Summary: The resurrection is a past event with continuing effects on the present and future.
A letter came from Health and Human Services to a resident of Greenville County, South Carolina: "Your food stamps will be stopped, effective March 1992, because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if your circumstances change."
In a business meeting we were discussing at some length the price of lots in our cemetery. The chairman, wishing to bring the thoughts together, summed things up, "We should have two prices--one for those local and another rate for those from out of town. The people buried there from out of town never come back to help maintain the grounds."
We all live with the reality of the permanence of death. Every person here has had a family member die and with the passage of time we have learned to work through our grief and come to accept his or her absence. But what if in the middle of this we got the news that suddenly they came to life. When the body moves the funerals over.
Yet such news no matter how joyous would be a bit unsettling to us. For if our experience teaches us anything, it is when you’re dead your dead and that’s it. It is no wonder the guards and the women at the tomb reacted with fear and confusion to the news that Christ had risen from the dead.
The guards were given a very specific task for a specific reason. This prophet and teacher Jesus during his ministry had predicted he would be killed, but would rise from the dead three days later. It is not that any Roman or Jewish officials believed such a prediction, but you know you can’t be too careful, some followers of his could steal his body and then spread the story he was alive, the legend could be worse than the reality. Kind of like not knowing whether Osama Bin Laden is alive or not could be worse than knowing. So the officials chose the wise course, they would post guards at the tomb through Sunday just to make sure there wasn’t any monkey business. So when the earthquake hit and the angel appeared pointing to the empty tomb, it is no wonder the scripture says they appeared like dead men. Things were out of control.
The women come at it from a different perspective, they came to the tomb, victims of all that had gone on the last few days. All the rest of the disciples had scattered like birds who heard the sound of a shot gun, but not these three, no matter what others had done, they were going to do their sacred duty of anointing Jesus body with spices as a final act of devotion. It would not surprise me if while walking to the tomb, they talked about how at least they stood by Jesus, not like those others who took off and left them with all the work. “Just like a man”, one of them may have said. Things might not be good but at least they were predictable.
Then of a sudden, reality has changed, the guards are no longer in control and the women are no longer victims and they are all frightened to death. If we are surprised at their reaction, lets supposed you read about someone’s death during the week and you came to church that Sunday and as you sit down and get settled in your pew, all of a sudden that person who was reported dead comes along and sits next to you. What might you be feeling?
And yet lets be honest, we come this morning and hear the story of Jesus resurrection from the dead and we say that’s a great story with a happy ending, but I doubt like the guards or women that any of us particularly feel unsettled, frightened or out of control. We treat it as we would any story that we acknowledge with our minds, but our not gripped by relevance.
Why is that so, why do we remain so distant, so untouched by this event. Now if I told you it was because we don’t know how to conjugate Greek verbs, your suspicions that I was a little weird would be confirmed. But let me suggest Greek grammar does offer us insight into the nowness of the resurrection story. In English, we have three tenses, the past, present and the future, but in Greek there are two past tenses, there is the aorist tense, which talks about a specific event that happened at a particular time in the past. Carol went to walk Mart yesterday. But there is also the Perfect tense, which in the Greek language describes a past event with lasting effects on the present and the future. For example 50 years ago, Jonas Salk discovered the cure for Polio, so today we don’t have tens of thousands of children strapped in iron lungs. When the angel announced, “Christ has Risen”, it is in the perfect tense.