What does Easter mean to you? Why are we gathered here now together in spirit, despite being separated physically by sheltering in place? Why do people who don’t normally come to church think to come on Easter Sunday? And how are you celebrating Easter? Is how you are celebrating Easter tied to your understanding of what Easter is? What is the meaning or significance of Easter for you now?
Easter is the celebration of Resurrection of our Risen Lord. Easter is the foundation of our faith. We are reconciled to God. Resurrection of Jesus by God. Resurrection is the fulfillment of promise and affirmation of our faith. Jesus is Lord of all. We have new life in Christ now and eternally. And yes, yet, but still, what does that all mean for us today in the midst of our lives at this very moment? For whom are you looking?
To get to a better and deeper understanding of what Easter means and also what Easter means for us now, I would like to take us to reflecting on Easter in three ways: the meaning of Easter through reflecting on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and the Resurrection Sunday.
Good Friday – Christ died for our sins. Our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God. Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. On Good Friday, we remember that Jesus on the cross, died for us. Good Friday, we remember Christ who is dying, who is suffering and in pain.
39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, (Acts 10:39-40).
Through Christ’s death, our sins that were crimson as red are now white as snow, our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the west. So, as we reflect on Good Friday, we know that all who believe in him would be reconciled to God. We know how costly God’s love was that Christ died for us in order that we would be reconciled to God and have eternal life. And this love of God stirs in us love for God and furthermore, acceptance and love of ourselves and our neighbors.
Holy Saturday – What does Easter mean for each of us through reflection on the Holy Saturday? Do we not feel like we understand this day best of all in the midst of Cornonavirus? In our sheltering in place, it is as if we are sitting, waiting for resurrection, for healing, and for life! Easter is a three-part event. On Good Friday Jesus dies on the Cross. And from Holy Saturday? Separation from God. So, then it seems that on Good Friday, by his death, Jesus accomplished what he came to accomplish! What happens after Good Friday? What happens between Friday and Sunday, between death and resurrection? In this uncertain time, for those who were following Christ is despair, hopelessness, confusion, doubt, and isolation. Holy Saturday, is the day we remember Jesus, being somehow separated from God. We move so quickly to the resurrection without fully appreciating, fully realizing the significance of Jesus’ costly sacrifice. But in the Holy Saturday, we walk with faith awaiting the risen Christ. Through the passage in Isaiah (53:4-9) which we read in for meditation and reflection in preparation for worship, we know that Jesus was “taken away,” like a scapegoat, “cut off from the land of the living stricken for the transgression of my people.”
It is important to reflect on Holy Saturday: to see Jesus and to see ourselves on the Holy Saturday. Jesus was taken away, cut off from land of the living. As for us, by examining what happened on early Sunday morning at the empty tomb, especially in the reactions of Mary Magdalene, which we will turn to shortly, we can understand what the Holy Saturday was like for the disciples, and in turn, for us.
But first, as we reflect on the Holy Saturday through our sheltering in place experience, this social distancing, this time of waiting for healing and life, bring us to slowing down, to reflecting, to focusing on what is important for us. Even when we go to grocery store, we have to be more thoughtful about what to buy to last a week or two, or three! Will you buy fresh, canned, or frozen vegetables? Frozen meals or make pasta or perhaps rice? What protein will you purchase to last through the couple weeks at a time? But beyond grocery shopping, who will you remain closer in touch with through texting, video chat, or phone calls and emails? Which of your many friends and family do you want to and need to know their well-being of on a regular frequent basis? When we feel tired just from hearing the news, and coping with sad and disappointing news about illness, lack of personal protection equipment for first responders, and at times deaths of those we knew and loved…when we feel tired just from coping, what will you spend your energy on? Will you read? Do dishes? Go for a walk? Read Scripture? Pray? Pace in the apartment or your house? Will you have energy left to be productive, for those working from home? Coronavirus puts us right in the smack of the middle of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, in the Holy Saturday. And in this in-between place where we await, hoping for resurrection and healing, and life, we stop to breathe deeper. We stop to check our path, where we were headed. We stop to check and revaluate things that matter most to us, to prioritize, to distribute our energy and resources, and to preserve things, people, concerns that matter to us the most.
Resurrection means Christ was resurrected and the power of resurrection that raised Jesus will raise us also. As redeemed people through Christ’s Death and resurrection, we can celebrate a new life here and now as God’s redeemed people AND Having been raised with Christ who conquered death, we too have been raised with Christ for eternal life. We can’t understand Easter without understanding Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Resurrection Sunday, and consider our new redeemed life here and now and eternally with The Risen Christ. The Death and the Resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of our faith. Resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that Jesus was who he said he was. In the temple when Jesus spoke out in anger those who had made the temple into a market place, he was asked by what authority he was turning over the tables.
The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22)
Jesus said he would be raised in three days. When the disciples remembered this after the resurrection, they believed the scripture. If Jesus had not been raised in three days, he would have been a liar. How could we believe anything else he had said or follow his teachings? On Good Friday, we look towards Easter to have hope that Jesus who died on the Cross would be resurrected. On Easter Sunday we can look back on Good Friday to remember why Jesus died on the Cross and what Jesus’ resurrection means.
As we try to bring together the meaning of Good Friday, the Holy Saturday, and Resurrection Sunday, let us return to our scripture reading in the Gospel of John.
1Early 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. 2So 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.” (John 20:1-2)
Later, in John 20:18, Mary says these words, “I have seen the Lord.” Women were not considered to be reliable witnesses. Yet, in the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene was the first to go to the empty tomb. She goes to the tomb early while it was still dark. She finds that the tomb is empty. Runs to get Peter and another disciple. They check that the tomb is empty. They go back to their homes. But Mary remains. She was the first to see the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. She was given the mission to go tell the others of the good news. For whom was she looking for? She was looking for Jesus but she did not know when she had found him.
In verse 11, we see that Mary stood weeping outside the tomb:
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” (John 20:11-15)
And in her crying, through her tears, she bent over to look into the tomb. Through the tears she looks in. She had faith to confirm the empty tomb, perhaps remembering what Jesus had said about resurrection, perhaps in fear of the empty tomb that the body has gone missing, or perhaps hoping to see the body of Jesus to grieve over his death. Through the tears as she was crying the angels say to her, “Woman why are you weeping?” (John 20:13). She isn’t afraid to speak up to answer the angels because whoever the strangers were, she was desperate to find Jesus.
The state that Mary was in, this I think is our posture on the Holy Saturday. We too are in tears and we are looking through the tears as we are weeping. And when Mary looked in, spoke to angels, then turning around, she saw a man standing in front of her, she did not know who he was. It is at that point that Jesus, standing in from to her,
15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
At this point, Mary still does not recognize Jesus. It is not until Jesus says her name that Mary recognizes him!
16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.‘” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:15-18)
Who is it that you are looking for? Have you seen the Lord? Did you recognize Jesus and realized, like Mary that he was standing in front of you all along?
The significance of Easter is the celebration of the risen Christ. If Friday on which Jesus died for our sins was Good Friday, Easter Sunday is the best Sunday! Resurrection of Jesus means that death did not conquer Jesus but God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day and he rose again. The death, the Holy Saturday and Resurrection means that we stand with the risen Christ now. That Jesus calls each of us by our name.
We have in Easter, the death of a humble God, miraculous and powerful Resurrection, weeping on Holy Saturday and looking in through the tears and in the culmination of it, we encounter Jesus who calls us by our name and wipes away our tears, an encounter with the risen Christ.
In the risen Christ, we can be assured that our tears will dry up. Isaiah prophesied:
25:8 he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. 25:9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (Isaiah 25:8-9)
Since the scripture was fulfilled, our savior swallowed up death forever, we can have faith in the prophecy that the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces! The LORD would “swallow up death forever” refers to the resurrection. “Then the Lord GOD will wipe away all tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25:8).
Have you cried recently? If you have, you know that no one wipes away your tears except yourself, usually. And that the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces means literally that he will wipe away tears that have fallen on all faces to comfort all people, and also that he will prevent tears from continuing to fall on all faces by swallowing up death forever. We can look forward to a day when death will be once and for all swallowed up.
How could anyone do this? The Lord who will wipe away tears on all faces is the one that people have waited for, one who saves all people. Salvation therefore is not only in eternal life, but also in this life. Our salvation, our healing, and our reconciliation starts here and now and also in eternal life, as the risen Christ stands in front of us and calls us, each by our own name, even as we look for Jesus through our tears. Until death is swallowed up, let us remember that “The LORD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation” (Psalm 118:14).
Let us Pray, Merciful God, your strength and courage pour forth to sustain the witness of your faithful people. Awaken in us the humility to serve wherever creation is broken and in need, that we may follow in the way of our Lord, Jesus, die as he did to all that separates us from you, and with him be raised to new life. Amen.