In his book, When Your Rope Breaks, pastor Stephen Brown writes candidly about the maelstrom of emotions that engulfed him when his brother and best friend Ron suddenly passed away of a heart attack. Ron was only in his forties, had a growing family and was a superb district attorney. His death devastated Steven who did not have time to say “goodbye” considering the unexpected way in which Ron died.
Several weeks after Ron’s death, Stephen decided to visit his brother’s grave. It was a cold, overcast afternoon in late winter as Stephen stepped out from his car into the drizzle. Ron’s grave was not yet marked, and Stephen couldn't find it. As he groped through the mud, his grief overwhelmed him. Standing in the rain, Stephen began sobbing. “God, this has been the worst month of my life and now I can’t even find my brother’s grave,” he muttered.
That’s when Stephen sensed a presence come over him, as though Christ himself were there in the cemetery. As he glanced over at another tombstone he saw the following words inscribed on granite, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). It was as if Jesus were speaking directly to Stephen in the depths of his despondency. The “real” Ron was not there, and he wasn’t lost either. Ron’s soul was with Christ. Death was not a closed door, but the threshold which marked eternity.
“These words comforted me,” Stephen later wrote, “and I haven’t been back to the cemetery since. I don’t need to go back. The One who loved Ron and knew him came to me in my grief. He promised never to leave, and that has made all the difference in the world.”
The question of the angel to the women that first Easter Sunday may seem rather silly at first. After all they saw the fountain of blood spew from his side when the solider plunged a spear into Jesus’ side. They carefully wrapped his limp and lifeless body in seventy-five pounds of spices and linins. They had heard the “thud” of the large stone as it dropped into its final resting place, sealing the corpse of Jesus in a dark cave. All of these things gave them a sense of finality. It really was over.
They were searching for Jesus in a graveyard, because the resurrection was the furthest thing from their mind. I think the deeper issue of the question posed in the glow of the resurrection sunrise was this—often times we persist to live in old paradigms even when God has revealed the beginning of a new work. Once again, Jesus defied to be put into a category, in this case the deceased, and this took a while to sink in.
The participants in that first Easter drama had heard Jesus’ promises of resurrection. They had seen him raise others from the dead. Yet, they still insisted that death had won even when they had been given so much evidence of Christ’s infinite power. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not faulting them for their struggle to get out of the gutter of unbelief.
What I am saying is that like them, we can be equally stubborn to move out of the fog of Saturday evening and into the light of Sunday morning. Like Pastor Stephen standing over an unmarked grave, we can so easily forget that Easter is the dawn of new paradigm shift—death is daily being eclipsed by life. It may look like the grave has won, but those moments are only temporary. Jesus has reversed the flow of the sin-cursed natural order and His endless, unstoppable life which bursted from that tomb is merely a preview of coming attractions. Because He lives, we shall live also. Death is in retreat my friends, and where we are going it has been completely banished altogether.
I will leave you with a thought from Philip Yancey who wrote, “There are two ways to look at human history, I have concluded. One way is to focus on the wars, violence, squalor, pain tragedy and death. From such a point of view, Easter seems a fairy-tale exception, a stunning contradiction in the name of God . . . But if I take Easter as the starting point, the one incontrovertible fact about how God treats those whom He loves, then human history becomes the contradiction and Easter a preview ultimate reality. Since Jesus conquered death and by proxy our death then hope then flows like lave beneath the crust of life.”