If technology had been advanced enough that first Easter to record the actual utterances of Jesus' disciples when they visited his tomb on Easter morning, I believe this is what would have been captured: "Holy @#$!#, He is risen!"
Remember, these guys had just spent three years following the man they thought would become the ruler of their nation. As Jews, they knew the prophesies that foretold the coming of a messiah. They had all abandoned their families and their previous lives to become part of a movement they thought would change the political situation for their people. They signed up to be part of that change thinking they were getting ready for a new ruler.
I'm sure they recalled all of the things Jesus had said to them over the years. They watched as his following grew from just a few to possibly tens of thousands. They had just witnessed Him triumphally entering the city of Jerusalem, just as had been predicted in the scriptures. They watched as the people there laid down tree branches ahead of him and even laid their cloaks on the ground as if he were a conquering general. They knew something was coming, they thought it would be big, but they still had no idea what was about to happen.
Matthew's gospel talks about how there had long been a struggle for power among his followers, how they asked him repeatedly who among them was the greatest. Even on Jesus' last day, his team still thought they were gearing up for a new kingdom on earth. Mark's gospel tells us how James and John asked for places of high honor in Jesus' coming kingdom, as if they were interviewing for government jobs. They wanted the prestige and influence they thought would come with it. Jesus knew they were missing the point; he answered them, "You don’t know what you are asking,”[Mark 10:38] and later to another he said, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?" [John 14:9]
Fast forward a couple days and the mood has definitely shifted. On Thursday, the Apostles were all big shots planning what they thought we be a coup. Now, it's Sunday morning and they're frozen with fear. Their lord, the man they all thought was going to change the world, was arrested and killed Friday in front of the whole city. One of their closest friends actually turned him in, and they're probably realizing none of them stood up for Jesus the way he would have for them. Not only are they frightened for their safety, but they're confused about what happened, perhaps questioning some of their choices and really uncertain of their futures. It feels like the government might have turned against them, they've got no money, the jobs they had don't exist anymore, and they don't know exactly what comes next. Mostly, I think they just wanted to hunker down and hide.
And yet, their whole worlds were about to change. In mere moments, beginning with the discovery of an empty tomb, a reminder of what they'd seen and been told by an angel, and later a commissioning from their recently departed, now risen rabbi, the mood finally shifted back to hopefulness. With two simple words, "therefore, go" [Matthew 28:19] Jesus restored their states of mind, their sense of the future and their commitment to Him and to one another. You know the rest of the story. Those 12 men and a handful of women took Jesus' message of hope, love and mercy to the ends of the earth. His story, their testimony and their individual choices to endure despite the overwhelming nature of what they'd experienced and what they undoubtedly knew would lie ahead altered the destiny of the entire world for all of eternity.
So, thinking on this, I'm struck by two things:
First that the people who thought they knew Jesus the best, who saw what he did and listened to his words firsthand, who were sure they'd be instrumental in changing the world, were both wrong and right at the same time. They were right in that God called each of them for an important purpose that would ultimately change the world. They were wrong in how and when they thought it would come to pass. Although they were simple people, who failed again and again, they were still critical to God's plan for redemption; and
I'm also struck by how eerily similar the first disciples' experience is, in some ways, to where we are today. There is a ton of anxiety, not just in America but all around the world. There's sickness and sadness, money troubles and massive confusion about what lies ahead. Some of us may be worried and lost, not sure what to do next, and perhaps even questioning what we believed was true about us and our relationship with God.
There is no doubt some trouble in the world, and difficulties yet remain. But today, just like on that first Easter morning, with the rising sun comes the hope of brighter tomorrow; one with an outcome much like what we might have believed before, but which might also come to us in some surprising way like it did for the Apostles; one that only becomes apparent to us after we take action. Because the lesson I draw from the Easter story is: because we are believers, and because we trust in God and His plan, we still have a future, that probably looks much like it did before the illness and government shutdown. We still have families to raise, and jobs to do, friends to comfort and communities to rebuild. We still have an important role to play in the being and growing of His church, and all that it will ultimately mean to the worlds of both believers and those yet to believe. But, crucially, just as it was with the Apostles more than 2,000 year ago, it's up to us how we'll respond to the challenges we face. Will we shrink from fear and hide in our homes, will we be overcome by our losses and vexed by indecision, or will we listen closely for God to quietly whisper for us in the coming days to "therefore, go."
Happy Easter All. He is Risen.