Did you notice the reaction of the guards on that first Easter Morning? They were so frightened that they fell to the ground and shook. They were ready to guard against grave robbers but they were certainly not ready to fight angels or to stop men who had been dead from leaving their tombs. It reminds me of a story I heard. The story is of a man who was visiting New York City. He got into a cab and as the cab was making its way through the city he thought he would ask the cab driver for a good place to eat. So he leaned forward, tapped the cabby on the shoulder and said, “Hey, Buddy…” The driver let out a blood curdling scream and lost control of the cab. He nearly hit a bus, jumped the curb and stopped just inches from going through a huge plate-glass window and into a crowded restaurant. For a few minutes, there was dead silence in the cab. All you could hear was two hearts beating like bass drums pounding out a quick march. The driver finally turned around and said, “Man, you scared the living daylights out of me.”
The passenger, who was white as a sheet and whose eyes were as big as dinner plates, said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize tapping you on the shoulder would scare you so badly.”
The cabby said, “Well, I guess it is not really your fault. This is my first day driving a cab. But for the last 25 years, I drove a hearse.”
The reason the taxi driver was startled was because he knew that dead people don’t tap his shoulder and he had forgotten he was driving a live person. Everyone knows that dead people are, well, dead, right? That’s why the Easter story is so remarkable isn’t it? The cabbie knew and we know, dead people aren’t supposed to tap you on your shoulder. Dead people are supposed to stay where you put them. But what is so exciting about today is the fact that Jesus didn’t do that.
We live and then we die. There are no exceptions. We talk about immortality; we say things like ‘the immortal Shakespeare.’ But Shakespeare is still dead, right? Woody Allen once said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality by not dying.” But Woody is going to die whether he wants to or not. The death of Jesus wasn’t shocking but his rising from the dead certainly was. But impact of what happened on that first resurrection morning is so much more than just the surprise of Jesus rising from the dead that we see in our Gospel reading. The impact, the repercussions are so much more. It brings to mind a late night television commercial I saw years ago, the Sham Wow commercials. Do any of you remember the Sham Wow commercials? I know that Loa remembers. These commercials used to air a number of years ago particularly during late night television shows. The salesman would hold up the Sham Wow, an orange colored cloth and tell us that it works like a sponge, a towel and a chamois cloth. It holds 20 times its weight in liquid. You can wash them in the washing machine and use them over and over again. They are guaranteed for 10 years. Sham Wows are made in Germany—and you know the Germans always make good stuff. You cannot purchase these in any store; you can only get them through this special television offer. The list price for a set of these towels is $19.99 plus shipping and handling. It’s a great deal! And then there would be a pause. But wait—there’s more, if you call in the next 20 minutes you will get the second set for free! And then there is a pause, not a long pause mind you a very short pause and then there is but wait, there is even more! If you call right now, you will receive this limited television offer with no shipping and handling charges. That’s right, you can get all this, a 55 dollar value for only $19.99!!! I love the part when they say, “But wait, there’s more!” This deal itself is so incredible and so amazing, but wait, there is even more. When we consider Easter, that phrase is so appropriate. We see and understand something of the surprise and shock the disciples had at the resurrection of Jesus, we see life from the dead, and then, whoa, wait, there’s more.
So first, we see the disciples were shocked and amazed that Jesus was not dead in the tomb. Later we see they are overjoyed to see him alive. But wait there’s more. In the reading from the book of Acts, Peter tells Cornelius, a man who is a Roman soldier that because Jesus was raised from the dead everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name. Now that’s big news. We have all done things we have regretted; said things we wish we had not said and done hurtful things we regret. We have acted selfishly when in retrospect we wish had acted generously. Or we wish we had done things or said things that we didn’t. So being able to have our sins forgiven is huge. Being able to have our slates wiped clean before God is wonderful news. Being able to have clean consciences is like having a great burden removed from our hearts. Now we can approach God and have a relationship with God because our sins have been forgiven.
But wait, there’s more. You see not only do we receive forgiveness through faith in Jesus’ name, but we can also receive new life. Jesus talked one night to Nicodemus and told him that it is through faith in him that one is able to be born again. Jesus said the same thing in different ways throughout his ministry here on earth. He compared having this new life to a seed that is planted and grows up, just like we see all around us at spring time. The idea was that we can have a new life through faith in his name. Jesus told his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit after he had risen from the dead. The Holy Spirit is one who brings us this new life. It is like what the Apostle Paul said, “We were dead in our trespasses and sins” but we have been made alive and been raised with Christ. You see, if Christ had not been raised from the dead we would still be spiritually dead. No new life for us. But now, now we have been raised in a new life; a new life that is powered by the power of the resurrection. Now we have been given this resurrection power to live a life different than we used to live. Now we can really live, now we can have freedom from the bad habits, from selfishness, pride, addictions, the need to please and live to the standards of our society; because now we live for Jesus. Now we have Heaven’s standards to which we can synchronize our lives and we are able to do this because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead!
But wait, there’s more! Not only are our sins forgiven. Not only are we able to have a new life but because of the resurrection of Jesus we have the promise of our own bodies being resurrected. When Jesus died, he destroyed the power of death. When he died, death tried to extinguish his life like the lives of everyone else who had died, but Death was unable to extinguish Jesus; it was unable to contain him. Jesus, we are told, descended to the dead, descended into Hell and there he proclaimed his victory over sin, over Evil, over death and over Hell; and then he ascended back to life. He reanimated his body that was in the tomb and came back to life. He pushed away the stone from in front of the tomb and came out. His body had perished; it died on the cross, but it was raised imperishable. His body had died in dishonor, but it was raised in glory. Jesus died in weakness, but was raised in power. And because Jesus had this victory over death, the same will be said of our bodies in the day of the 2nd resurrection. Our bodies will perish but will be raised imperishable. Our bodies will fail us in dishonor at our deaths, but we will be raised in glory. Our bodies will die in weakness, but will be raised in power.
But wait there’s even more! Because of the mighty resurrection of Jesus we have forgiveness of sins and new life in our spirits and the promise of new resurrected bodies after our bodies die, but we also have been adopted as brothers and sisters of Jesus and we are heirs along with Him in God’s kingdom! We could keep going and going because of Christ’s mighty resurrection there is so much more.
The first Easter the soldiers were terrified at the event of Christ’s resurrection, an event they were powerless to stop. Neither they nor the powers of Death, Hell, or Evil could stop our Lord Jesus from rising from the dead. He defeated them all! This is why we celebrate Easter; this is why Easter is the most important day in human history. The Lord is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia Amen!