It’s early morning; the sun has just risen. It is quiet and peaceful, such a contrast to the chaos of yesterday. Jesus had been arrested, betrayed by one of his own disciples (with a kiss, no less). Throughout the long day, He had been beaten, insulted, whipped, and rejected by the very people He had blessed and healed. After a long, agonizing walk uphill carrying a heavy wooden cross, He was crucified. And most remarkably, the last moments before his died, He asked God to forgive those who had killed him.
His body, once taken down from the cross, was given to Joseph of Arimathea by the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. His remains were prepared according to tradition, although hurriedly because the Sabbath was about to begin.
For those who had followed Him in His ministry, the brightness of this morning had been dimmed by the knowledge that the light of their world had been taken from them. They mourned not just the death of a man, but the death of their last hope. It seemed that the heavy hand of Rome would never be lifted; the corruption of their government would never be cleansed.
Into the graveyard very early on that bright morning came three women. In their hands thy carried myrrh and oils with which to anoint the body of Jesus. Suddenly, they stopped short. They saw that the large stone sealing the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away. The Roman soldiers guarding the tomb were in a seeming stupor. They leapt to the logical conclusion: Somebody had stolen the body of Jesus. Inside the tomb, they saw the empty shroud. But the also saw two angels clad in shimmering white. One angel spoke to the women, saying, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but He is raised. Behold, here is the place where they laid him.”
One of the women, Mary Magdalene, turned and saw a man nearby. The man asked her, “Woman, why weepest thou? Who sleekest thou?”
She, supposing him to be the gardener. replied, “Sir, if you have borne him hence, tell me where thou has laid him, and I will take him away.”
The man then said to her, “Mary.” Suddenly she realized she had found Jesus, alive and risen. She whispered, “Master!”
Jesus said to her, “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren and say to them that I have risen.”
The women ran to the disciples, who were in hiding, fearing the actions of the mob. When the men were told, at first they didn’t believe.
Peter and another disciple went to the tomb and saw that it was empty. After that, Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking along on their way to the country. They went back and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either.
Then the same day at evening, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be unto you.”
He showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced. The prophecy had been fulfilled; Jesus had risen.
Then Jesus said to them again, “Peace be unto you. As my Father hath sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”
But Thomas, one of the twelve, was not there when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But Thomas said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were within and Thomas with them. Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in their midst, and said, “Peace be unto you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.”
And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and My God!”
Jesus said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou has believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
Then He said to them, “Go unto all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
The resurrection was not supposed to be a secret. In all, scholars have identified as many as 500 people who saw the risen Christ. Included in that number was a man named Saul of Tarsus. Saul had been a virulent anti-Christian. Today, we might have called him a terrorist. But as he traveled on the road to Damascus, he was struck down by a bright light in which he saw a vision of the risen Jesus, after which he was temporarily blinded. His life was completely changed by the experience, and in a way symbolic of that change, became known as the Apostle Paul, perhaps the most prominent and historically most revered of Christian leaders.
Many of us would have liked to see Jesus appear before the Sanhedrin, a real “in your face” moment to be sure. But that would have been an act of spite. And Jesus doesn’t do spite.
Jesus said many things to the apostles in those forty days before he ascended, none of which are recorded in the Gospels. But the message must have been profound, for they came out of hiding and went forth, teaching and preaching. They went without fear, enduring violence, imprisonment, and government oppression. It is still amazing to note that of these eleven who at one time cowered in hiding, only one died at home in bed. The rest were murdered while engaged in the acts of their discipleship.
Our world is in many ways, far different than the one of Jesus’ resurrection. But in other ways, it is still the same. It is a world wracked with war, violence, greed, oppression, and slavery. It is a world slipping into darkness and despair, desperate for hope. It is a world terrified of death, not knowing that death has already been defeated.
As Jesus sent his disciples, he has also sent us. We are to be today’s messengers, carrying the message of hope and peace to the world.
In the quiet of Easter morning, we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us take our joy and thanks and share it freely with the world.