Start off with reading Matt 28:1-10.
On Sunday, before sunrise, some of the woman set off to the tomb to finish the burial process on Jesus’ body. They went expecting a grieving process as they wrapped Jesus’ body. They went expecting closure, or sorts. They went with a Saturday mindset: life must just go on. Let’s try make the best of it. They did not get what they expected…They found an empty tomb and encountered Jesus. The Jesus they know, yet somehow different.
“…So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid, yet filled with joy…”. This was going to be no ordinary day. History has proven this to be the case. Something got released into the world that has not gone away.
What do you think it was?
Friday is a day when hope and expectation dies. Friday is the day a dream dies. Friday is a day when the plan doesn’t work. Friday is a day when the soul gets crushed. Friday is a day when faith feels pointless. Friday is the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23). Friday is a day of loss. Friday is a day of brokenness.
Saturday is the day after a prayer gets prayed and there appears to be no answer on the way. In fact, Saturday is the day nothing happens. Saturday is a lonely day. Saturday is the day we also have that nagging, even haunting thought in our minds that we dare not articulate. Jesus failed…me. Saturday is the day we realise that we have to go on, but we are not sure how.
Then, quite unexpectedly, Sunday comes…Sunday is the day you didn’t see coming. Sunday is the day of surprising events. Sunday is the day when God shows up in unexpected places and is almost unrecognisable and easy to miss.
Sunday is not about some thin platitude like “everything is going to be okay from now on”. On Sunday you know something has changed. God has done something in you or around you. You just don’t know what it could mean.
I imagine that small, frighted group gathering behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, as we are told, trying to make sense of what had just happened and what it could mean. Trying to piece the puzzle together. I wonder if they began to recall some of the things he said to them before he died:
“…Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds…” (John 12:24-26)
They slowly start to understand: Take a perfectly good seed, that could be used for food. Bury it in the ground and walk away. Something happens to this ‘dead’ seed. The seed becomes a plant and produces fruit. But it couldn’t happen if the seed didn’t die first.
Jesus was saying, something has to die to produce multiplied life. You have to be willing to sacrifice something if anything is ever going to be the way it should be. No sacrifice. No harvest. It’s just the way things work.
What got released into the world on Sunday was hope.
Hope that on the other end of sacrifice, on the other end of suffering, on the other end of death, was some kind of multiplied life. Some kind of harvest, some kind of fruitfulness that would put Friday and Saturday into their proper perspective.
This hope changed everything and it is not going away…
A modern allegory
Resurrection hope, or at least the desire for it, is woven into thousands of stories. The writer, John Ortberg highlights the Shawshank Redemption as one of the best out there that speaks of resurrection hope. I summarise his comments here:
The hero, Andy Dufresne, initially underwhelms the narrator Red: “I must admit I didn’t think much of Andy the first time I laid eyes on him…. Looked like a stiff breeze could blow him over.” Dufresne is unjustly arrested, tried, condemned, and beaten.
But as we watch him through Red’s eyes, something like wonder begins to grow. In a brutal world he is kind. He is a man of hidden strengths who creates a library and helps his captors with their taxes. He is anxious for nothing: “Strolls like a man in a park without a care or a worry,” says Red. He ascends to a high place (the warden’s office) and plays Mozart over the intercom, and for a transcendent moment, every prisoner stands motionless in unexpected glory. And Red confesses: “Those voices soared. Higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream … for the briefest of moments—every last man at Shawshank felt free.”
Andy is persecuted by the warden, a pharisaical hypocrite who hands him a Bible and tells him “Salvation lies within.” In the end, salvation does lie in the Bible. The Bible is where Andy hides the small hammer with which he chips to freedom. (The cut-out space in the warden’s Bible where Andy hides the chisel begins on the first page of Exodus, the story of God liberating his people from bondage.) Andy descends into hell. He crawls to freedom through five hundred yards of prison sewer pipe half filled with sewage and comes out the other side cleansed by the river and the rain and raising his hands bathed in light and freedom.
His empty cell is the beginning of the end for the regime of the warden. (“ Judgment cometh, and that right soon” reads the sign in his office.), just like Jesus’ empty tomb is the beginning of the end for power of death. Andy, the Christ figure, and Red, the noble pagan, have a running argument about hope. Andy says that music is important in a prison—maybe more important in a prison than anywhere else, because it reminds hearers that there is an unseen reality that the powers of the prison cannot touch. Red asks what he’s talking about.
Hope. Red says hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. Andy says hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing, and no good thing ever dies. Suffering, death and mission are all very different when infused with resurrection hope.
You see in the story, Andy is subject to extreme suffering, injustice, abuse. Remember, he is actually an innocent man and has done nothing wrong, but goes through physical and emotional torment. But throughout his brutal prison years (20 in all, I think) he lives with an unnatural hope that Red does not understand. “Hope is a dangerous thing. It can drive a man insane”.
An early master apprentice of Jesus, Paul, wrote to the church at Rome that: “…we rejoice in our suffering, because suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character…”. He was not out of step with the mind-set of the ancient world. Many people saw that suffering can help us grow and survive a harsh and brutal world.
But then Paul added something that no other writer or thinker of the age would have added. “…and character produces hope…”. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, the philosopher who most inspired Adolf Hitler, said that “hope is the most evil of evils, because it prolongs mans torment.” Or in the words of Red: “Hope is a dangerous thing. It can drive a man insane”.
In The Shawshank Redemption, though, Red finds out paradoxically that when he leaves prison, life without hope cannot sustain him. His options are suicide or return to prison, except for a promise he made to his friend Andy. He does what Andy had asked. And at the foot of a tree, Red finds that his friend has paid, out of treasure Andy acquired through suffering, for Red to join him off the coast of Mexico, free and full of hope.
Paul said that suffering produces hope because at the foot of another tree, we too find treasure paid for by Jesus’ suffering. That treasure is hope in the midst of suffering. Andy was not at the tree. He had gone ahead to prepare a way for Red to join him. What kept Red going was a promise to his friend and the hope that at the other side of his own suffering was multiplied life of some kind. Suffering produces perseverance, which produces character…which produces hope.
Has resurrection hope infused your suffering yet? Or are you still in Saturday?
In the final images of the film, we see Andy, Red’s friend, dressed in white, repairing a fishing boat at the edge of a long coastline next to the blue Pacific. Red, the noble pagan and hope sceptic, now with hope in his heart paid for by the suffering of his friend, is moving towards Andy, the Christ figure in the film.
Red’s narration closes the movie: “I am so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at the start of a long journey… I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope….”
The hope that was released on Sunday changed how death was viewed. In the accent world death and the dead were treated with dread. There could be no-one buried or cremated inside the city. Death was associated with terror and fear.
They borrowed a Greek term for dormitories in which people would sleep to name their resting places for the dead. Every time somebody mentioned the word cemetery it was a reminder of their belief in the resurrection of the dead. They are just sleeping, for a while.
They also changed the views of proximity to the dead. They buried people on their own church grounds, or under the floor of the church. It was as if they gathered to worship with the living and the dead. This change came about because of the unshakable belief in the resurrection of the body. It happened because of Sunday.
John Ortberg makes this final comment on Sunday:
“I think of the change Jesus brought to the world around hope when I think about two tombstones. One of them marks the resting place of Mel Blanc, the famous voice of countless characters in Looney Tunes cartoons. In accordance with his instructions, his family inscribed as his final epitaph the words that he had said to end a thousand cartoons: “That’s all, folks.” The other tombstone is described by Philip Yancey. It marks the grave of a friend’s grandmother who lies buried under ancient oak trees in the cemetery of an Episcopal church in rural Louisiana. In accordance with the grandmother’s instructions, only one word is inscribed on the tombstone: Waiting.”
Immediately after talking about a kernel of wheat falling to the ground and dying, then producing many seeds, Jesus continues with some hard words to hear: “… Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be…”
This is the call of an apprentice. It does not sound very appealing. But resurrection hope reminds us that something has to die to produce life. Multiplied life.
What is it in you that needs to ‘die’ in order to produce this kind of life?
For Jesus friends and disciples, mulling over the events of that first Sunday morning, one can imagine it dawning on them. They killed the “grain of wheat” – Jesus. But now it has sprung to life and multiplied and produced many seeds. Wait a minute. We are those seeds. They thought they shut him down, but all they produced was…us. Now they have us to contend with. On Sunday a movement was released; a multiplication started happening that has not stopped.
Sunday has come, and it’s not going away.