Today: Thursday, November 21, 2019

Easter - what really happened?    (3/9/2008 1)

It was a young green woodpecker. It had probably flown straight into a closed window. Anyway, it was dead. We buried it in the vegetable patch.

That's also where we buried seeds every year, laying them in the cold earth in hope that they would take root, grow way beyond their original size and shape, and in time produce a harvest.

Those two pictures throw some light on what happened at the end of Jesus' life. When Jesus was nailed through wrist and feet to the Roman cross, he was to hang there for hours - as thousands of others did in his time - facing a drawn out and agonizing death. But sooner than expected, and no doubt exhausted by the brutal torture, within six hours he died. To make sure he really was dead, the soldier in charge of the execution pushed a spear through his rib cage to pierce his heart. He would not come down from the cross and walk again.

But days before, as he had prepared his followers for what he knew was coming, he had talked about his death being like the burial of a grain of wheat. Unless it was laid in the ground it would never be transformed into the living plant it was intended to be.

Part one of the Easter story is that Jesus died, stone dead. Those responsible for killing him were experienced executioners; their jobs, and probably their lives, depended on getting it right. The likelihood of his having simply fainted or being in a coma, of not actually being dead, is nil. Friends were allowed to have his body which they wrapped up in linen strips with about thirty kilos of spices mixed in, and then they buried him in a stone tomb. He was dead and finished.

Part two of that story began on day three, the day now called Easter Day. What happened then is certainly a mystery, but it is the event on which the whole Christian faith is built. The tomb was empty. Stories went round that the body had been stolen or that he had revived. But the fact that the tomb had been sealed, that there was a military guard, that the linen shroud was still there, all made nonsense of the ‘explanations'. Those who saw him afterwards were convinced, though mystified. He was alive and had spoken to them.

He was visible; but different.

He seemed to have a physical body; but a body which seemed not to be limited by physical laws.

This was not reincarnation - rebirth in a new body - but the same person in a new kind of body.

It was not resuscitation; he was too different for that.

He was not a ghost; he was too solid for that.

Perhaps his own picture of the seed falling into the ground gives us the best clue. Just as with a seed, there is a link between what is buried and what comes out of the ground, though there is a vast difference between the seed and the plant. Looking at a seed it is hard to imagine the plant that grows out of it. Looking at a human body it is hard to imagine what a resurrected body might be like.

But resurrection happened. Jesus was alive again, and is alive even now. Of course that is a mystery. But it is based on the hard evidence of reliable witnesses and has been the cornerstone of Christian faith through the centuries - he died because of our sins; he was raised by God to give us new life and great hope.

Pray: Lord Jesus, I don't pretend to understand the mysteries of your death and resurrection, but I ask you to help me to believe that in those great events lies the key to my own life and fulfilment. Help me to know that your death has dealt with my wrongs and guilt, and that you are risen and alive so that I can have hope beyond the grave and a confidence in living now. Help me to know and to trust your living presence now and always. Amen.

Think about: Read for yourself the simple but powerful accounts at the end of each of the four gospels, which tell what happened at Easter. Imagine being there, asking the questions, then meeting the risen Jesus.

Challenge: Over the next week, ask yourself about both the meaning and symblism in the idea of Jesus' resurrection. Why is it therefore the cornerstone of the Christian faith?

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