He is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
But, you know…not everyone believes this. Despite the fact that tomb was incontrovertibly empty on the third day. Despite eyewitnesses testify that the tomb was empty and they saw Jesus, ate with him, and touched him. Despite early martyrs laying down their lives for the claim of having seen the risen Christ. Despite all of it, not everyone believes Jesus rose from the dead.
The women who went to the tomb that morning didn’t think so. It was still dark when they got up to get the spices and embalm Jesus’ corpse. Jesus was dead, and along with Him, all their hopes. They went that morning with no hope left. It was a dark morning full of despair when they left.
God is dead. So would say Friedrich Nietzsche, the towering atheist philosopher of the 19th Century. Now, that is an odd thing to say for someone who doesn’t believe God exists in the first place. When Nietzsche said this, he didn’t mean to say that a literal God had literally expired. He wanted to point out that we’ve now come to the enlightened realization that God is no longer necessary. We have science, technology, and enough hard-questions and lack of seeing God to open our eyes to the fact that we no longer need to pretend there is a God. He’s as good as dead. “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him!”
Nietzsche knew how devastating such a reality was. It meant that so much of what we have believed and built our lives upon, our morals, our society, our hopes, are gone too. The foundation is taken out from underneath us! “How will we comfort ourselves… Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.” In other words, without a God, with no creator, it is up to us now. Up to us to create our morals, our hopes, our dreams. The world depends on you! You must become Atlas of old and bear the world on your shoulders. With no God, we must become gods and creators of our own destiny! Which is an idea sounds incredibly inspiring on paper, but leaves you crushed by the weight of despair it produces.
We live in a world where the storm cloud of such thinking has darkened everything. Sure, people may not say outright that they deny the existence of God. But so much of our world operates as though it all depends on us. Everything from big questions of establishing justice and overcoming the evils of injustice, saving the environment, defining what a human being is, to our everyday realities of maintaining my job, my health, and my family. Even if I want to say it doesn’t depend on me, I sure act like it does. I’ve got to be the creator of my world, and when I see what a mess this place is, I realize I’ve got to be the savior of it, too!
So, the women went to the tomb that morning in the dark, crushed by the weight of a shattered world upon their shoulders. For, Jesus was dead. And, for all intents and purposes, so was God. They saw it happen. Friday night when He was nailed to a bloody cross, where He hung and prayed with no relief. Where he cried out Father forgive them, they know not what they do. But, what good is saying that if all there is is death? What good is forgiveness, and love, and mercy if they lead to a cross? They heard Him cry out, they saw Him die, and they watched where He was taken. And now, who knew what the future held? They didn’t even know who would roll the stone away from the tomb, let alone what would become of them. Moving the stone, moving on in life. Everything in front of them was up to them. Everything in front of them was dark. And it all looked impossible. For God was dead.
But then, the sun started rising. Very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And looking up, they saw that the son had been rolled back—it was very large. Someone had opened up the tomb. It seemed like it had been up to them, but someone else did it. But, what does that mean? Did someone get in? What have they done to Jesus?
As they approached the tomb in the light of that morning sun, there was a brightness from within the tomb. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed, You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you!”
There, in the sunlight of that Easter morning, the women got their hope back, but in a far stronger and greater hope than they could have imagined! Jesus was dead, but now He is risen! The Crucified One who was killed on that cross, who we killed in our sin, who the powers and dark forces of this world killed in a bitter powerplay, is alive! He did not stay in the grave alive. But more than alive, resurrected, never to die again!
What this means is that the future did not depend on these women. It does not depend on you. For, in conquering the grave, Jesus has begun the work resurrection. That is to say, He has conquered all that is evil and sinful in the world, and He will finally and ultimately make all things new.
So, first, the resurrection means that He has overcome the sin of the world. See, the death he died on Friday was no accidental tragedy. It was the way in which God decided to take away the sin of the world. It is, after all, our sin that has caused everything to go so wrong in this world. We deserve eternal death and punishment for it. But, Jesus chose to take that for us. He paid the penalty our sins deserve. He gave His life as a sacrifice to pay for your sins.
So that, in rising from the dead, God is saying, “Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient. All sins are paid for. All sinners are forgiven.” And, that starts today with the declaration I make to you: You are forgiven! In rising from the dead, Jesus is declaring you forgiven. God does not hold your sins against you any longer. You are free from condemnation and judgment.
But, think then how that opens up a whole new world to you. In being forgiven, you are now free to live without fear in this creation. The world is no longer a burden for you to carry on your shoulders, frightened you might drop it. No. It is a gift, a field of play for you to work, love, serve, and sacrifice for others without fear of condemnation. Though the vestiges of sin will hang on to you, you have a God whose primary word to you is “I forgive you.”
Finally, this resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the whole creation being made new. The promise of God is not a command that says, “You must work hard to make the world a better place.” To be sure, we are called to care for the creation as it is given to us. But, the truth is, until Christ comes again, we’ll witness sin corrode, corrupt, and destroy. But, the resurrection of Jesus means that sins days are numbered. He is coming again and He will make all things new. The creation will cease groaning under the darkness and weight of sin and start singing in the light of God’s eternal love. And, being forgiven, this means that you will have a place in that resurrection. For, death has no eternal power over you. You will rise and be with God in the new heavens and earth forever!
The women left the tomb that day frightened. But, soon, their fear would turn to joy when they saw the truth with their own eyes. God is not dead. Jesus is very much alive. You are not Atlas, you are a beloved child! The bright light of Jesus’ resurrection has washed out the darkness of such despair. Nietzsche was wrong. God is not dead. For, He is risen! He is risen indeed Alleluia!