One Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death. But how are we to understand the death of Jesus? And the resurrection? Easter refers to the crucifixion and death of Jesus on Good Friday, Holy or Silent Saturday and Resurrection Sunday. I would describe Good Friday as devastating, Holy Saturday as plunging into the depths of despair, and Resurrection Sunday as being filled with joy and confusion.
On Good Friday, Jesus died for all. He was put to death on the tree. As we read in the Acts, Peter testifies the following:
34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear” (Acts 10:34-40).
On Good Friday, we remember Jesus on the cross, who died for us that all who believe in him would be reconciled to God. On Good Friday, we remember Christ who is dying, who is suffering and in pain. And as we reflect on Good Friday, we know how costly God’s love was that Christ died for us that we would be reconciled to God and have eternal life. And this love of God, stirs in us love for God and acceptance and love of ourselves and love for others.
So then it seems Jesus accomplished what he came to accomplish on Good Friday already! Why do we need Easter? What is the importance of the resurrection? Jesus was raised from the dead. On Easter we remember and celebrate the resurrection of Christ Jesus. The 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 resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that Jesus was who he said he was. In the temple when Jesus spoke out against anger to 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?
This morning, I am not trying to convince you that Christ Jesus was resurrected. I’m assuming that you believe that or that you consider it to be something that is possible. If you are sitting here on Easter Sunday, you probably believe that Christ Jesus was raised from the dead: that Jesus resurrected. Jesus was raised from the dead: what difference does that make for us? On Good Friday, we look towards Easter to have hope that Jesus who died on the Cross would be resurrected. On Easter we can look back on Good Friday to remember why Jesus died on the Cross and what Jesus’ resurrection means.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Apostle Paul makes the case that if Christ was not resurrected the faith we have is futile. The Corinthians were arguing that resurrection of the dead was not possible. If resurrection of the dead were not possible, then that would also rule out the resurrection of the dead of Christ Jesus.
14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:14-17)
Why is it that if Christ has not been raised from the dead, our faith is futile? If Jesus had not been resurrected, our sins would not be forgiven. If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, our sins are not forgiven either, and our faith is in vain. Jesus died on the Cross for our sake that we would be reconciled to God. And because he was resurrected, we can celebrate and rejoice with Christ in his resurrection because death has no hold on us. Wages of sin is death. But we are liberated from the wages of sin. Jesus conquered death, the wages of sin.
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” … But thanks be to God, who gives the victory through our Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55, 57).
If Jesus was not resurrected, we would not be raised with Christ in his resurrection. We believe that we died with Christ and that we are resurrected with Christ. And only because Christ is resurrected, we can believe we would be resurrected also! We are reconciled in God and have eternal life with God. God gave us victory through Jesus Christ over our sin and over death!
Holy Saturday: On Good Friday Jesus dies on the Cross. What happens after Good Friday? What happens between Friday and Sunday, between death and resurrection? Holy Saturday? Separation from God. In this uncertain time, for those who were following Christ, experienced despair, hopelessness, confusion, doubt, and isolation. Holy Saturday is the day we remember Jesus, the forsaken one 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.
Holy Saturday is important to reflect on to see Jesus and us on the Holy Saturday. Jesus was taken away, cut off from the land of the living. As for us, by examining what happened on early Sunday morning at the empty tomb, we can understand the Holy Saturday what it was like for the disciples. In our scripture reading for today, in John 20, Mary goes to the tomb early while it was still dark. She finds that the tomb is empty. She runs to get Peter and another disciple. They check that the tomb is empty:
Early 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. 2 So 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)
Peter and then the other disciple saw the empty tomb. The disciples believed what they saw, the empty tomb, but they did not understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. They go back to their homes.
3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. (John 20:3-10).
But Mary remains.
Resurrection Sunday: In verse 11, you see that Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. 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 stranger was, perhaps a gardener, she supposed, she asks where have you laid him and she will assume the responsibility and take the body away. The state that Mary is in, this I think is our posture on the Holy Saturday. We are in tears, we are looking through the tears as we are weeping. And when Mary looked in and spoke up about her concerns for Jesus, it is at that point that Jesus says, “Mary!” (John 20:16). The risen Christ was standing right in front of her!
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 20:16-18)
When Jesus calls her by her name, she recognizes him and says “Rabbouni!” which means “teacher!” Mary Magdalene went back and announced to the disciples, she has seen the Lord.
The death and resurrection of Jesus starts on Good Friday but it wouldn’t be a celebration if not for the triumphant resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The 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 the resurrection means that we stand with the risen Christ now. Just as Jesus the risen Christ was standing right in front of Mary, on this resurrection Sunday, he stands right in front of us!
When Jesus calls us by our own name, may our eyes be opened to see Jesus. And let us tell others that we have seen him. And to spread the good news, because the resurrection of Jesus, is indeed good news! When Jesus calls us by our own name, may our eyes be opened to see Jesus that we would be encouraged by his resurrection knowing God loves us, that he would come take on flesh, die for us, to reconcile us, and to rise from the dead. We worship and believe in a living God. May we always remember this. During those times we feel discouraged and alone, during the times we find the affairs of the world devastating, when innocent people, 8 people shot dead, 6 Asian Women in Georgia last week, then 10 shot dead in a grocery store in Colorado, when innocent people are shot to death to assuage the anger and hatred of white men, even white male Christians, when we feel God’s absence, may we know that God is with us even in those moments. May we be support for each other, to remind each other of God’s love, God’s presence, and God’s suffering with us.
Let us pray: Creator of the universe, you made the world in beauty and in your image. God of mercy, restore all things in glory and peace and harmony through the victory of Jesus Christ. We pray that, wherever your image is still disfigured by poverty, sickness, selfishness, hatred, war and greed, the new creation in Jesus Christ may appear in justice, love, and peace. Lord, give us faith that can endure the devastations of this world. Lord, give us courage to tell others that we have seen you. Lord, give us a sense of peace knowing that you are protecting us, and that you are with us. In all things may be bring to glory to your name. Amen.