Tag Archives: John 20

A sure and certain hope!

Jesus said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations…You are witnesses of these things.”

(Luke 24.44-48)

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

(John 20.19&20)

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him…God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear….therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.

(Acts 2.22-24,32,33&36)

On the eve of Passover, as darkness fell, the city of Jerusalem returned to the business of preparation and observance of the coming feast, a great time of rejoicing and remembering God’s deliverance of the people from Egypt – when many signs and miracles had accredited Moses as God’s servant and they had trusted for deliverance.

The Pharisees and leaders of the religious community were hugely relieved that the trouble with Jesus of Nazareth was over just in time; the body was gone – it didn’t really matter where, there could be no doubts that he was dead because Roman executioners couldn’t risk getting it wrong. The people would forget soon enough, and be content to return to the routines of temple worship, of looking back to God’s faithfulness in the past, and looking ahead to the Christ, the Messiah who was yet to come in power to save them from Rome…

But life would never return to the old ways, because in the quiet tomb, out of sight and in the mystery of God’s power, the Messiah whom the people had so utterly failed to recognise – in spite of the signs and wonders he had done – was not to remain dead, his body would never decay and be gathered into a jar of dry bones for storage…

On the morning of the first day of the week, something happened in that forgotten corner of the city, something utterly outside human comprehension, when the eternal divine erupted into the temporal and earthly, and a dead man breathed again, walked again, talked again! In a body utterly transformed and yet immediately recognisable, he encountered his dearest friends and blew apart their grief, engulfing them in a joy and excitement beyond anything they could have imagined. He that was dead, now lived! The grave had been no more than a resting place for him, and now he was alive – more fully alive than anyone they had ever known.

I sometimes catch a hint of that incredible experience, can almost sense the wonder and the shattering power of realisation, as the women and men who knew Jesus so well held his hands, heard his voice and saw the love and joy and exultation in his eyes as he shared with them the victory which he had realised so completely.

I think we hear that sense of triumph in Peter’s words in Acts as he laid out with brutal clarity for the crowds at Pentecost just what God was doing when Jesus died. This life, this death and above all this resurrection were all God’s doing; in them the eternal plan for redemption was fulfilled. All the signs and wonders had been from God, showing that He was about to achieve a deliverance far greater than that of the Exodus, by means not of slaughtered lambs, but the sacrificial death of the perfect Lamb, the promised Messiah.

This life, death and resurrection are our sure and certain hope for the one deliverance we need – from our own sin and the penalty which it requires. The testimony of the disciples, so carefully recorded for us, is our foundation for belief, and on that we rest.

Today, I rejoice that my Lord lives; that the grave could never hold him; and because of him, I too may live. He has triumphantly completed his work, and I have everything I need. One day I too will know the resurrection power and exultation of a new and perfect body, but even now I can rejoice in the glory and power and mercy of my God, prostrate in wonder and love and soaked through with deep gladness and thanksgiving.

Hallelujah, Christ is risen!

Blinded..

I thought I had no tears left, that the worst pain had already come upon me on Friday when I held Mary as she watched her son’s blood trickle from his side and the breath leave his body.

We had cried ourselves blind, eyes swollen with grief and hearts wrenched apart.

The man who had delivered me from the blind darkness into freedom, who had loved me and welcomed my company, who had allowed me to love and serve him with all ┬ámy heart… this dearest of all, dead.

We watched as Joseph and Nicodemus took his bruised and battered body, anointing and wrapping it for burial in haste so that he might be committed to the tomb in decency before the Sabbath put an end to all labour. It all felt so unreal, as if we were in a nightmare and knew that if we could only wake up it would end.

But the dawn of Saturday brought no waking, even as the night had brought little sleep, only a deep ache and restlessness…

He is dead, he is gone, what shall become of us now?

He gave our lives purpose and direction; his voice calmed our fears, opened our understanding and gave us glimpses of a glory we barely comprehended. What is there to live for now?

I could make no decisions yet, but I could still be close to him, show my love in the only way that remained open to me. What did I care for the guard at the tomb? The soldiers didn’t take a woman seriously as a threat, I am nothing to them, less than nothing, and their scorn is meaningless.

So when the weight of Saturday night shifted into Sunday morning, and I could not bear to pretend to sleep anymore, I went to the garden, to watch for the dawn at his side, just to be there.

I found my way well enough through the dark city, but when I reached the garden I thought my eyes had played tricks with me. There was no guard, and there was no stone across the tomb…

Sick to my very heart, limbs heavy as lead, and weeping again with a bitterness which I had not known before, I fetched Peter and John, I needed someone else to tell me that I was not going mad in my grief, someone to make sense of what I saw.

They came, but could make no more of it than I did, although John was quiet and lost in thought, as if he were searching his memory for words from Jesus which might speak into  this deep mystery. He left for home with a strange light on his face, but no comfort for me.

Tears were my only relief, in utter bewilderment, like a lost and abandoned child pressed in by fears and paralysed by grief, I could do nothing else. Somehow, Jesus was even more lost to me than before, not even a body over which I could lament. Oh my beloved, where have they taken you, why have you gone so far from us?

Finally I too look into the tomb, expecting deepest shadow, and emptiness, final confirmation of my hopelessness. And it is light, glowing bright, my eyes are dazzled through their tears, but two figures sit there, where the body ought to be. Am I dreaming? Is this what grief can do to people? One of the figures asks why I cry, and without thinking just how strange this all is, I tell them that my Lord has been stolen away, lost to me.

I must be dreaming. The lack of sleep, the exhaustion of so much emotion in the last few days and weeks is finally taking its toll and I have fallen into a waking dream, in which bizarre things happen and I take them as perfectly ordinary. What else can this be, but an illusion?

I turn away from the tomb, suddenly aware of the utter weariness which is weighing me down, and another figure looms up through my tears, not bright with light this time. It speaks, asking who I seek, and why I cry.

Perhaps now I am awake again. Perhaps this is the man who looks after this garden and he might know! I ask eagerly if he knows where my Lord has been taken, that I might go and care for his body. In my weakness I barely raise my head to look at him, but my voice is urgent and he hears me.

Then it happens…

He speaks again, one word, my name.

‘Mary’

And I am blinded by light, deafened by the triumph of love in his voice!

He is not dead, He is risen! Oh my beloved, Oh my dearest dear, how shall I bear the brightness!

I do not understand, but I know. I am alive and awake, and the whole world is made new in my eyes. I shall never walk in the dark again, because I know that He is with me for ever, and by the light of his love, I see…