"Christ the Lord is risen today, sons of men and angels say. Raise your joys and triumphs high; sing, ye heavens and Earth reply." Charles Wesley
SCRIPTURE & DEVOTION: Mark 15:40 through Mark 16:14; focused on Mark 15:40-47 and Mark 16: 9-13
Some women were watching (the crucifixion) from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome… Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
It was Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath. So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid…
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
Afterward, Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.
Believe the witness; witness the belief
It was late afternoon of the day on which Jesus had been crucified. Knowing the prohibition in Deuteronomy 21:23 against leaving a dead body exposed overnight, Joseph of Arimathea asked for Jesus’ body so that he might place it in a tomb before nightfall. This much is easily understood.
But there are several things about this passage of scripture that bear closer examination. First, Pilate didn’t just accept without verification Joseph’s word that Jesus was dead. His initial surprise was most likely due to the fact that death by crucifixion came as the result of suffocation and often took more than a day to accomplish. So Pilate summoned the centurion who witnessed the crucifixion to confirm that Jesus was dead. No doubt he was concerned that, if he released the body too soon, the followers of Jesus might attempt some sort of resuscitation.
It seems to me, however, that there is a more important reason these details about Pilate’s misgivings were so painstakingly recorded: the witness of the centurion makes it absolutely clear that Jesus was really, truly, unquestionably dead. In literary terms, it reminds me of a passage from the first page of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “Old Marley was dead, dead as a doornail. There is no doubt whatever about that…This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am about to relate.” For without Jesus’ death, there can be no resurrection, no reconciliation between God and man, no joy on Easter morning, nothing but a sad ending to the tragic story of a doomed Messiah.
It is interesting that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary mentioned by name as having witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion were also present at his burial. The scripture records that they saw the body placed in the tomb; they witnessed the placement of the stone in front of the opening. When they return after the Sabbath to anoint Jesus’ body, they are the first to encounter the angel in the empty tomb and learn of the resurrection. Later, after Jesus appears to her, Mary Magdalene tells the others that she has actually seen him and that he has been restored to life. Two other disciples encounter Jesus on the road and also testify to his resurrection.
So many eye-witnesses: the women, the disciples, yet despite their testimony, no one believed them. If the people who knew and lived with Jesus, who marveled at his teaching and saw his great and miraculous power - over sickness, over demons, over the wind and the water – could not believe in the resurrection, it is no wonder that people throughout history have had trouble embracing the essential truth of the gospel: that Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, came and lived among human beings, that he died as a sin-bearing sacrifice in order to reconcile humankind to God, that he rose from the dead and will someday return in glory.
It is an awesome responsibility to bear witness to these things, one for which many of us still may feel ill-fitted despite a life-long commitment to Christ and association with his church. No matter what we may say or do, sometimes it seems that our attempts to convince others of the reality of Jesus’ existence in history and his presence in our lives today are destined to meet with stubborn unbelief and resistance, perhaps even by those whom we know best and love most. Yet, I believe that what Jesus expects of us has not changed since the day he first appeared to those mentioned in this passage of scripture: to declare simply that the Lord is risen. The Savior of the World has conquered death for all time and stands with open arms waiting to receive all who believe and trust in his saving grace. The job of the witness is not to convince, not to convict, not to harass. The job of the witness is to tell truly what he or she has seen and experienced. May we truly believe the witness of the gospel so that others who witness our belief may come themselves to accept the reality of the empty tomb.
May we be bold in telling others what we have seen and truly experienced in You. Open our eyes to the many opportunities, even in these days, to witness and share about who You are. We pray like Peter and John prayed when they said "Enable us to speak Your words with boldness." Help us not to shy away, but to be loving, compassionate, joyful and bold in pointing people to You. Jesus, saying "thank You" for dying on the cross for us is too small a thing - we want to live a life of THANKS to You for all You've done! We love You!