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