24 Hours That Changed the World: “Christ the Victor” 
Rev. Sandy Johnson
April 5, 2015
The sun was just coming up over the horizon. The air was cool and crisp. Two women walked the path in silence; the only sound was their feet crunching on the gravel. They were quietly reflecting on the days prior. Their leader, their Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth had been put to death, victim of the death penalty. His crime? Claiming to be the “King of the Jews.”
The other disciples were too afraid to venture out. They had spent the Sabbath in hiding, “behind locked doors, terrified they might be arrested and subject to the fate that had befallen their Lord.” They “were in shock, traumatized by what they had witnessed,” but there was also guilt, not only had Judas betrayed him, but they all had abandoned Jesus in the hour of his greatest need. Their lives had been turned upside down, what would they do now? They had left everything to follow the Christ and now that chapter of their life had ended, it had died with Jesus.
Only a few had watched the crucifixion, but they shared the story with one another; that Jesus was tortured and hung on the Roman cross. They felt horror as they watched his life slowly drain away. They couldn’t get the memory of his last words out of their heads…“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How could God not have heard his cry? Why did God allow this to happen?
And now Jesus was dead, laid out in the tomb. The women were very thankful for Joseph of Arimathea, one of Jesus secret followers who had intervened. If the Sanhedrin or the Chief Priests had any idea that Joseph was a follower of Jesus, he would be expelled from the council. Instead Joseph went secretly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body so that he could honor him in his death and provide a proper burial.
The place where the crucifixion took place was next to a garbage dump and it was not uncommon for those who were crucified to be simply delivered to the dump; left to be a meal to the circling predators. But Joseph had received permission from Pilate to take his body and he took it to his newly hewn tomb; he wrapped him in a linen cloth, laid him on the slab and sealed the tomb with a huge rock.
This wasn’t the way that it should have been done; usually the women would have taken the time to wrap the body with spices and oils, but with sunset looming and the Sabbath beginning that would have to wait.
The Sabbath was agonizing long, from sundown on Friday until sunup on Sunday. All everyone could think about was Jesus, all that they had witnessed and they talked incessantly about what Jesus had taught them. Had it all been a sham? Depressed and isolated, Jesus’ followers endured the Sabbath together, grieving for the loss of their leader.
The women couldn’t wait to finish the burial ritual and so were up early on the first day of the week, setting out just as the sun was rising. Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of James and Salome carried the hundred pounds of supplies with them. They were most concerned about whether they would be able to access the tomb. They knew the stone had been rolled into place and they were discussing as they walked, what they were going to do once they arrived at the tomb.
Would they be strong enough to push the stone back? Would they need help? Joseph had told them that Pilate had sent guards to protect the tomb, so scared were the Chief Priests that one of the followers would steal the body and claim resurrection. Maybe the guards would help. Surely they would gain entrance and finish the job that Joseph had begun.
As the tomb came into view, they saw that in fact the stone had already been rolled away. Who could have beaten them to the tomb? As they approached, they saw nothing to give them a clue as to why the tomb was open. It wasn’t until they gazed inside that they saw him.
There on the right side of the empty tomb was a young man, dressed in a white robe. He nearly glowed, so white was his garment, dazzling really. The women were understandably shocked and alarmed. Who was this man and where was their Jesus?? With a quiet confidence the young man said to them:
“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
I have tried to imagine what it might have been like for these two women to hear these words. Can you imagine? I suspect the shock numbed them, but they did what the angel had told them and they retreated the way they came and headed back to where the disciples were hiding. The mixed emotions of terror and amazement; fear and joy; panic and wonder – were almost more than they could comprehend as they sprinted back to their friends.
They arrived and shared the news with their fellow disciples. They didn’t believe the women. I have often criticized these men that they wouldn’t receive this news from the women with great joy and believe them. I have always wanted to make it a gender issue – here again, another story about men not listening to women! I’m not saying that men don’t listen to women, but I have seen it in my own household where I had to “prove” myself or my story.
This week while reflecting again on this story, it occurred to me that gender doesn’t have anything to do with it. I don’t think it would have mattered who came back from the empty tomb and shared the news; they would not have been believed.
I mean, would you? We are a society of people who require proof, evidence and corroboration. We wouldn’t have taken the word of our friends either had we been there that day. Each of the Gospels has accounts of the disciples being face to face with the risen Christ and him not being recognized.
Mary Magdalene thought the man that she saw might be the gardener; and not until he said her name did she recognize him. The Gospel of Luke tells us that Peter went back to the tomb and affirmed what the women had told them, the tomb was empty. Cleopas and his friend didn’t recognize Jesus when he appeared to them on the road to Emmaus, that was until he broke bread with them. In the Gospel of John, Jesus appeared to seven disciples near the Sea of Tiberias. They thought him to be a fisherman. And when Jesus first appeared to the eleven disciples they thought they were seeing a ghost.
The passage from Matthew 25:31-46 says that “Jesus promises his followers that when he reappears it will be as the beggar, the stranger, the sick person or the prisoner. In these cases, it will not be the church that brings the risen Christ to the world. Instead, it will be the world in all its broken messiness that teaches the church how to recognize Christ.
“Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again, and again, and again and again. But you probably won’t recognize him when he does. Instead you might see a person who feels like nothing more than a distraction, an obstacle or a burden. An outsider you don’t have time to let in.
“This is the repeated message of the Easter Story. Jesus is already out there in the world, waiting for his followers to catch up and recognize him. The Holy Spirit and God’s love are bound by no human structure, no conventional limitation.
“How appropriate that during this Holy Week, one of the biggest current news stories is one of Christian’s claiming and celebrating their right to exclude those with whom they disagree. We still don’t get it. We still think we’re Peter, holding the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”
“Luckily for us, even though Jesus supposedly handed over those keys, he also has no problem ignoring all our locked doors. He comes and goes as he pleases, takes whatever form he sees fit, and consistently reminds us, “Do not fear.”
“I love that about Jesus. I marvel at his complete disregard for human convention and limitations. I am grateful that every Easter we hear once again how untamed God’s love really is. As limited human beings, we try to find, beat and destroy God’s unsettling presence in our world. We look upon others who are different, knowing that the Bible tells us they are made in the image of God, and still we fail to see Christ in them. But God can’t be bound, beaten or destroyed. And Christ will always show up in those faces we look upon with fear or disgust.
“Easter reminds Christians to be humble. It retells the story of how we human beings tried our hardest to kill off the ultimate example of God’s love on earth. It shows up that even our best attempts at denial and destruction end up looking feeble in the light of God’s ever-present, life-renewing love for this world. The Easter story also recalls how much trouble even the faithful had with understanding God’s redeeming work. We seem bent on underestimating God. Thankfully, God is just as intent on defying our expectations.”
When we “face life with hope and confidence, when we hear, trust and celebrate the Easter story, we reclaim the same faith and discover the same joy and hope the first disciples had. Easter has the power to change us.”
“In Jesus, God entered the boxing arena where evil seems to have the upper hand. He took the worst blows of the enemy, being subject to the powers that conspired to destroy him. He was beaten, abused, and eventually knocked out. But just when the match seemed to be lost, Jesus arose; and in his resurrection he dealt a finishing blow to the forces of sin, evil and death. Christ became the Victor. With his victory all of humankind was offered the opportunity to join forces with him; to be set free from the power of evil, sin, and death; and to live lives of hope, freedom and love.”
Christ is Victorious. He is risen. He is risen indeed.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, we are giddy this morning as we celebrate and remember the morning the tomb was empty. We are in awe of what Jesus endured for us and struggle to accept his gift of love and grace. Open our hearts and mind to accept this gift and humbly follow Christ today and always. Amen.
 This sermon series is adapted from Adam Hamilton’s book, “24 Hours that Changed the World”
 Hamilton, 117
 Hamilton, 118
 Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34
 Mark 16:6-7
 http://www.courtneytball.com/you-may-not-recognize-jesus-this-easter/ accessed April 4, 2015.
 Hamilton, 124
 Hamilton, 127