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 of Magdala goes to visit the tomb of Jesus she expects to make a rendezvous 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 one of immense 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 the night time antics of a God who refuses to let death have the last word.
When Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple hear Mary's story, they run to the tomb. The account in the 21st chapter of John's Gospel is clearly written in favour of the Beloved Disciple. When Peter enters the tomb he sees the burial clothes: when the Beloved Disciple 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 the evangelist 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 would have 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 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.
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