I have some childhood memories that will stay with me. Now I know that my childhood was a long time ago but one of the memories I have is of watching on a television England beat Germany in the 1966 World Cup at Wembley. I watched this match with my grandfather who I rarely saw and we cheered England onto a win against Germany. I remember Germany scoring first and Geoff Hurst equalising at half time from a Bobby Moore free kick. Thirteen minutes before the end of the match Martin Peters scored and then with 15 seconds to go Germany equalised. We went into extra time without any nails as they had all been bitten off to see Geoff Hurst scored a disputed 3rd goal that bounced off the cross bar and down into the goal line and then with 1 minute to go as Germany tried to equalise Bobby Moore passed the ball to Geoff Hurst and he scored again and England won 4-2 and we cheered and cheered and cheered and we exchanged stories of the match with our friends and even today we tell stories about the match. Bearing in mind England’s record since this day with Germany, it wouldn’t surprise me if many don’t believe it actually happened!
My second memory as a boy is of staying up late to watch the television coverage of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing in 1969. The whole Apollo space mission was clouded in risk and uncertainty and it was a race to the moon with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. At 2pm in the morning I was woken up to see the moon landing and Neil Armstrong come out with his famous phrase ‘one small step for man one giant leap for mankind’ and again we talked about this for days and weeks and I still talk about it today. Funnily enough some people don’t believe that the moon landing actually happened.
The Resurrection of Jesus from death to a new life became an eyewitness account told excitedly from person to person and generation to generation. It is a unique happening in our history, God is doing something new which is remarkable and unbelievable and is excitedly told by many people. Paul in his letter to the Church in Corinth (1Corinthians 15:1-11) tells them Jesus appeared to Peter and the disciples and over 500 people including Paul himself, which he records in his letters as his experience on the road to Damascus. Jesus disciples would start to recall Jesus teaching to them that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. They would be excitedly telling others about this Good News.
The first eye witness to this remarkable event was Mary Magdalene. Mary becomes the first eye witness to Jesus resurrection, the new living body he has and to the exciting reality that God has shown how much he loves the world and it’s people to defeat death itself. This is something very new, it is unique. Mary was the first person in all her grief to talk to Jesus and to be filled with a new joy and a new hope. There is not much written about Mary Magdalene in the Gospels. She should not be confused with the sinful woman in Luke’s Gospel who anointed Jesus feet with ointment or Mary the sister of Lazarus who pours perfume over Jesus feet. Neither of these women are Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene was healed by Jesus of seven demons and then she followed him as a disciple and as a group of women who supported Jesus financially in his ministry. She was amongst the women who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus and who also witnessed his body being placed into the tomb.
Mary comes to the tomb in grief and in tears on Sunday morning, something called resurrection is farthest from her mind, this is not something anyone thought could happen, the Jewish people would talk about a resurrection at the end of time. Resurrection was not a hot topic for them. When Mary saw the empty tomb she thought someone had stolen Jesus body and she ran to tell the disciples that this had happened.
Peter and John found the empty tomb but what they found inside the tomb were ‘the linen wrappings lying there’ and the cloth that had been on Jesus head separate from the linen wrappings.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead he came out of the tomb wrapped up, as is Jewish tradition, in white linen shrouds that clothed him. His hands and feet were bound with strips of cloth and his face wrapped in a cloth. The wrappings had to be removed from him.
What Peter and John saw at the tomb of Jesus were the white linen wrapping and head covering still in place as though a body had passed through them. It was then that they started to believe what Jesus had told them.
Mary, though is wracked with grief and pain and tears, it is as though all our hurts and pains become centred on Mary’s grief and Jesus appears to her and asks her why she is weeping, not to diminish her grief but to understand from her the reason. Those words ‘Mary’ we can imagine being said in a familiar and compassionate manner that she suddenly understands that Jesus is there with her, mending and healing and giving hope.
Mary becomes THE APOSTLE, the apostle to the apostles the messenger to the messengers to bring the Good News that ‘through Jesus Christ, God brings HIS peace upon humanity and that he has defeated death and that everyone who believes in him and follows him receives forgiveness of sins through his name’. The new relationship with God has begun, his grace is poured upon those who follow his son Jesus and Mary is the person to communicate this message.
If you were to make this story up, you wouldn’t tell it in this way, it would need to be credible that the first messenger would be a well-known man, not a little known woman. Jesus though brings righteousness to an unjust world.
In a poll taken in 2017 it was revealed that one in four Christians do not believe in Jesus resurrection and amongst those who regularly go to Church, only 57% believe completely in the resurrection. However 46% of the general public believe in some form of life after death.
It would seem then that some of us leave Jesus in the tomb, crucified and dead. There is a sacrifice for sin on the cross but no defeat of death and no hope and heavenly presence. God has in effect sacrificed his son and left him in the grave. The resurrection accounts excitedly told by the eye witnesses are not believed by all and the Good News becomes OK news, or even NO HOPE news. If God can’t resurrect his own son, then he has no chance of resurrecting us and our lives are led in the perspective of this life only and not the perspective of everlasting life. Jesus staying in the tomb has a limiting effect on our own lives and the way we live.
A man called Charles Colson served as the Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 – 1973. He was jailed for 7 months for obstructing justice in the Watergate scandal just after he became a Christian. I imagine it was tough for him. He writes:
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men (including Paul) testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
We remember our good experiences and we tell them excitedly to others and so did Mary and Peter and John and Paul and all those who witnessed the resurrected Jesus, who God has made Lord of all and has appointed as judge of the living and the dead. May you be excited about the Good News of Jesus Christ this Easter, that he is alive and may you know his peace and his hope and may you tell others of your faith.