What was it like?
By Charles Qualls
“Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!” That is one of the happiest confessions of faith that Christians share with each other, and this chorus rings out across the world among believers on Easter. It is a joyful reaction to much-needed good news.
“What do you think it was like?” That’s the burning question on my mind. I confess that I take a little spiritual flight of fancy every Easter morning. What do you think it was like to be there, and to be as surprised as all this must have been to them? I cannot encounter stories like the one we have in Matthew 28: 1-10 without wondering what things looked like, felt like and how they sounded.
An earthquake. Have you ever felt one? I recall waking up one morning during our North Carolina years and wondering, “When did we get a water-bed?” It felt as though the room were moving. But it also felt like I was rolling. Soon, the morning weather person on TV confirmed that we were about two hours distance from the epicenter of what (in the earthquake world) was a pretty minor quake. Just some tectonic shifting of the earth’s plates, I suppose. A fault-line letting off a little tension. It proved to be nothing that would do damage. Big enough that you could feel it, though. I don’t really care if I never experience another.
The palpable and unmistakable presence of God is described in that manner, in Matthew 28. A messenger of God comes to the tomb. The Marys have just arrived. They think they will faithfully embalm Jesus’ body, since three days have now passed. Nothing more. The Sabbath has passed as well. No work like that could have been allowed on the Sabbath.
Their expectations were low, the two Marys. They were not on any special alert. If anything, I suppose they were a little numb. Actually, they were probably just moving through the motions of their duty. They may have been only now beginning to awaken to their grief. You can get a little done and still be absolutely checked out to what is happening around you. One of God’s gifts that is wired into us is the numbness that can often accompany our sadness in tragedy.
Jesus had lived among them. They loved him so much as a person. He had been the figurehead of their very hope. Even more, those around him sensed that this was God come to live among us. Now he was dead. They had work to do, and they had come to perform that gentle, loving act and head back home.
Another sign we get here is what happened with the guards. A sentry had been posted there by the Tomb. Actually, a few guards. This would have been brave, proven soldiers. They froze. They passed out. We don’t know. Wouldn’t you have been at least a little unnerved by all this?
The messenger assuages the women’s fear. “Do not be afraid.” Grief can often feel an awful lot like fear. Grief that awakens into earthquake and the scene these women saw could be terrifying. “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
I love the things that happen next. Faithfully, they do leave to go and tell the disciples, just as they have been instructed. That should challenge us, their willingness to do as God has instructed. They also reported mixed feelings that were described here as “… fear and great joy.” A genuine encounter up close with the palpable presence and power of God should leave each of us feeling nothing less.
It is Easter! The women have been entrusted with the greatest news the world has ever heard. Women were the first proclaimers of the gospel. Women were the ones who were there in the first place. Thanks be to God that women preached the good news to the disciples on that first Easter. The Church has been deeply indebted to women ever since.
It is Easter! Arise and go with joy! Go forward emboldened, even in uncertain days. Follow your faith. They surely did, and they changed the world forever.
THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.