath, and it hadn’t been anointed. The women were coming out of a duty born of love, to pay their last requests to Jesus, whose story had started so well, and ended so devastatingly badly.

But the women were used to washing and anointing dead bodies. They’d knew what to expect—they’d done it many times. They knew grief. This was hard, Jesus having been crucified and all, but they would shed their tears and see it through to the bitter end with every bit of their considerable strength of character. This they could cope with, this they has steeled themselves for. This they expected.

What they got was something else. They approached the tomb, realising they’d forgotten the detail of just who might roll the heavy stone from the entrance, when they found the tomb open.

They peer in, and see a young man, dressed in white—in their time, this was the robe of a martyr. He is sitting on the right side, the place of authority. He tells them that the Crucified One has been raised from death.

He tells them to tell the others that he is going to Galilee, where they will see him. This isn’t what they expected at all. Their resolve evaporates, and they run off, saying nothing to no one.

That’s where Mark’s Gospel ends. It’s the original cliffhanger.

You know, Mark has a great beginning! The first words are

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The first two words of the Gospel are “The beginning”—that’s a clear-cut beginning! But Mark has no end.

Or rather, it has this cliffhanger ending. Jesus is not there—he has been raised—and the women lose it. It’s not what they expected at all. Where do we go with that ending?

When the Gospel of Mark started to be copied, and spread to other places, people found this cliffhanger ending hard to take. So other endings were attached. You can see them if you look at your pew bible. They are called the Shorter Ending and the Longer Ending of Mark, and they have square brackets around them. Very few bible scholars believe they were part of Mark’s original story.

These endings are not what Mark wanted. Mark wanted us to feel something like vertigo, a dizziness of unfulfilled expectations. Christ is truly risen—but others encounter that resurrection through believers like you and me.

Christ is not seen within the pages of Mark’s Gospel because Mark wanted to make it clear that we are the living members of Christ’s body.

We are the way people will know Christ is risen. How? As we follow Jesus to Galilee, which stands for the place where we serve others in Jesus’ name.

You want to be the means by which others know Jesus is truly risen? Love as Jesus loved. You have intellectual doubts about the resurrection? Reach out to others and serve them in Jesus’ name, and you will know Jesus is alive.

Mark isn’t somehow having it both ways, saying Jesus isn’t really risen. But in his world, which was the world of Rome in the 60s of the first century, Christians were persecuted. Nero was the caesar. Being a Christian could get you killed, and you didn’t have physical sight of the risen Lord to comfort you. You had your faith in the Crucified One, who had died and is risen. You had faith that could help you to follow him, wherever that led.

It’s the same for us. In our world, few are granted visions of the risen Lord. We live in a world very different from the world of Jesus, but a world in which the Crucified One is still Lord. He is the one we follow, it is in his name that we live and work as the Church.

In the end, we are the ending of Mark’s Gospel. It is our feeble efforts, linked to his grace and the power of his Spirit, that reach out to a world that still needs to hear: Christ is risen: Christ is risen indeed!


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