On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’
Luke 24:1-9 (NIVUK)
These days it doesn’t take any time after Christmas for hot cross buns, Easter eggs and bunnies to fill the supermarket shelves. I’m told that the Creme Eggs were waiting in the wings to be displayed on Boxing Day!
Each year, as Easter takes its place in our national calendar, I wonder again whether its real meaning and significance is lost on much of the British public. And what of the buns, eggs and bunnies? Do they really have anything to do with Easter? Are these goodies anything more than products to sell us more ways to put on the pounds?
A few years ago, one supermarket chain had to correct themselves twice when reporting that few young people realised that Easter was to celebrate the birth of Christ. The second comment corrected this to rebirth. Only at a third attempt did they finally concede that Easter is actually about Jesus’ resurrection.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. Let’s face it, many Brits today have never been taught the Christian faith. This is increasingly the case as our society continues travelling down its secular and consumerist path. Why should they know anything more about Easter than the commercial trappings? And does it matter that we don’t know what we’re celebrating?
Of course this does give us as Christians a rather large challenge. How do we share the life-changing impact of the true Easter message to a largely post-Christian nation? Maybe for us to do so, we need Jesus to show us afresh what Easter really means. This is why Easter should knock us sideways.
A really good way to start is to read the Gospel accounts of the Easter story. Its worth taking time to consider the events of that first Good Friday when Jesus died on the cross, followed by the wonder of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. It only takes a few minutes to read John chapters 18 to 20 and you certainly won’t regret it!
Think what it meant for Jesus to be crucified, possibly the most barbaric form of punishment ever invented. Remember that he chose to go to the cross as the ultimate sacrifice for all our sin and failings.
Put yourself in the shoes of Jesus’ friends – the women, the disciples, his family. What must they have felt? Just a few days earlier Jesus had gloriously ridden into Jerusalem as a king, now he’s being crucified as a criminal. Surely death is the end – it’s all over now.
Be amazed again at the miracle of the resurrection, seeing the stone rolled away because Jesus defeated death and then appeared to many – the ultimate triumph of good over evil, of love over hate. As Paul writes, ‘he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 1.4 NLT)
As you do this, ask God to knock you sideways with his love that sent Jesus to die for you. Its then that we start to understand that despite our changing society, where Christianity has largely lost its place as national religion and moral compass, the risen Jesus is still alive today and still drawing people to himself. It’s then that we realise that he wants to use each of us – even you and me – to draw others to him. That’s why he tells his followers to be his witnesses, starting just where they were.
But perhaps you don’t think you’re a good enough Christian to make any sort of difference. Well neither were those first disciples, most of whom had run away at the crucifixion. They were dazed and confused, despondent and frightened. Despite what Jesus had told them, they certainly weren’t expecting him to come back from the dead!
Only after the resurrection did everything start to make sense. Only then did they understand who Jesus really is, why he came to earth and the plan he had for them. But it wasn’t until Pentecost when their lives became transformed by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
We have the benefit of understanding Easter from the perspective of hindsight – we know the end of the story. We also have the same Holy Spirit who transformed those first followers of Jesus. Today he is still working in and through Christians around the world, empowering them to change communities and lead others to know the risen Christ. Today he is still knocking people sideways with the power of the Easter message.
So let’s take time this Easter to allow God inspire us again by his love. Let’s remember that He has risen and is still alive today. Let’s recommit ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples in our own time. And let’s be prepared to get out of our comfort zones and take Jesus to those around us who need him but might not know it. Who does God want you knock sideways with the Easter message?
An appropriate plaque at The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem