The First Easter Morning
Luke 24: 1 – 12; Acts 10: 34 – 43; 1 Corinthians 15: 19 -29
Reflection 1. Luke 24: 1 – 12
With a few strokes of the pen Luke tells us all we need to know about that first day of the week – the women go to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body, the stone is rolled away and there is no body. On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body [24:1-3].
If you read the accounts of that first Easter morning according to Matthew, Mark and John you will find differences. One can dwell on the differences but what is consistent in all the accounts is that women go to the tomb, they find the stone rolled away, there is no body to be seen and Mary Magdalene is mentioned as one of the first women to see the empty tomb in each account of the Gospel. Then Peter is the first male to witness the empty tomb although in John’s account of the Gospel John gets there first. That’s the consistent picture – women first, stone rolled away, no body, with Mary Magdalene and Peter named in every account.
What do we make of this? Firstly, let us clarify that the women came to dress the body of Jesus with spices on the 3rd day after the Crucifixion because there was no time after the crucifixion. The body of Jesus had been hastily placed in the tomb in the late afternoon of that Friday. The next day, which began at 7 p.m. on the evening of Friday, was the Sabbath and nothing could be done. So they came to do their duty and do the right thing with Jesus’ corpse at dawn on the third day. That is our Sunday. Mary Magdalene seems to be the leader in that activity. The second thing I noticed is that it is a very busy morning. There are lots of people involved. It seems that a number of women were involved such as Joanna, Salome, Mary mother of James and others. Then we have the disciples. Certainly the 11were there and were the first males to hear that the tomb was empty. I suspect there were others like Mark, the writer of the Gospel according to Mark, and some others. That suggests to me we have too many witnesses first up to develop a conspiracy about the resurrection of Jesus.
Thirdly the morning is filled with wide ranging emotions. Grief and sadness would have hung heavily in the air with the women on the way to the tomb and the men gathering together. This is followed by amazement, surprise and fear. The stone rolled away and the empty tomb would have evoked surprise and fear. The news that the women bring is met with doubt and denial. Their experience of angels or strange men telling them that Jesus had risen would have sounded bizarre at first. Luke possibly gets it right when he writes; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened [24:11&12]. That first Easter morning began with grief and sadness and ended with surprise and wonderment.
Today, how do we find ourselves? Are we still at that first Easter morning stage of surprise, uncertainty, disbelief and desperately hoping it is true? Or do we live by the truth of the resurrection?
Reflection 2. Acts 10: 34 – 43
Time passes – how many months are uncertain – and another revolutionary event takes place. The revolution is not of the same magnitude as the Resurrection, but it is another big U-turn. The disciples – men and women – had experienced a number of resurrection appearances. There were many of them. Paul says that Jesus appeared to about 500 at one time [1 Cor 15:6]. Then there was the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon them and blessed them. The followers of Jesus had no doubt that God had raised Jesus from the dead and that God had blessed them with the power of the Holy Spirit. But they were all Jews. The movement remained essentially Jewish. The Law of Judaism was still followed. Then Peter had a vision in Joppa about eating unclean things. He was disturbed by the vision. Then Peter received an invitation to go and preach to a gentile family: the home of a Roman military officer. He does and he preaches the Gospel. This preaching gives us the content of Gospel. Let us hear it and notice how Peter begins.
The reading of Acts 10:
Peter has briefly recounted the story of Jesus beginning with the baptism by John through to the Resurrection. Peter tells the Roman Officer, Cornelius, that the resurrection was witnessed by Jesus’ followers, that they had eaten with him and that the prophets of old had pointed to Jesus. The punch line is that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name [Acts 10:43]. The revolutionary event is that here is a Jew in a Gentile’s house preaching to the Gentile’s household and while Peter is preaching the Holy Spirit comes upon Cornelius and his household just as the Spirit had come upon the disciples at Pentecost. From that day on the followers of Jesus knew that God was receiving Gentiles just the same way as God was receiving the Jewish followers. The Gospel of Jesus is for the world.
We just take it all for granted today. We gather in our comfortable place and often take God’s forgiveness and the Spirit for granted. What would happen if we really sort the forgiveness of God and the Holy Spirit’s full blessing?
Reflection 3. 1 Corinthians 15: 19 – 29
In each reading the Resurrection comes to the fore. Paul writing to the Corinthian church makes it quite clear how important the resurrection is. The Resurrection is ‘not just for this present life’ [15:19]. Paul paints this big picture that once Christ Jesus has destroyed evil and the power of death then the correct order will be restored. This means there is an ongoing battle against evil continuing. Using the metaphor of war there is a point in time of every war when the war has been won and what follows are a series of mopping up battles. What we understand is that Jesus defeated evil once and for all, but we are involved as Christ’s agents in completing that task.
Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to understand that following Christ is not about this life only, but being part of God’s universal plan to bring all things under God’s loving control. Being a Christian means we are part of a big movement against evil. However in that process God equips by developing our Christian character and empowering us with gifts. That is what the study group has been looking at. So when we talk about God blessing us – and God does – it doesn’t mean that God has blessed us just for our own sake God blesses us to be a blessing to others. So we experience God’s help in our personal lives, but that is not where it ends. As we are blessed we also grow. As we grow our ministry becomes more effective. As we learn to love our love becomes more of a blessing to others. That is why we have these commands to love one another; to love our neighbour; and, to witness to the work of Christ Jesus. Christianity is not about me personally but me being part of the people of God. If I am not part of the people of God then I am not part of Jesus the Christ, or at best I am an immature Christian needing to grow.
We have a future that goes way beyond our death. Our earthly death is merely the beginning of a new relationship with God and an entering in the purposes of God more fully.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 21/04/2019