Have you heard the Easter story lately?
It is a rich and beautiful one.
Imagine if it had happened today…
Mary got up after a sleepless night to go to her late friend’s newly dug grave. The morning was quiet and still, unobtrusive. She took flowers as a sign of her love for him, and, against the backdrop of her sadness, they seemed almost too bright in her hands. As she approached she could see from a distance that someone else’s offering was already drooping – like human lives, those of flowers are fleeting but beautiful. As she came nearer though, she noticed something else, something far more shocking than the state of the previous visitor’s gift. The grave had been opened! There was a gaping hole in the ground instead of the neat mound of earth that had been left shortly after the brief funeral. The flowers dropped to the floor as she flung herself around the grave, trying to make sense of what she saw.
What had they done with him?
All Mary could think to do was to fetch Peter and John. She took out her mobile and dialled Peter’s number. ‘They’ve taken him!’ Her words spluttered out between her panicky breaths as the emotion and confusion of it all rose within her. A long five minutes later, they tumbled out of the car and ran to see for themselves. They agreed with Mary. It was really strange – but they had no idea what to do. They walked around the empty hole several times, muttering and vaguely looking around. They tried to calm her down. And then, as quickly as they had come, they left.
They were still full of fear over what had happened, their postures giving away the heavy disillusionment that had fallen over them since the day it had all changed.
As Mary watched their sloping shoulders disappear out the gate and back towards their car, her aloneness hit her afresh. Breaking down, she knelt by her dropped flowers and wept.
Through her tears, Mary thought she heard something or someone and she lifted her head, peering through her tear-drenched hair at the open grave. The sunlight danced into the hole and her gaze followed the dappled light. It was then that she saw them. Two figures, dressed in white. They were not like anyone she had seen before and they sat at either end of the place she had seen her friend’s coffin laid just days previously. With gentle, musical voices, they spoke to her. ‘Why are you crying?’
In a trembling voice, she answered: ‘they took him. They took my friend and I don’t know what they’ve done with him.’ Lowering her face, she drew her gaze from the strange figures as she tried to process what was happening. Was this some kind of dream?
The gate could be heard opening and closing and as she turned slightly she saw a man walking towards her. ‘Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?’ he called. The simple question struck her as profound when she thought of Who it was that she was seeking. Assuming he was a groundsperson there, she looked up, anger creeping into her voice as she answered, ‘If you’ve taken him, please let me know where he is’.
‘Mary’, he said. Her name.
She turned to face him, fully then, and as her eyes filled with recognition she cried out ‘Teacher! Jesus!’
She was amazed by his sudden Presence there before her, walking through the cemetery alive and well. He knelt beside her and she grabbed hold of him, and saw that he was just that – alive and well. New tears streamed down her face as she clung on, and he smiled and sat with her, letting the joyful realisation sink into her heart. She wanted to just stay there with him, in that strange moment, clinging on to her friend, but he had a message he wanted her to share. ‘Don’t cling on, Mary. There’s more to come for me. Go and tell my brothers and sisters ‘I’m going to my Father and your Father, my God and your God”.
Later she would understand more of the magnitude of what he was saying and of what he had done. At that moment though, all she saw was that he had given her the privilege of seeing him first, and of sharing this amazing news, and she was thankful that out of all the religious leaders, all the politicians, all the reporters he could have chosen to show his miraculous self to, he had chosen her, his humble friend.
This story, written using John 20 from the Bible, is just a tiny part of the rich story of Easter. And it is almost impossible to succinctly sum up all that Easter means to Christians, but it is something like this:
Coming into the world as a human was God’s way of saying ‘I’ll walk this life with you. Your life is significant to me. I love you.’
Going to the cross was God’s way of saying ‘You’re my friend. I forgive you. I’ll take your pain and your mess and your grief on myself.’
The resurrection was God’s way of saying ‘I can bring beauty out of ashes, redemption out of loss, wholeness out of brokenness, peace from violence, love from hate, hope from despair.’
‘Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.’ John 15: 13