Here is one perspective on what has unfolded in the last few days of Jesusí life. The tomb was empty. About that there seems to be no doubt. Around 2000 years ago, there was a Jewish man who had a small gathering of followers and who was stirring up trouble for the government of the day with talk of the inherent equality of all people, of peace built upon a just distribution of the earthís resources, of forgiveness and mercy in the face of evil and other such ill-conceived notions. To nip trouble in the bud, he was crucified along with the other criminals of the day. This was the usual way to get rid of such troublemakers. Most of his followers dispersed, a few women hung around at a distance and finally a rich man, a follower with connections, arranged with the ruler permission to bury the body. He wrapped it respectfully in a clean linen cloth, laid it in his own newly carved-out tomb and rolled a great stone in front of the entrance. He left two poor women sitting by the tomb, mourning their loss. Just to be sure, the next morning the ruler ordered two guards to go to the tomb and make it as secure as possible. You probably wouldnít be able to get the authorities to admit it, but here this morning we heard that the temple hierarchy, the very ones who made the deal to eliminate the troublesome Jesus, wanted to make sure his prediction was not lived out, "After three days I will be raised." So, they struck another deal with Pilate to seal off Jesusí escape.
The day after that day, Sunday morning, the tomb was empty. Some say there was an earthquake. Some say that the guards fell asleep, and that the disorganized, fearful, scattered group of disciples pulled off a great hoax, silently moved the stone, stole the body and hid it where it would never be found. The women said, "He is risen!"
The problem in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago was that none of the available explanations was very reliable. The first-An earthquake that could roll back a huge stone and toss a body out of the cave never to be found again surely would have been felt far and wide and other damage would have been recorded. However, it does sound like a way to announce a whole new world to me. Werenít we moved by the dramatic imagery of the December 2013 ice storm, where natureís great pruning took place, such that the landscape was transformed and 4 months later we still saw the fresh evidence. Just imagine what an earthquake would give us to talk about. But then Matthew adds that Godís angel came down from heaven, and he rolled away the stone. Whoever heard about a hefty muscle bound angel that could move a huge stone? I thought they just floated on clouds and played their harps all day long.
The second- The testimony of the guards? Everyone knows that guards will say whatever they are told to say, whatever they are paid to say. Reports from any military are suspect.
The third explanation-By women? Their testimony wouldnít be trusted in those days. They were too emotionally involved. Besides they were distraught, they could have been hallucinating. If his disciples did steal the body, surely they would have made up a better story. But the problem was, the tomb was empty.
That is our problem too. We come today, Easter morning and hear again the story of the empty tomb. Our rational, logical mind says, the body was stolen, the story was made up, the resurrection was only a spiritual experience. The tomb canít have been empty. But it was. And 200o years of witnesses say, "He is risen, he lives!"
Not, he was risen, he lived, but he is risen, he lives. As Paul Knitter says in his book, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, the point of the resurrection is that Jesus "is actually risen and alive in me. If heís not alive in me, which means in us the community, then so what if he stepped forth from the tombÖ" The tomb was empty and Jesus lives.
So, I believe in a God who can turn the shadow of death into the light of a new day. I believe that suffering and pain are not inevitable but they can be relieved. I believe that all people are created equal and that all people can be treated equally. I believe that there is abundance in our world and that we can share it equitably. I believe that it is possible to leave the carbon in the ground where it belongs and develop sustainable sources of energy. I believe that many people insisting on peace can stop the tyrants who want war. I believe that it is more profitable to manufacture equipment for sustainable agriculture than it is to manufacture weapons. I believe that we can turn swords into ploughshares. I even believe that our secular culture will one day turn again to the truth of the gospel. Now you may say that believing those things makes as much sense as believing that the tomb was empty. But the tomb was empty. So I refuse to believe that we have to accept the status quo. I refuse to believe that we cannot provide safe affordable housing, meaningful employment, healthy food, suitable education and excellent health care for all Canadians. I refuse to believe that the Palestinians and the Israelis wonít someday live in peace. I refuse to believe that Putin and Assad and others like them canít be stopped taking lives in Syria and elsewhere.
Now, I thank God that I am a Canadian whose government invited Malala Yousafzai a second time to be made an honourary Canadian citizen. The first time, in October of 2014, she and her father arrived in Toronto to find out that parliament hill was under attack by a crazed man who killed a reservist soldier on duty at the Canadian National War Memorial, so the ceremony was postponed. This time her mother and father accompanied her. At age 15 Malala was shot by a Taliban gunman because she spoke out about the right for girls to learn and attend school. In her speech this week, now 19, she called on Canada to promote funding for the education of girls and refugees around the world when attending international meetings. Malala declared that any person claiming to be acting in the name of Islam, is no longer a Muslim if they are involved in violent acts against another. This is the understanding I expect the vast majority of Muslims hold. I refuse to believe that faithful people living according to the way of Christ canít change the world for the better. The tomb was empty. Christ is risen! Whether you believe it or not is not really the most important question. The important question is whether you are prepared to live as if it is so.
Acknowledging inspiration from
Aln Brehm and Brian Stoffregen from textweek.com