A nation trying to work out how to celebrate an important festival with law enforcement officers on the street, a leader coming face to face with death, terrified friends under lockdown as death stalks the streets.
As we have seen over the last few days, words that at first sight could describe our experience under coronavirus in fact describe the experience of the first Easter. After Jesus’ arrest, his disciples had fled the scene. Some of the women and John had found a way back to watch the horrific scenes as he was mocked, flogged and crucified.
There was Jesus hanging, stripped, beaten on the Cross with the words “King of the Jews” above him. The sign said it all. “We your enemies have won. We have killed your king, we have defeated your hero.” They had placed a crown of thorns on his head. A crown of death. Just before he died, Jesus had uttered the words “It is finished.” Today, we understand them to be words of triumph but they could so easily have been heard “It’s all over, I give up.” It looked like hope was lost. So, by Easter Sunday, most of his followers were in lockdown, hiding in case the authorities came looking for them to round them up.
Here we are on Easter weekend in lockdown. Death stalks the streets in the form of a deadly virus. A lot of people are anxious about their health, relatives, and long term well-being. The word “corona” has its roots in the Latin word for crown. COVID-19 is a crown of death. Yet as horrendous as this virus is, what is is in fact doing is bringing into sharp focus the experience many already have.
Many already live a form of social isolation. Shame, anxiety, fear cuts people off from friends. Vulnerability cuts many off from society. Many of us have been living for today because we cannot see anything to hope for.
Easter morning arrives and some of the women who had been with Jesus turn up at the tomb. Grief stricken, they are desperate to find a way to honour his body properly. They arrive to find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. “He is not here, he is risen” announce angels. It takes time to make sense of it all. Still doubting and believing that the body has been stolen, Mary sits weeping. The ne Jesus meets her, grief and despair turn to joy and hope. “I’ve seen the Lord.” At first the disciples are not convinced either. They don’t want to get their hopes up but Peter and John run to the tomb and something about the scene confirms to them that Jesus is risen. They believe. Jesus will later appear to Peter, two disciples on the road and eventually to all of the disciples gathered together, still in a locked room. If a heavy stone could not keep him in then locked doors could not keep him out.
One of the songs we sing puts it this way “Jesus you have overcome the grave … you wear a victors crown.” Jesus’ victory means hope. The crown of death has gone.
What is this hope? Well first of all, if Jesus could not be kept out by a locked door, then today even under lockdown, we know that through the Holy Spirit, he can be present with us. Secondly, because Jesus has risen physically from the dead, we know that death does not have the last word. Death may be ugly, lonely and sad but death is not the end. Later this week, I will take a grave-side funeral and with the family present we will commit the body to the ground. The final words of the service will be “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection.” You do not need to fear death and dying.
Thirdly, because Jesus has defeated death, this tells us that he has dealt with the cause of death. When Jesus said “it is finished” he was not saying that it was all over because he was giving up. Rather, he was saying that he had achieved what he had set out to do. Jesus willingly died because of our sin.
The majestic creator of The Universe was stripped and shamed so that our shame could be taken away.
The innocent one was punished as guilty so that we could be declared innocent.
The Lord and giver of life died so that you and I might live.
Easter means hope. It means that if we are fearful and anxious at this time as we live under lockdown, then we can know hope for our circumstances. I have been frequently tweeting the hashtag #SummerIsComing. This time may feel like winter, these may be dark days but the plague will be temporary. Better days will come. Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that we don’t just look forward to the end of the pandemic. We look forward to the day when Christ will return and death and suffering will end.
Easter means hope. It means that whatever other troubles and anxieties you live with are not beyond the reach of Christ to heal, forgive and restore. The Jesus who could not be stopped by a stone and a locked door is able to get through even the barriers that you have put up and the masks you wear to come close and give you new life and a new name.
Easter means hope. Jesus has dealt with the problem of sin. We can put our trust in him and find forgiveness. We do not need to fear death because there is the promise of eternal life beyond the grave.