This month from Colin Baker
It seems that hardly a day goes by where we as human beings don’t come across death in some shape or form. We are either confronted by it over the television or radio news, or it could be in someone else’s sharing of the death of somebody that they know (or the friend of a friend).
As sad as this all is, I am in many ways heartened that we don’t simply accept it and carry on as if nothing has happened, but equally I am concerned at our ability to try to separate talk of death from taking up too much time in our lives and to treat it as something that happens to others and not ourselves. Or maybe it is because our fear about death prevents us having a ‘real’ conversation about it. One day, every one of us will die – of that we can be sure.
When we face the death of someone we love, we face an unspeakable loss. A future is mapped out for us where there will always be a huge, cavernous absence. Sometimes the finality of the loss is so great that there is a denial of death itself. People tell you how they “hear” the footsteps of their loved ones on the doorstep, their key being turned in the lock. They “see” them on the street and follow them for a while, only to be confronted with the puzzled look of a stranger.
When Mary Magdalene goes to visit the tomb of Jesus she expects to meet with death. It is still dark but there is enough light to see that the stone has been moved from the entrance to the tomb. Mary’s reaction is not relief that somehow Jesus has cheated death. She concludes that the body has been stolen. She finds it easier to believe in the night-time antics of grave robbers than in the night-time antics of a God who refuses to let death have the last word.
When Peter and John hear Mary’s story, they run to the tomb. John 21 is clearly written in favour of the Beloved Disciple (John). When Peter enters the tomb he sees the burial clothes: when John enters the tomb he sees and he believes. The disciple closest to Jesus in love is the one who is first to believe in him as the risen Lord. Is John simply telling us that beloved disciples are always the first to get to the heart of the matter? For the heart of the resurrection is the matter of love.
What we celebrate in the resurrection is God’s liberating love for his beloved Son. Resurrection is the Father’s response to the Cross, his defiant answer to a world that hoped violent death could trap Jesus in its vice-like grip. In raising Jesus from the dead God raised every value that Jesus stood for, every story that Jesus told, every preference that Jesus made, every purpose that Jesus followed. All this was given new life and fresh significance.
If death had spoken the final word about Jesus, it would only have been a matter of time before everything about Jesus had been reduced to a curiosity, a forgettable footnote in the crowded history of lost causes. But God had the last word. As indeed He had the first.
The resurrection of Jesus was not a hysterical invention of people who refused to accept the death of their Master. On the contrary, the Father’s act of raising Jesus from the dead is the Father’s way of accepting his Son’s death. Jesus is awakened to new life by the applause of his Father, by the sheer energy of his Father’s love, by the loud shout of his Father’s gratitude. The dead Jesus has no alternative but to rise to the occasion. The tomb can never be his permanent address.
This coming Easter, let us bless the God who insists on having the last laugh at the expense of the ultimate enemies of humanity, namely evil, sin and death.
Colin Baker is Pastor at Caversham Baptist Church