As you read these words we are arriving on a trans-Atlantic flight from Tel-Aviv back to New York City.
It’s been an incredible 12 days. Renewing old friendships. Making new friends. Visiting sites that we’ve read about all of our lives. But now seeing those places and events come alive in a unique way. Someone once said it’s like reading the Bible in color instead of black and white.
Before boarding for a late night flight, we were able to visit the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu. Archaeological excavations have produced strong evidence that it’s built on the site which was the palace of high priest Caiaphas, where Jesus was jailed following his arrest. The name “Gallicantu” means the cock’s crow and is given based on Peter’s triple denial of Christ and the rooster crowing twice.
In the afternoon we spent some time at the Archaeological Museum viewing the artifacts of antiquity.
However, we were reminded of the real reason for our trip, when we visited The Garden Tomb. Although it’s unlikely that this is the actual tomb of Jesus, it underscores the foundation of our faith and the basis of Christianity. The tomb was empty.
I thought of a post I wrote several years for my column “It’s Friday. But Sunday’s Coming!” that I want to share with our readers.
After six grueling hours of vicious taunts, mental torture and physical torment, Jesus cried with a loud voice, breathed his last breath and “yielded His Spirit.” The centurion guards standing by saw he was dead.
Later soldiers came to break the legs of Jesus and the two criminals, but they said “He is dead.”
The women standing at the foot of the cross, including Mary and Mary Magdalene, said, “He is dead.”
The crowd by now had dispersed. No doubt, wagging their heads, saying, “He’s dead.”
Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and prominent council member said, “He is dead.” So he came to claim the body for burial.
Pilate’s surprised reaction was, “Is He already dead?”
By now the report must have arrived to the Pharisees who had schemed to have Jesus executed. I can imagine a Messenger saying, “He’s dead.” And a smug smile creasing the lips of the leaders as they look at each other saying, “Now He’s dead.”
As preparations were being made for the Passover, from Jerusalem residents to out-of-town visitors, the word must have spread, “He’s dead.”
The Teacher? “He’s dead.” The miracle worker? “He’s dead.” The man who went about doing good? “He’s dead.”
And the apostles. Now scattered. Dispirited. Saddened. Must have been thinking, “It’s all over. He’s dead.”
That was Friday.
But then something happened Sunday. Something incredible. Something mind-boggling. Something miraculous!
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found it empty. She exclaimed, “He’s alive!”
And so said, Mary. And Salome. And the other women. “He’s alive!”
The apostles John and Peter came running to the tomb and went away rejoicing. “He’s alive!”
The other disciples heard the news and no doubt their sad faces turned into joyous smiles as they kept saying, “He’s alive! He’s alive!” Now they understood the scripture about his resurrection.
By now the word is spreading like a virus throughout Jerusalem. The people. The Priests. The Pharisees. That’s all they’re hearing, “He’s alive! He’s alive!”
The two men on the road to Emmaus began their journey saying, “He’s dead.” Then after their walk with “a Stranger,” their hearts burned with passion and they were saying, “He’s alive!”
Over and over again for 40 days, the refrain was the same jubilant exclamation, “He’s alive!”
When we meet on Sunday, I think we too often focus just on the death. Yes, he died. Of course, it was necessary. Without it there is no shedding of blood. No remission. No cleansing. No significance in communion. No value to baptism. Yes, “He died.” For me. And for you.
But “He’s alive!” Without the resurrection, the death would be the meaningless exercise of a valiant martyr. It would signal a sad defeat. It would make the tomb a monument to visit, but not a victory to celebrate.
Sunday when I sing praise to God, it’s because “He’s alive!’ Sunday I can pray to the Father through Jesus because “He’s alive!” I eat the Supper and remember that he died, but my faith is strengthened and my hope is fortified because “He’s alive!”
And the gospel? It’s not just another message. Another lecture. Or speech. It is the proclamation of a grand promise. The promise of a living hope beyond the grave. The promise of my resurrection from the dead. The promise of living and never-dying. The promise of living eternally with the Father.
Because “He’s alive!”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman