After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.
We cannot fathom the power of a love that burst the universe into life – in the beginning the Word, a love that would shape the fullness of God into a human life – the Word became flesh. Jesus came to be that creative setting-free love on earth. Yet, the religious institution, itself created to be a witness to God’s love, turned against its very embodiment, Jesus, and cast him out. Thrown to the wolves, Jesus was arrested, falsely accused, tortured, and gruesomely killed as a criminal – the authorities’ intention that Jesus, his reputation shattered, his teaching forgotten, would be dead to the world.
We cannot fathom the power of a love that, even as Jesus was crucified, forgives his persecutors – ‘Father forgive them’, a love so powerful that it reached into Hell, the place of damnation, cut off from home and heaven, God and sisters and brothers, and there offer the freedom of forgiveness even there.
We cannot fathom the power of a love that can destroy the hold that death has over us – He is risen. Here we see there were some who still believed in him, a group of women with courage to live out their belief, not running away or hiding, but staying with Jesus as he died, and now returning to anoint his body in death. They bravely faced up to the authorities’ anger, guards who could arrest them, an earthquake and an awesome angelic presence, the possible mockery of the disciples in telling their story, and being shunned by their community for challenging the way things are….
We can fathom the power of a love that transforms lives and relationships, communities and even our world, because it happens when we too find that belief in Jesus and courage to follow wherever he leads, , just like those women, to stand alongside the victims of injustice today, and walk with them. That’s when we see the risen Jesus and him saying, “Do not be afraid!”
God sent His son, they called Him Jesus He came to love, heal and forgive He bled and died to buy my pardon An empty grave is there to prove my saviour lives And because He lives, I can face tomorrow Because He lives, all fear is gone Because I know he holds the future And life is worth the living just because He lives* May we find the life worth living, alongside Jesus with all victims of injustice. *Hymn by Bill Gaither
The Rev’d Kevin Watson, retired minister, member of Woodhouse Close Church, Bishop Auckland