For months we have lived through dark and wearisome times. There were days when thousands were dying daily, health workers were physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. There was no room left in intensive care. There were times when no one seemed to know what to do. Danger lurked unseen between people. Lockdown has been a trial for us all.
The disciples of Jesus lived through days of danger, shock and distress. It is difficult for us to really comprehend what they endured. I simply cannot imagine the distress I would feel if I actually saw anyone being crucified – let alone someone I knew and loved. It would be a very long time before I could function at all, and certainly could never forget. After their Lord was placed in the tomb there was fear. Their lives were in danger. They locked down into their bubble in the upper room.
An injection of hope
On 8 December 2020 at 6.30 in the morning, 90 year old Margaret Keenan, originally from Enniskillen, became the first person in the world to receive a Covid-19 vaccination. It was an occasion which seemed to lift the nation and was seen around the world. The plaudits were unrestrained. It was hailed as a momentous day, a turning point, life changing. I have listened to the accounts of many as they received their jab. There has been relief, joy, emotion and new confidence. This, even though the vaccine will not be fully effective for weeks and in fact can never guarantee complete protection. However, it is undeniably a remarkable achievement of medical science and has been welcomed the world over.
There was a day of turning and hope just three days after the trauma of Good Friday. From early morning to late in the evening reports filtered into that upper room. The simplest and most stunning of all were the words of Mary Magdalene – “I have seen the Lord”. Eventually that night the Lord appeared in that lockdown room.
All he had promised was true. Death had been defeated. Everything changed. Life in all its fullness was possible – both now and forever. For 2,000 years since that day when followers of Christ have faced danger, distress, conflict and plague, their minds have come back to this turnaround day when all life changed.
Life turned around
We have all been faced with the prospect of serious illness and death these last 12 months. We have cautiously - perhaps fearfully - put on our masks, kept our distance, worried about shopping, fretted about our family. The strangeness and isolation have been unsettling. The vaccine has changed everything, and yet we still live with fear of recession, unemployment, ongoing uncertainty and restriction.
As we move forward to the coming summer when we hope to be free to move around, visit loved ones, get our hair cut (well some of us!), go on holiday – let us not slip back into the frenetic life causing us to forget the day of resurrection. Each and every person who has faith in Christ has countless reasons for joy which arise from resurrection. Matt Redman in his song 10,000 Reasons draws our attention to both life now and life eternal.
“And on that day when my strength is failing,
the end draws near and my time has come; still my soul will sing your praise unending,
ten thousand years and then forevermore.”
There is only one reason for this confidence and it reaches back to the first Easter Sunday morning. The Apostle Paul wrote with joy and emotion about all of this in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. Take time over Easter to slowly read and reflect upon this lengthy chapter. Paul captures the essence of all this confidence in the face of hardship, suffering and death, when he declares, “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Standing firm. Giving fully
I have read parts of this chapter countless times at funeral services. The words are so relevant and strength giving. In more recent times I have come to another appreciation of these truths. I have been struck by the fact that after 56 verses of explanation and joy because of the resurrection and all it promises, Paul concludes his thoughts on the matter with these words: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain”.
We can and should look forward to eternity. It is right at the centre of our confidence and strength, but Paul goes further using this as motivation to confident action now. So as we reflect upon Easter and rejoice at this historic turnaround moment, let us commit to invest our energies for the one whose life, death and resurrection provides resources to live in faith and hope and inspires love and generosity to every person we ever encounter.
What an empty tomb can do
Over 25 years ago Don Carson produced a book of poetry, ‘Holy Sonnets for the Twentieth Century’. One of those poems captures the feelings and fears of disciples in lockdown and the dawning of new hope.
“No heroes, these: defeated followers all,
Their nurtured faith extinguished, snuffed the flame
Of courage. Quite abandoned now the game
Oneupmanship (“Not I, Lord; I’ll not fall!”),
Displaced by furtive fear’s disabling pall.
More crippling than the sickening fear, the shame;
And cowed by common cowardice, they came
Upstairs together, spiritually mauled.
Reports come in of shattered, vanquished Death,
Of Life’s appearance in triumphant mood.
Begins the birth of hope, the death of death,
Of failing, faithless men with faith endued.
Arranged of old, unqualifiedly new:
Such change is what an empty tomb can do.”
That empty tomb turns everything around, therefore we can sing his praise and offer our service – unending.
Rev Peter Fleming is PCI global mission worker with United Mission to Nepal serving with his wife Jayne. You can read more about their work here.
You can access more Easter blogs and resources here.