Are we serving a living Jesus? A Lord who is powerful and ever present? Do we truly believe that Jesus conquered the grave and walks with us every day? Are we living set free thanks to the Resurrection or in fear in the shadow of the Cross? The answers to these questions are often reflected in how we live our lives.
To see where we stand, let’s look at Holy Saturday, the day after the Cross but before Easter Sunday. Jesus was nailed to the Cross, died and was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea on Good Friday. On Holy Saturday, the proceedings are over, Jesus is dead and everything is falling apart for the disciples.
The disciples of Jesus have a mixed reaction to his death. The majority run away and hide behind locked doors hoping to be spared from the same fate as Jesus. It is frankly an understandable reaction as their leader has just died a horrible death. The Romans tended to kill everyone who created a problem, not just the actual leader, so they were thinking that they were next. Peter, James and the rest of the guys have been extraordinarily faithful up to this point but there is only so much a man can take.
The minority stick with Jesus through the Cross all the way to His burial. The two Mary’s and John are at the Cross. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus prepares His body for burial and put Him in the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary are at the tomb as well. Matthew 27 tells us they are sitting across from the tomb while the two men do their work. Even after the Sabbath is complete, a group of women come back to the tomb with spices in order to further tend to Jesus’ body. This small number of faithful disciples continue to serve Jesus even after He is dead and buried. They are faithful and obedient to the limits of their understanding.
Have we considered how painful that time would have been to the disciples? Tending to the body of Jesus had to be heartbreaking. The time at the tomb had to be filled with pain and sorrow. All was lost, all hope and plans for the future, they were just finishing up their obedience to the one who they hoped would set them free. You can almost hear the heartbreak in Mary Magdalene’s voice as she speaks through her tears in John 20:
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
How Mary planned to move the body of Jesus herself is a question that will never be answered. The journey from their homes on the morning following the Sabbath had to be one painful step after another. They were heading to carry out their last act of service to their dead Lord. The women were going to apply more spices to the dead body of the one they thought was the Messiah. More tears, more pain, and more heartbreak were all they expected that morning.
They were faithful, which is admirable, but they were also terribly wrong. They were serving a plan of their own understanding and God of their own making. They forgot what Jesus had told them and let that dictate their view of Jesus.
Jesus told them on multiple occassions that He was to go to Jerusalem, be betrayed, die and on the third day He would rise again. They had front row seats across from the tomb available and could have simply waited there for Sunday morning to see the Resurrection live and in color. Yet, their view of the coming Resurrection was blocked out by their pain, their fear, their sorrow and even disappointment in Jesus. All they could see was their dead leader.
On the road to Emmaus in Luke, the two disciples go so far as to explain to Jesus how He let them down – they thought (past tense) He was the Messiah, but obviously not as He is dead. They were living in the shadow of the Cross and they let that cover their whole lives. They had forgotten all about the Resurrection.
We as Christians can get stuck here as well, even today. The shadow of the Cross can hang over us, we are aware that Jesus died for us and that He suffered on our behalf. We are aware that this makes most of the world hate us just like they hated Him and that the world is a really rough place. The leaders of the world still would think little of crucifying Jesus today if He threatened their position. That is some scary stuff and the truth of the Cross can make us feel powerless by itself.
If we forget the promise and power of the Resurrection, we are left as the disciples were 2000 years ago in our locked upper room hiding from the scary world. “Lord, please come and save me before all the evil in the world takes over” is the cry.
Alternatively, we seek refuge for our fear and pain in dead religion like Mary Magdalene going to the tomb to serve her dead Lord. She is expecting to see a dead Jesus. We can get caught up in service of the One who died for us in sorrow, fear and pain without also embracing the One who rose in victory. Our walk is about mourning, sadness and loss rather than victory and joy. Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t leave us there if we are willing to listen to Him.
When the women go to the tomb of Jesus on that Sunday morning 2000 years ago, they do so with heavy hearts. A man can only take so much loss. Yet after seeing the angel of the Lord and the empty tomb, everything is different:
And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. 4 And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.
5 But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”
8 So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. Matthew 28
The angel goes so far as to roll aside the stone that was sealing the tomb and sit on it. He rests on what the guards, religious leaders and Pontius Pilate tried so hard to keep in place while proclaiming the Lord’s victory. They plot and scheme to keep the tomb closed, the angel rolls it aside like a trifle and then uses it as a chair. In doing so, almost as an unintended consequence, soldiers of the most powerful army on earth are caused to quake in fear and fall down like they are dead.
He is Risen! It changes everything.
Fear of the Lord and great joy is the response. God tells us that He will take our ashes and turn them into beauty. He will turn our mourning into dancing and joy. The response from the women is immediate and dramatic. Jesus then reinforces the message:
And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say: Rejoice! That is the Lord’s direction for the disciples that morning and for us every day. Always rejoice. Why? Because Jesus has risen from the grave and taken us along with Him. A power like none other was unleashed on the earth that day and a victory like no other was won for all eternity. It will never be undone. The disciples know the difference immediately and their mourning is turned into joy and boldness.
One day. That is all it takes. One day from Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday to change everything. One Resurrection. The disciples go from hiding in their room and weeping over a dead Jesus to proclaiming the name of Jesus in such a way that within 300 years the Roman Empire accepts Christianity as a majority religion. The same couple of hundred scared, sorrowful, despairing believers who were disappointed in Jesus are empowered in such a way that there are now more than 2 billion people who claim the title of Christian today.
It was all because of the Resurrection. God’s power, God’s victory on display.
How are we living? Are we Holy Saturday Christians filled with fear and loss? Or are we Resurrection Day Christians filled with joy and power?
The tomb is empty. The choice is ours.