Summary: The Resurrection of Jesus gives hope. Hope to people who are crushed. Hope for our bodies and for this created world.
One of our boys talks in his sleep. We were on holiday, had been watching The Lord of the Rings, and were sharing a room in a B and B, when our comatose 12-year-old declared: ‘Don’t worry mummy. Hope is kindled!’
The resurrection of Jesus gives hope
1. It gives hope to people who are crushed
The first followers had lived for Jesus. They had put their trust in Jesus. They had hoped that he was the Messiah. ‘We had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel’, say these two people as they walk on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus.
And the Messiah, for Jews, was the one who would come as God’s ruler. He would establish God’s kingdom of peace and justice. He would not die, but would bring an end to death. And when he reigned, those who had died would rise. There would be a general resurrection from the dead – some to eternal glory, some to eternal shame.
These followers had staked their life on the conviction that Jesus was the Messiah.
And now he was dead.
The dementors of Harry Potter suck out all hope from their victims.
But we don’t need dementors to do that. Death does that. It crushes us. It leaves us desperately empty on the inside.
Now we might have said to them: “You don’t need to despair: ‘Jesus body is in the tomb, but he is not dead. His Spirit is alive. And you will go to be with him in heaven.”
That is what many people would say today. We have this vague idea that on death the spirit is released from the body. It will be free. And what happens to the body does not matter.
It is the sort of belief that is behind poems like Mary Frye’s poem ‘Do not stand at my grave and weep’:
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!
And that assumption of dead bodies but free spirits has crept into Christian theology, like the camel that shoved its way into the tent.
So the argument goes: When Jesus died, his body was put in the tomb; but his Spirit was free. All this talk about resurrection of the body makes God into a magician who does conjuring tricks with bones, as one former Bishop of Durham so memorably put it. And it is not necessary. Even if Jesus’ body is in some ancient grave, we can still say that Jesus is alive.
But we have to understand that that was not the Jewish belief.
It was not an option for the first followers of Jesus
And I would say that it is not an option for us:
In the creed we declare, ‘We believe in the resurrection of the body’.
Those two people on the road to Emmaus could never have said ‘Jesus is alive’ while his body was in the grave.
They were far more materialistic, and – to be honest – far more realistic than us.
For them, the Spirit and the body were totally connected. The Spirit could not live apart from the body. And the body could not live apart from the spirit. It is like, to use an analogy that Tim has used before, your computer hardware and software. The software without the hardware is useless. The hardware without the software is a piece of junk. You need both. So when Jesus died on the cross – he was dead.
And so you can imagine their confusion when the women tell them that the body of Jesus was missing and that angels had told them that Jesus was not dead but alive.
That is what they are talking about on their way home to Emmaus: ‘We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’ (v21), they say to the companion who has joined them as they walk along. ‘And now, to make matters worse, some women are saying that his body is missing and that angels have told them that he is alive (v23). But, they add, nobody has seen him’ (v24).
If you were Jesus, wouldn't you just long to say: ‘Hello! It’s me!’
He doesn't. Instead he invites them to think, to really think through what the prophets in the bible said about the Messiah: that the Messiah would first suffer ‘these things’ (v26) and then enter his glory.
And as Jesus spoke to them, we are told that a fire began to burn deep in their hearts. It was a fire that nothing was going to put out – not suffering, persecution, disaster or tragedy. It was a fire that made them get up and go back, (it was about 11 miles), to Jerusalem to tell the others.