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Dead People Dead Don't Come Back To Life . . .do they ?
(An Easter Reflection)





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Dead People Dead Don't Come Back To Life
. . .do they ? 


"He has been raised. He is not here" (Mark 16, v 6) 

People Who Are Dead Do Not Come Back To Life. 

There have been times when I - no doubt like many of you - would have wished that this plain fact were not so. But we know it is the case. The dead do not return to life. And - most certainly - people who have been sleep deprived, brutally beaten, cruelly whipped to within an inch of their lives with all the consequent blood loss, forced to carry a heavy crossbar so they staggered under the weight and could not go on, who are then pinned to a Cross by the driving in of huge nails through hands and feet, left in the unforgiving relentless sun for hours while life ebbs away, sealed in a grave from a Friday to a Sunday, do not come back to life! It simply does not happen.  

And, contrary to our rather arrogant modern assumptions, the people who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago also knew perfectly well that people didn't come back to life once they were dead. You do not need to have a degree in biology or medicine, or indeed to be living in the 21st century, to know that dead people do not come back to life. People have always known this! Whatever the ignorance of matters scientific we assume people of ancient times possessed, they were not deprived of general common knowledge, observational skills or everyday experience. They knew that dead people were dead! And surely that is why the very tone of the various gospel accounts of that resurrection morning is so full of wonder, surprise, disbelief, astonishing detail and frank amazement. It is as if the gospel writers and, indeed, the apostle Paul are saying to their readers: 

"Look, we know and you know that this doesn't happen; that this cannot happen. We didn't believe it ourselves. Who would? And yet, we are telling you, we met him, we touched him, we saw him, and some of us saw the empty tomb. We know this kind of thing doesn't happen; we can hardly believe it ourselves. In fact, several of us didn'tbelieve it until we too saw him and touched him. But honestly, it is true. There are several of us who have witnessed it; no, not just several; well over 500. If you don't believe us, go and ask them for yourself."

When Paul wrote his 1st letter to the Corinthians he wrote that well over 500 people witnessed the Risen Christ, only some 20 years after the event. So the likelihood would be - as indeed he claimed - that most would still be alive and could be questioned on their experience. After all, most of us over the age of 35 or 40 could pretty well remember events of significance that happened to us in 1989, could we not? And even earlier than that.  

Many of us will well recall exactly what we were doing and what we were feeling when we learned of the Assassination of John F Kennedy, or of the Aberfan disaster, and many of us here will have very keen recollections of significant occurrences in the Second World War 65 or more years ago.  

All of us can recall perfectly well important and significant events from the past even many, many decades later. And so it is perfectly reasonable to affirm that in the Gospels and Paul's letters we have reasonably reliable accounts of real events. It cannot reasonably be claimed that all these different people, writing at different times, to different situations and from different places were somehow all simultaneously deluded, or were conspiratorially colluding, in order to peddle some fanciful myth. And anyway, what motive could they have possibly had for doing that, when affirming the resurrection of Jesus put them at risk of ridicule, arrest, or even death. 

The Gospel accounts do not read like some pre-planned conspiracy to delude. Rather they present an account of a gradual build up through despair, doubt, disbelief. Sad, grieving and broken people find their despair deepened through discovering that their Lord's body is not in the tomb where - mark this - they had been expecting to find it! 

Some women are told that Jesus is Risen and there is even one account of an encounter between the Risen Jesus and Mary Magdalene. However, no-one believes the women's story. Of course not! Who would believe that a dead man - a so obviously dead man whom some had witnessed breathing his last three days earlier - would rise to life again. Preposterous!  

But then Peter and John investigate the empty tomb, and later that day the disciples in an upper room are confronted by the Risen Christ. All apart from Thomas. And once again, he is entirely unconvinced until a week later and he himself encounters the risen Lord.  

The various accounts (each slightly distinct in detail) make it clear that none of the players in the story was in any sense expecting to find that Jesus had risen. On the contrary, the discovery of an empty grave with no body is initially a cause of shock, dismay and despair. This is not some concocted tale, this is not some invention. Now this is not to say that the very idea of the resurrection does not stretch faith and belief almost to the point of breaking - for some of you perhaps beyond that point. And I am not suggesting that there are not difficulties, or problems, or questions that remain. Still less would I attempt to explain what the bible writers themselves do not attempt to explain, namely how this extraordinary event occurred.  

There are more questions than can be easily addressed far less adequately answered. And we may all quite legitimately have different perspectives on the how of the resurrection or the details of Christ's risen body or the question of the empty tomb. But, however we understand the manner or means by which it happened, whatever struggles we might have with the implications and significance of it, still it is clear that something remarkable, unique, transformative and unexpected occurred on that first Easter Sunday that so changed the early followers of Jesus that they suddenly began to proclaim, with conviction, and without fear, and in spite of threats to their own lives that Christ is Risen! 

They are not setting out to try and suggest that they think that dead people spring back to life as a common occurrence. Of course not! Just the opposite. This is the kind of thing that we and they know does not happen. Which is why they are making such a fuss about the unique events of Easter Sunday. 

Christ is Risen! 

And if he is raised then, all the claims and assertions of the Christian Faith have a new weight and significance. The resurrection validates the claims of Jesus' teaching about life, faith and God. If he is risen then it is surely all the more likely that Jesus is who he claimed to be; the Son of the Most High God, uniquely divine, the one in whom God has entered into our world. 

The resurrection of Christ is the central and defining moment of all history, of all human experience and of the great story of God's relationship with humankind. In the resurrection, God's love is victorious over darkness, death and the Devil. They need no longer hold fear for us. If Christ is raised then we need have no fear - as individuals or as a church. And if Christ is raised then each one of us can encounter him, open our lives anew to him, and be changed by him. 

As followers of this risen Lord, we are a people for whom deep peace and heartfelt joy and sure and certain hope should be defining characteristics; our lives and our worship should be vibrant with the reality of the Lord's risen presence, transforming and inspiring us.  

Even today, now, as we pray, as we ponder, as we praise, and as we come to the Table of his living presence and receive the signs of his undefeated love; even as we take bread and wine into our hands and into ourselves, we can receive the power, presence and peace and of the Risen Christ, to transform, inspire and enthuse us.  

Christ is Risen! Hallelujah!  

Rev David Denniston, April 2009

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