We have arrived on Easter morning! Our symbolic forty-day Lenten journey has been fulfilled this morning with the proclamation: “God raised Jesus from the dead.” We have come together to this faith community to share our joy and affirm our faith: Jesus lives and Jesus is the Christ. Every Easter morning we Christians begin anew our journey with Christ into the future to proclaim that although the dominant system, killed Jesus, Jesus lives. Rome killed Jesus, not the Jews.
Since the afternoon of the first Good Friday the Gospels have been silent about the events that took place between the burial of the body of Jesus and the visit of the women to the tomb. That silence is broken with the visit of the brave and faithful women who walk to the place where Jesus was laid. We can imagine their shadows flitting in and out of the shadows of the landscape of the early morning, the time of terror.
When they arrive at the tomb they find the stone rolled away, but when they go into the tomb, they do not find a body. And then the women come across the angelic figures who say to them: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but risen” (5). Luke reports that we will not find Jesus in the land of the dead; Jesus can be found in real life in you and me.
When I served Toronto Korean United Church in Toronto many years ago, I often heard stories of the people’s lives. Some of them, but not all, had lived comfortable lives in Korea; they had a golden calf or two. They often told me that they were better off in Korea. Here in Canada, a few decades ago our Sunday schools were full of children; on Easter Sunday our sanctuaries were filled with people. Although this may have been true, if we hold on to the past too tightly, we will be people of the past who are looking for a corpse of Jesus who is not there anymore.
We may want to preserve the corpses of long-dead ideas and ideals. We cling to former visions of ourselves and our churches as if they might come back to life as long as we hold on to them. We grasp our loved ones too tightly, refusing to allow them to change. We choose to stay with what we know in our hearts to be there, because it is safe and malleable, and so susceptible to burnishing through private memory. However the message of the angelic figures at the tomb is a challenge to stop hanging on to the dead but to move into new life. They are reminders that the Holy One, now Christ, dwells wherever new life bursts forth.
Last week in our scripture reading one of the Pharisees in the crowd who questioned Jesus’ act of entering Jerusalem on a donkey. The Pharisees challenged Jesus, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop the procession and singing.” The Pharisees did not appreciate this action of Jesus. But another member of the Pharisees who was a contemporary of Luke reported differently about Jesus in his book, Jewish Antiquities, written around the year 93-4 CE. His name is Flavius Josephus. Josephus’ report goes like this:
“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified but those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvellous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.” (Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3)
This report was written about 60 years after the death of Jesus. Josephus was born in the Jewish homeland around 37 CE. As a young man, he became a commander of the Jewish forces in Galilee during the revolution against the Roman empire in 66 CE. Captured early in the war, he engaged the interest of the Roman general Vespasian, who later became a Roman emperor, by relating stories from the Jewish religious and philosophical traditions. Josephus lived in Rome for the rest of his life, writing a history of the Jewish revolt (Jewish War) and a history of the Jewish people (Jewish Antiquities).
Josephus, now working for the Roman empire as a Jew, did not think well about Jesus. However, he writes: “[Jesus] won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah.” Further, “Those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him.” This is the ONLY non-Christian reference to Jesus from the first century which has survived several attempts to destroy all the Christian collections of literature, and it is quite positive.
How is it possible that after more than six decades later, Jesus is still in people’s hearts? “Jesus is not among the dead, but among the living.” Indeed, this is one of the central affirmations of Easter: Jesus lives! Jesus was a living reality for the people back then and is a living reality for us still today. He is a figure of the present, not simply of the past. The reality of Jesus’ presence known to his followers before his crucifixion, continued to be experienced and to operate after it. For countless followers including us today, Jesus is a living reality. His vision for the new world still inspires us to journey with him and build the kin-dom of God among us.
After the death of Jesus, the silence was broken by the brave women who rushed back to tell the disciples about what they had seen. No matter what the others did not believe at first, the women remembered. The women believed and lived as if Jesus lived with them in a different way. They broke their own silence to speak their own truth. This is what the risen Christ wants us to do: Go, tell and live. Christ is risen! Christ lives indeed!
Now the risen Christ invites us to partake the communion. Come, come to the table of Jesus to experience his living reality among us. Thanks be to the God of Jesus for living among us. Amen.