It's 6:30 in the morning. At this hour some of us need strength. That's a true statement for all of us. Not because we may be tired, but because each day there's so much to do. When we're young we think we can do it all. Later on we learn there's only so much we can accomplish in one life. We don't know what hardships life will bring us. So each day we get out of bed, we should ask God for strength and do the best we can.
The resurrection of Jesus gives us the strength that we need. It gave strength to the disciples of old. It gives strength to us today.
Mary Magdalene was the first one to get up on that first Easter. She went down to the graveyard where Jesus' body was. She had no strength left. She had relied on Jesus since the day he cast seven demons out of her body. She became one of his disciples. She went where he went, listened to him, saw the things he did that no one else could do. She became strongly attached to Jesus. There was no other place she'd rather be than with him.
When she arrived at the tomb early that morning, things were not as they should have been. The door of the tomb was not shut, but open. When she looked inside, she saw two men wearing bright clothes, sitting where Jesus' body was supposed to be. We are not told if she recognized them as angels. What are they doing here? And where is Jesus' dead body? Then the men had the audacity to ask, "Woman, why are you weeping?"
The question must have seemed absurd. I'm at a tomb in a graveyard early in the morning. What do you think? Someone I loved, I needed, is dead. They are not here anymore, they are never coming back. I will never see them again. Why do you think I'm crying? And why are you here?
Here's an interesting thought: what is the significance of two angels sitting near the resting place of God? If you know your Old Testament, you might think of the Ark of the Covenant. It was a golden box the priests carried on long poles. It had two angels on the lid facing each other. The Jewish people considered it to be the resting place of God, his throne on earth. It was lost during a foreign occupation long before Jesus was born, but the people considered it a sign of God's presence, the place he met with them. A place of atonement, blood payment for sin. The rituals performed with the ark gave them strength in all their troubles. The fact that there are two angels sitting where Jesus' body was supposed to rest is a clue to the mystery of who Jesus really is.
Mary said to the angels, "They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have laid him" (vs 13). That's a familiar question. Many people today grow up as believers in Jesus, but as adults they no longer have a relationship with him. They were taught that God made them, that Jesus was a real person who died on the cross and rose miraculously from death. But somewhere in life this faith was taken away from them. Maybe in a college classroom where Christian faith was ridiculed by evolutionists. Some longed for a better life, and sacrificed their faith so they could reach that imaginary life. Others, over time, just slipped away. Fell out of the habit of going to church, Bible reading, and sermons. If you ask them if they believe in God, they will answer "yes." But the evidence of their faith is hard to find. For these people, when trouble comes along, they have no strength. Mary's words ring true. "They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where he is, or if he is truly God."
Mary has no strength to believe. Her Jesus is dead. Her faith is dead. She has no direction in life. She is overcome with grief. Without an active faith in Jesus as the only true God, we, too, are vulnerable. Some tragedy comes along in life, something we never thought would happen to us, knock us down, and we can't get ourselves back up. We have no strength in ourselves anymore.
It's at that moment that God steps back into Mary's life. She turns around and sees someone else standing there outside the tomb. He looks like a gardener, someone who's there to keep the weeds cut down around the graves. Even those who knew Jesus best did not recognize him until his Word made him known. He speaks to her. The same question the two others asked. "Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?"
She replies, "If you know where they have taken Jesus body, please tell me, and I will bring him back." Mary believes in something. She believes in a lifeless, dead body, and she wants to do the right thing and give Jesus a decent burial. But she has a false faith. We do not believer in a dead Jesus, but a living one.
All it takes is for Jesus to speak to her, to call out her name, "Mary." She sees him and believes. God's word gives her faith.
God is calling our names. He called us when we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He gave us a new name. Instead of condemned sinner, we are now called his holy ones. When he died he took the sins of the world on himself. Called by name to believe in his true identity, he gives us the benefit of his death. Forgiveness.
Jesus keeps on speaking to us through His word. Are we listening to Him? He wants to give us strength. Strength to believe. Strength to live. Strength to fight the battles against unbelief. Strength to meet the hard work of life, because we know that God put us here for a purpose, and he will go with us to meet the challenges that each day brings.
How do we know this? Jesus' resurrection is the proof. He didn't have to come back from the dead and show himself to us. Some people think this was all made up by the early disciples. The Bible presents it as a historical fact. St. Paul personally researched this in the first century A.D. In 1 Cor. 15 he writes, Jesus was buried, that he was raise on the third day as the Old Testament predicted, he appeared to Peter, and to the twelve disciples. Then he appeared to more than five hundred believers at one time, most of them were still alive when Paul wrote about it. He appeared to James, the Lord's own brother, and then he showed himself to Paul as well. Most apparitions and visions happen to only one person, but all of these people saw Jesus alive. This is not mere fantasy. This is documented history of the supernatural!
When Mary Magdalene finally overcame her unbelief, her strength and joy were renewed. She threw herself at Jesus, so tightly that he said, " Let go of me, Mary. I have important things to do" (vs. 17). He had to go and show himself to all those other people. Besides, Mary had important work also. She had to go and tell Peter and the others that Jesus was alive, and that he was going back to God. But the message was, God was not only Jesus' Father, but he was our Father. "I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to my God and your God."
God gives strength to his people. Believing in the resurrection means believing in the impossible. And if faith gives you the power to believe the impossible, you can do anything God wants you to do.
It wasn't easy for Mary to go and tell Peter and the other men her story. But she did. Jesus' resurrection gave her the strength. They didn't believe her until they saw for themselves. But she told the story, and later they knew she told the truth.
All of us have a message to tell. That message says that the goals that the people of this world are seeking after, giving their lives for, are not worth it. But Jesus is. The word of God is our greatest treasure. Most people will disagree with that, but God will give us the strength as we live, believe and work for the truth of God's word.
The resurrection of Jesus gives us strength because in it we see that God can overcome every hardship the world can throw at us. God is so powerful that what looks like a suffering turns out to be a blessing. It was that way with the crucifixion and resurrection for Mary. It is that way with all the things we fear today. Our tears will be wiped away, and God will give us laughter instead.
This is the day of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It gives us strength to live, to believe, and the power to live forever. Christ is risen: He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen.
James F. Wright
April 8, 2012
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