A small group of friends was gathered, trying to come to grips with what they had just witnessed. Three days ago, their world came crashing in around them, and they were unsure what they would do next. Their friend, their leader, was gone. The authorities had taken him in the middle of the night. One of their own had turned him in. He was put on trial on trumped-up charges and given a death sentence. They watched as the government carried out that death sentence. Then, finally, they watched him take his last breath. He was removed from the instrument of his death and placed in a tomb, and a large stone was rolled in front of it. They thought this was the end.
Then came the morning.
Everything was going to be different.
When we strip it all away, this day is about two things, forgiveness and love.
There is a great icon painting called the “harrowing of hell.” The icon depicts Jesus descending among the dead and rescuing those who are there. So you see, Jesus did not come just to redeem the living, but he came to redeem everyone, even creation itself.
We see this played out during the crucifixion itself. Jesus, hanging on the cross, looks down at those who had just put him there, and he asks God to forgive them. So, likewise, Jesus is pleading with God to forgive those who have just killed him.
Jesus also forgives the thief that was crucified with him. As you well know, Jesus was crucified with two thieves, and one of them asked Jesus for forgiveness. Jesus asks no questions and requires nothing of this man and grants his request. The man asked, and it was granted. It’s that simple.
But today is also about love. Of course, the entire Gospel is about love, but it comes to a point today. Everything that was done to this point was about love, the love that God has for each of us. I don’t think this can be said enough; God loves each of us, just the way we are.
I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Jesus came to turn everything in its head. He came to change the way we worship, how we interact with each other, and how we love. This change continued after his death with his appearance to Mary.
Each of the Gospels tells the same story. The men were all cowering in the upper room. They were afraid, and they did not know what to do next. But the women knew there was work that had to be done no matter what. Jesus was hastily buried, and his body needed to be prepared according to the custom. In the other accounts, Mary is not alone when she goes to the tomb, but in John’s Gospel, she is alone.
She arrives and believes that the body of Jesus has been taken, so she runs back to tell the others. Mary has already heard that Jesus has risen in the other accounts, and she tells the others this, but the men do not believe her. So, they set off to the tomb to see for themselves.
Once they saw the empty tomb, they returned home, but Mary stayed, weeping for Jesus. Then he appears to her. He tells her to go and tell the others, go, and share the good news that I have risen! Go and preach. Yes, Jesus is telling a woman to go and preach. So while the men were cowering, the women did what had to be done. And this was just the start.
Jesus took this complex system of rules and regulations and boiled it all down to two things, Love God and Love everyone, including those who do not love you back.
I have done this exercise before. Get into a comfortable position and close your eyes. I want you to think about the most despicable person you think of. It can be someone you know or someone you have only heard about. The person that makes your blood boil when you hear their voice or see their face. That is the person we are called to love. Yes, it’s hard. It’s supposed to be.
As I was preparing for our Good Friday service, I came across something online that really hit home. It said, “when you learn how to sit at the table with your Judas, you’ll understand the love of Christ.” So Jesus, knowing that Judas would betray him, sat at the table with him and worshiped.
In a few moments, we will spiritually gather around this table, not a table of sacrifice but a table of love. This is the table where we will share a meal that will spiritually nourish us and help us carry out those commands of Jesus. This is an open table available to all who desire to come. The meal we serve is a healing meal, not a prize only reserved for those who live up to a certain standard. The food we offer is available even if you are not ready to love and forgive.
So, I invite you to come as redeemed and forgiven people to the empty tomb and the table. Come just as you are but leave changed.