A Meditation for 27 March 2016, Easter Sunday (Year C).
For me, the Easter story begins just before Sunday on Good Friday. It is the beginning of the Sabbath and Jesus has died. Jewish custom dictates that the dead need to be buried before sundown. Normally, it takes a few days to die, but even so, the Roman authorities preferred to keep the bodies of those who were crucified on the crosses for several days as a subtle reminder to the population of what happens when you provoke the authorities. Tradition says that Joseph of Arimethea asked for and received permission to take Jesus’ body down so that, in accordance with Jewish burial customs, He could be buried.
What would you have done if Joseph of Arimethea had asked you to go with him to take Jesus’ body off the cross and place Him in the the tomb? Would you have gone with him? Would you have climbed up a ladder and help take the bloodied and broken body of your friend, your master, your teacher off the cross?
Keep in mind that if you did this you would have become ritually unclean and not allowed in the Temple until you were declared “clean” by the religious authorities, the same authorities who conspired with the Roman political authorities to condemn and execute Jesus. Would you have been willing to go with Joseph if you knew that it meant you would become an outcast in your own society?
And what if the one of the women had come to you that Sunday morning and asked for your help in completing the task of burial? In the rush to meet the rules that stated Jesus had to be buried by sundown on Friday, the body was not properly prepared. So the women’s role in burial was not completed and could not be completed until Sunday morning, after the Sabbath was over.
That is why the women went to the tomb that Sunday morning, to complete the burial tasks that should have been done two days before. Would you have gone with the women that Sunday morning to help in the task, perhaps to roll away the stone that closed the tomb, lift the body or other myriad little tasks?
And just as the men would have been ritually unclean because of what they had done, so too would the women have been ritually unclean. Would you have been willing to undertake tasks that would have made you “unclean” and would have kept you out of society until authorities allowed you to come back in?
Would you have been willing to help your friends do the “normal” things when someone died, especially when the one you were burying had been labeled, for all purposes, a radical, a reactionary, and a criminal? Would you not have worried that your actions would mark you in the same way. Would you have gone even if it meant you might be arrested and executed as well?
What would you have gained by helping your friends, for doing the right thing?
When I was in the Boy Scouts back in 1964, our Scoutmaster, Major Smith, was trying to find ways to increase Boy Scout related activities. The idea that he came up with was the “Scout of the Year” competition. It was a competition based on the accumulation of points for doing a variety of things (hiking, camping, riding one’s bike, community service, that sort of thing) that Boy Scouts typically did.
Now, some of the points one earned came from the normal schedule of the troop – regular attendance at troop meetings, camping trips, and so forth. But other activities were to be done outside the framework of the regular schedule.
But you could not simply go for a five-mile hike or a ten-mile bike ride on your own; you had to have someone go with you to verify that the task had been completed. Steve, a member of the troop who lived near me, decided that he wanted to win that award. So he enlisted my help. So, every time he wanted to ride his bicycle out to the missile sites outside Denver, he would ask me to come along. As it happened, I didn’t particularly care for such competition and probably wouldn’t have done much more than what I would normally do. But Steve was a friend and he needed my help, so I helped him out.
Now, while this is going on, I and two others were studying for the God & Country award at my church (which happened to sponsor the troop I was in). Part of our class responsibility was to serve as acolytes Sunday mornings.
So when the “Scout of the Year” competition began and we began reporting our activities, I and the other member of the class who was in the same troop (the third individual belonged to a different troop) reported that we had been an acolyte and got our points.
In effect, I was getting points without even trying (if one can consider doing two services on a Sunday morning not trying). This worked pretty well for me until other guys in the troop realized what I was doing and they began to ask about being an acolyte as well. As a result, my own point total started to drop as others began actively serving as acolytes. But, when that first God & Country class ended, a new class began with those who had been serving as acolytes being the members.
When the year was over, my friend Steve received the “Scout of the Year” award. Interestingly enough, I finished something like 5th which I thought was pretty good since I really didn’t try to win. Yes, I know that if I had put a little more effort into the process, I might have finished higher. I had received most of my points for doing things that I normally did.
Consider this – When the competition began, I had already begun my own journey with Christ and it was that journey that I was more interested in completing. The points I received in the troop competition were secondary. But those who saw the work that I was doing and what I received wanted to share in that reward as well. And in serving as acolytes, they all in one way or another began the decision about what journey they wanted to take. And when the competition was over, they continued on the journey with Christ.
Yes, I would much rather have kept the points I had earned for doing two services a Sunday two out of every three weeks. But it was also easy sharing the duties.
Now, when the summer of 1965 came, my family moved from Colorado to Missouri and a new path on my own personal journey opened up. I do not know what happened to those who I journeyed with during 1964 and 1965 or those whose journey began after mine. But I know that because of what I was doing, others began their own journey with Christ.
What does this all have to do with Easter Sunday? We know that the tomb is empty, that Christ has risen. In one sense, we were there with Joseph of Arimethea and the others when Jesus’ body was taken off the cross and laid in the tomb. In one sense, we were there with the women on that First Easter Sunday morning when we discovered that the tomb was empty. We made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, even knowing that it could make us an outcast in society.
We know that He is very much alive in our hearts, our minds, and our lives. And what we know is that our lives are very much different because of this. Our lives have changed in a way that others will see.
And now, on Easter, we are asked to continue the journey, to go from this place into the world, to show by what we say and do that Christ is alive. Some may think that we must make that special effort, that extra step to do this. But all we are asked to do is lead this new life in Christ.
Some think that we must push our friends to accept Christ, that we must castigate them and tell them of all the bad and terrible things that will happen to them if they don’t accept Christ as their Savior. But that wasn’t what Jesus did when He walked the back roads of the Galilee.
Jesus never asked those He healed or gave comfort to who they were or if they were somehow qualified to accept His blessings and touch. He never said that they had to follow Him once they were healed, though many would do so. His was a life that restored hope and promise to the people. His was a life that lifted people out of despair and turmoil.
Does your life reflect that same opportunity? Do you, because Christ is in your life today, help to lift people out of despair and turmoil? In the end, all we are asked to do is live our lives in such a way that it is evident that Christ is a part of our life. That is all Christ ever wants us to do when we walk with Him and to love others as He has loved us.
On this day, when we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, we are asked if we are prepared to continue the journey that began when He asked the Twelve to follow Him. Are we prepared to go beyond the cross and the tomb, out into the world, to lead a life that shows that Christ is alive and that there is victory over sin and death, that there is hope in a world that doesn’t offer hope?
And so the question comes from a friend, from a teacher, from Christ, “Would you go with me?”