The Lord has punished me severely but he has not given me over to death. In these words of the psalmist we hear the voice of one who has tasted the bitter things of life. One who has known defeat, fear, loneliness and anxiety. One who has felt that God himself has turned against him. “The Lord has punished me severely”. We can only speculate what the psalmist had undergone to make him believe that not only was God bringing bad things to him but that this was a punishment, a punishment, one must presume, that was accepted as due.
But the writer of these words did not waver in his belief that God was good and that God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Today, this Easter day, we remember that Jesus faced those dark hours, alone at prayer in the garden, asking to be spared, and then, at the end, alone and abandoned nailed to a cross. We remember, too, that through those hours and days when all seemed lost and his mission futile Jesus did not falter and did not despair. Today we remember that his faith and his obedience were vindicated.
The resurrection is hard to believe in and hard to understand. In the story John tells we hear that this was so for those who witnessed it most closely as it is hard for we who have only the story. Mary finds the empty tomb and thinks the body has been stolen. Simon and the nameless disciple who runs with him see and believe but don’t yet understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Even when Mary actually speak with Jesus she starts by asking him where he has taken her Lord’s body.
It isn’t until Jesus says her name, “Mary”, that she realises who he is. “Rabbouni”, she answers.
The resurrection is hard to see, hard to believe in, even if you’re there, and we are there. We are no further from Jesus than Mary, Peter and the beloved disciple were.
Jesus says to Mary: “Don’t hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the father.” Mary can’t touch him and we know that he was not the same as he was before. Mary is not the only one in the gospels who meets and speaks with the resurrected Christ without recognising him.
Christ is risen and he is transformed.
Christ’s rising transforms.
So here we are, on Easter Sunday. Here we are singing the glad songs of Christ’s victory. But where is he? Is he here? Is Jesus here with us, as he was with Mary on that glad morning all those many years ago? Is Jesus alive? Does he walk the earth?
In one way it’s easy to say “yes” to those questions. After all it’s what we’re meant to believe. Saying yes to this sort of thing might seem like the price one pays for admission to the Church or perhaps to heaven. In another it’s hard to say “yes”, at least for me. I don’t really know what it means. I know Jesus is no easier for me to see than for Mary, if anything even harder.
But I know that “yes” is the right answer, not as a price to be paid but as a wonderful gift that I’m offered and would be foolish to refuse.
Christ is risen! Christ is here! Death is conquered, sin is no more. These are hard things to believe, to really believe so that we’re filled with joy.
God has put an end to sin and death in the resurrection of our Saviour Jesus. Today we are like Mary, looking at an event we can’t quite grasp, encoutering a man we can’t quite recognise.
Listen for his voice. Listen to hear your name called. He is here. He lives. We live. God’s victory is shared with us.