Jesus had died. The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. He had touched their lives as no one else ever had. All of their hopes and dreams for the future were shattered. What do they do now?
In John’s gospel we read: It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. They had seen what had happened to their leader and were afraid they would be next. So they huddled in secret.
But there was a rumor spreading through Jerusalem on that first Easter. Early that morning some women had come to the tomb where Jesus was buried and had found the tomb empty. Mark’s gospel tells us that
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so they could go and anoint Him. 2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb at sunrise. 3 They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb for us?” 4 Looking up, they observed that the stone—which was very large—had been rolled away. 5 When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; they were amazed and alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he told them. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been resurrected! He is not here! See the place where they put Him. 7 But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see Him there just as He told you.’” [18:1-7]
The first words spoken to Jesus’ followers at his empty tomb were, “Don’t be alarmed, . . . He has been resurrected! He is not here! See the place where they put Him.”. . . . The women were told to report the astonishing news of the empty tomb: “go tell the disciples and Peter.”
Why was Peter singled out from the others? Peter had always been the leader among the disciples, but he had betrayed his Lord three times with oaths and curses. Peter denied his Master from fear. The strong fisherman had wept bitterly and became utterly dejected after the death of the Lord. Jesus wanted Peter to know that he was still loved despite his failure.
The women went back to the eleven disciples “and the others” and told them what had happened. Luke tells us that “the apostles thought that what the women said was nonsense, and they did not believe them.” [24:11]
When the women told them the news, Peter and John ran to the tomb. John, younger and faster than Peter, arrived first and waited at the entrance, peering into the darkness. Peter, always the impulsive disciple, didn’t stop at the entrance; he went right inside. He had to see. He had to know. They saw the empty tomb, and they believed as before, but now in a new way.
A little later, Jesus appeared to his disciples. And the Scriptures say, “When they saw the Lord they were filled with great joy.” Until they saw Jesus, the disciples viewed the world the way other people did. The central reality of their lives had been the power of the system and their own powerlessness. But when they saw Jesus, they unlocked the doors, came out, and began turning the world upside down. The disciples were converted; they knew another reality then, one that was truer, greater, stronger, and a more compelling authority than the realities that had paralyzed them with fear. Jesus had risen, and Jesus was Lord.
We, too, are hiding behind locked doors and are afraid to come out. Jesus knows our fears. He wants us to know his resurrection. He says, “Go, tell my disciples that I have risen and that I am going before them. And go tell . . .”– he slowly repeats my name and the names of each of you. Tell Martha; tell Jim. Tell Tom, Dick and Harry. Tell Irene, tell Marie, tell everyone that we need not be afraid anymore. Christ has risen!
Like Peter, we have betrayed Christ because of our fears. But Jesus didn’t hold Peter’s fear against him. Nor does he hold our fears against us.
We, too, have doubted like Thomas. We have become cynical, skeptical, and faithless. But Jesus stands among us, shows us his hands and his side, and he tells us to reach out and touch him. He tells Thomas and he tells us not to doubt, but to believe.
Jesus died for our sins, our doubts, and our fears. He was raised from the grave to demonstrate his victory over our sins, our doubts, and our fears, and to set us free from their power. He wants us, like those early followers, to know his resurrection. He wanted them to know, and he wants us to know, that his love for us has no bounds, that he died to set us free from everything that would bind us.
When Jesus went to the cross he trusted God the Father to raise him from death, just as you and I have to trust God the Father to raise us from death. Jesus wants us to know that he was raised to show us his way was true. He says to us, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Jesus calls us to change, to be converted. He wants to help us fulfill the purpose for which we were born. Jesus wants to free us from feelings of failure that hold us back and to give us a new direction in life. Jesus wants to free us from the guilt of our wrongdoing. Jesus wants us to be converted, to be changed, to experience the power of his resurrection.
Oh God, whom Jesus called Father, we too, would call you Father. But there is so much wrong with us and wrong with the world that calling you Father is impossible unless you help us. We have fears and doubts. We feel like damaged merchandise. We want to do what is right and find ourselves doing what we know is wrong. Through the resurrection of Jesus you have forgiven every wrong thought, word, and deed that we have committed. We say, “Father. We receive your forgiveness. Help us to be changed, to be converted. Help us to experience the words of Jesus: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”