IS THERE a more powerful recent summary of the Easter message than Bob Moran’s sketch of Jesus Christ’s empty tomb with the caption ‘Say no to lockdown’?
Does not his piece burst the banks of politics and point to the fact that Almighty God emphatically said no to the lockdown regime of sin and death upon all humanity when he raised his divine Son from the dead?
The Book of Common Prayer’s Gospel reading for today vividly relates the events of the first Easter morning:
‘The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.
‘So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
‘Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home’ (John 20v1-9 – King James Version).
This account clearly carries eye-witness authority. Church tradition plausibly identifies the ‘other disciple whom Jesus loved’ as the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee, the original source of the eye-witness material in John’s New Testament Gospel. On receiving the news from Mary Magdalene of Jesus’s missing body, he beat his fellow Galilean fisherman, Simon Peter, in the running race to the garden tomb just outside Jerusalem. There Joseph of Arimathea, a leading politician in 1stcentury Judea, had with the permission of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, put Jesus’s dead body after his crucifixion. Stooping down to look into the tomb from which its stone sealant had been rolled away, John saw Jesus’s linen burial clothes lying there.
Adding to the weight of authority in this reportage is the detail of ‘the napkin, that was about his (Jesus’s) head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself’.
By virtue of seeing with his own eyes the burial clothes in which Jesus’s dead body had been wrapped, but with no body there, John ‘believed’ that Jesus had risen from the dead. He would later come to understand the teaching in the Old Testament Scriptures that the Messiah (the Christ) had to rise from the dead in order for his sacrificial death on the Cross to be effective in bringing the forgiveness of sins to lost humanity.
John came to understand the biblical promise that death would never be able to lock the Saviour down. God had always intended to defeat sin and its penalty of death through the death and resurrection of his eternal Son, open the eternal kingdom of heaven to all believers in Christ, and give them the hope of their own bodily resurrection after physical death.
The Prayer Book’s Epistle reading for Easter Sunday from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the 1st century church in Colossae makes clear how Christians should live in the light of Christ’s resurrection:
‘If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them’ (Colossians 3v1-7).
The command here to Christian people against setting their affection on ‘things on the earth’ is not a prohibition against good human loves within families, between friends or within wider communities and nations. The context makes clear that it is a prohibition against the sinful practices Paul mentions subsequently.
The Collect for today beautifully sums up the ‘say no to lockdown’ message of Easter:
‘Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: We humbly beseech thee, that as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.’