Weekly Meditation: 27th March 2016
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1st Corinthians 15:19-26
If you are in church on Easter morning or at any other time, you are there for one reason – because Christ is alive. You may go for many other purposes, but if Jesus had not been raised, if he had not been seen and if those who witnessed his resurrection had not spoken about it, Christianity would not exist, we would know nothing about Jesus or about salvation, and you would not be in church.
When Luke wrote his gospel, he had in mind that Jesus had been a man, living on this earth like any other human, and so he wrote to make the good news available and accessible to all – men and women, Jew and Gentile, slave or free. In his account of the resurrection, it is the women who take centre-stage, rising early to visit the tomb, meeting the two angels, receiving the news that Jesus was alive, hurrying to tell the male disciples, and – of course – not being believed (Luke 24:1-11). Only Peter went to verify their story and saw for himself the empty tomb (v 12).
Each gospel writer chose the details he needed to achieve his purpose. Their accounts are not identical; they are written by real people using their own words, and they tell the story in order to present it in the way they have chosen. When we give an account of an event, we do exactly the same. In recent years, Bible critics have cast doubt on the gospels for this very reason – that they are not always in accord. The different gospel accounts are not in conflict, however; they are simply stories told from varying points of view, and their candour should increase our faith rather than undermine it. The minor variations add authenticity to the stories.
Luke was most likely a Gentile himself, and he sought to make use of events and details that would appeal to non-Jews. It is significant that Luke’s sequel to his gospel – the book of Acts – makes much of the conversion of the first Gentile, the centurion Cornelius. When Cornelius was given an angelic message telling him to send for Simon Peter, he had the privilege of hearing the gospel from an eye witness. Peter could say with confidence that after Jesus had been crucified, “God raised him from the dead” (Acts 10:40). Peter was one who “ate and drank” with Jesus following his resurrection (10:41), and in sharing his experience with a Gentile, he was demonstrating that “God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation” (10:34-35). Significantly, salvation is not achieved by keeping rules (as Jews had always sought to do) but by believing in Jesus (10: 43). In his discourse, Peter does not explain in detail how Jesus paid the price of human sin when he died on the cross. He focuses on the resurrection itself.
The resurrection is central to Christian faith, which is why Easter Day is the major festival in the Church’s calendar. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul declares that if the resurrection was a fallacy, then our hope in Christ would be useless. It would be vain hope, leading us towards failure and disappointment, aiming for an impossible goal, so that we would be “pitied more than all men” (1st Corinthians 15:19). It is wonderful that Jesus died on the cross to pay the price of our sins, but without his resurrection – demonstrating his conquest of death, “the last enemy” (v 26) – we would have no proof, and no future hope. However, Jesus’ resurrection is ultimately our resurrection too; he is the “first fruits” (v 20) of a resurrection harvest of all those “who belong to him” (v 23).
When Moses safely brought the Israelites through the divided waters of the Red Sea, he sang “the Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2). These words are reiterated in Psalm 118:14, and this victory psalm is always used on Easter Day because it foreshadows the much greater victory that Jesus achieved in his resurrection when he defeated death and opened the gates of heaven. “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
By Susan Thorne