We have the benefit of thousands of years of theological reflection and teaching to help us understand the resurrection.
Just imagine yourself in the place of the disciples and the women who went to the tomb that morning. Just imagine the thoughts that went through their minds as they found the tomb empty. In Luke’s gospel, read last evening during the Easter vigil, the women were puzzled when they found the tomb empty. Puzzled does not seem strong enough of a description for what they encountered. The empty tomb puzzles them, they were frightened by the two angels who appeared to them. The angels words that he has been raised and is alive does not make sense to them until the angel reminds them that he said he would rise in three days.
I do not believe this description of their encounter with the empty tomb comes close to describing the doubt, fear, concern or an ability to totally grasp what the empty tombs significance was for them or for us. The disciples who listened to their story found it nonsense and did not believe them.
In the Sunday gospel Mary Magdala was puzzled by the empty tomb but she was also frantic because she believed the Jew’s had taken the body. She told the disciples “they have taken him and we do not know where they put him.” Her anxiety was due to the fact that the body had to be prepared for burial and it had to be done according to the rite by Jewish law. The disciples reacted to her words by running to the tomb to see if it was true. John in his gospel describes them as believing but not understanding.
If you take the time to read Mark’s gospel about the resurrection he has several women frightened and bewildered by finding an angel at the empty tomb. Those women remain silent about what they had seen Instead of telling the disciples. It would indicate that it was so unbelievable that no one could believe it even if an angel said it happened. Later Mark has Jesus appearing to Mary Magdala and no one believes her when she says she saw him alive.
Matthew gospel tells a similar story of women being frightened, confused, amazed and in total disbelief mingled with a lack of understand about what it all meant.
We certainly believe Christ rose from the dead or we would not be here today celebrating this gift of God. While we believe in the resurrection we also do share many of the reactions of those who looked into the empty tomb that morning. I know from experience we do not know how we should react to the empty tomb. We are just as confused, uncertain how to respond and filled with questions about what it all means.
What are we to do with our belief in his resurrection? Do we remain silent as the women do in Mark’s gospel? Do we run to tell others who are skeptical and do not believe as we do? Do we expect to encounter this risen Christ and hear him call our name? How do we respond to a challenge to our testimony that Christ is alive?
These next few weeks we will see and hear the early church dealing with all these issues. They will encounter Christ as he appears to them. Some will not see him as he is until he breaks bread with them. Will our hearts burn with the same fire when we begin to understand the full meaning that he is alive?
Some will not believe until they are able to touch him to make certain he is real. Will we be among those who need something more tangible for us to kneel and declare him as Lord and Savior?
Most remain confused but wanting to believe that their hope in him would be rewarded. They remain hidden in an upper room trying to make sense of what they have seen, heard and touched. Their fear was real and in their confusion they were trying to make sense of what they learned from him and what happened since his death. They will continue hiding in fear until Pentecost brings them full understanding.
Their doubts and struggles with the risen Christ is our story my brothers and sisters. We have our own challenges today that keep us hiding behind these walls. We know that any outward demonstration of faith beyond the comfort of being within these walls can cost us. We can lose our livelihood, isolation for not going along, ridicule and hardships. If we are not certain in what the resurrection of Christ accomplished for us we will fail to be strong witnesses of his rising.
The early church grew rapidly because his death not only restored their relationship with God it paved the way for Pentecost. They became bold believers who shared their faith and their trust in God’s promises. The early Christians were unashamed of who they became because God’s love. Their message was simple; God’s mercy was available to all who believed.
Today we seem to believe that there is something more we need to do in order to receive mercy. The Easter message is a simple spiritual truth; Jesus died for our sins and his rising rolled back the barrier between us and God’s love and mercy. Today is not about history; today is all about mercy. Today is about a God that loved us so much he sent his only Son so that those who believe in him may not perish but have eternal life.
Today’s message is not to beat ourselves up with our sinful past but to rejoice in our being clothed in the righteousness of God. God did not send Jesus to condemn but to redeem and save. God did not send Jesus to suffer for sins as a lesson for us to learn that we too must suffer for our sins. No he came to pay the price for our sins and to place upon himself the penalty for our sins.
Our response today must be more than enjoying family, more than enjoying the beautiful decorations in our churches, more than enjoying the sensual visuals of candles, music, incense, the Pascal Candle, the baptisms and confirmations. It is not about enjoying a powerful meaningful homily. It must be a response of the heart that has us filled with joy as we go forth from this place to announce to the world that “He is Risen” and because the tomb is empty we are full of joy.