Rev Kuruvilla Chandy is the Emeritus Pastor of Grace Bible Church, Lucknow in North India. Kuru, as he is popularly known, started his pastoral work in Lucknow from September 1974. After 23 years as the pastor of Lalbagh Methodist Church, in 1997 Kuru was ordained as the founding pastor of Grace Bible Church. He is an expository preacher who ministers widely in conferences and camps. His articles are featured regularly in Christian Trends and Light of Life. He is also the author of several books. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today we are used to greeting one another “Happy Easter!” That wasn’t the way believers greeted each other in the ancient church. The greeter would say, “The Lord is risen!” and people would say, “He is risen indeed!”
Disciples in Denial
When we read the accounts of the Resurrection of our Lord, the first thing we note is that only the women were going to the grave to anoint the body of Jesus. They expected to find the body. They were not expecting the Lord to have risen from the dead. They were not expecting any miracles. Jesus was dead and that was the end of the story. That’s what they thought.
On the way to the grave, they were worriedly discussing as to who would move the stone cover for them. The cover was a big, wheel-shaped stone that could be moved along a groove. Still it was something that required brute strength and the women didn’t have that. They had to discuss this because the men in the group had not accompanied them, and they knew that they could not call on them to help them in an emergency. The men were scared to come into the open to identify themselves with their Master who had been executed by the authorities.
This absence of the men is a piece of evidence that the Resurrection of Jesus did happen. The gospel accounts of the Resurrection were all penned by men. They were captive to their culture. They belonged to a patriarchal society that put women down routinely. Yet in the gospel accounts men admit that while they themselves were cowardly, the women were not. While they were stubborn in their disbelief, the women were the first to believe. The only reason the men telling the gospel story were not interested in portraying themselves in heroic roles in the story, was that they thought that their reputation didn’t matter as much as the truth. Something so electrifying had happened that their own reputations didn’t matter anymore.
The Empty Grave
When the women got to the grave, they found the stone rolled away. It wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus come out. Jesus didn’t need any help in getting out of the grave. He had conquered death itself, and so getting out of the grave wouldn’t have been a problem. It was to let the women get in to the grave that the stone was rolled away so that they could see that Jesus wasn’t there. If the stone hadn’t been rolled away, the women would have sat outside the grave imagining that the body was still in there.
The angels said to the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead. He is not here! He has risen!” (Lk. 24: 5-6)
My first association with Christ Church goes back to the time when my father died. I was 17 then. My mother asked me for some appropriate words to put on the tombstone, and I gave her the words, “He is not here!” in affirmation of our faith that death does not terminate life, but that there is life beyond this life. While we were going to bury my father’s mortal remains, he was already gone from here. My mother objected. She said that father’s elder brother would be upset if we put the words “He is not here!” on father’s tombstone, because if he was not there, we wouldn’t be visiting the grave. After all, that is how people deal with graves, except in the case of the grave of our Lord.
Did you know that Jesus is the only person who “has” two graves? At least, people think of two sites as His grave. There is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and there is the Garden Tomb. Some people claim that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre marks the place of Christ’s burial and others claim that it was at the Garden Tomb that Jesus was buried. This confusion arose because until superstition and ritualism arose, for the first few centuries people never went on pilgrimages to the grave of Jesus.
Why would they? There was no body there. There was no grave that held Him.
Luke says that Peter saw the grave-cloths “lying by themselves” and caused Peter to wonder about what had happened (24:12). If the body had been stolen, they would have just picked up the trussed up body and gone. Instead the cloth-strips were still lying there. The wording implies not that the strips had been unravelled, but that they were lying there keeping the shape of the body. It was like a balloon from which the air had been extracted, but the balloon still keeps its inflated shape. The grave cloths were keeping the shape of the body though the body had escaped from its coils. John says that the cloth covering the head was laid aside (20:7). If it had not been laid aside, everybody would have thought there was still a body trapped within the grave cloths because it was keeping the shape of the body. Like the stone cover rolled aside, the head cover was laid aside to show that there was no body.
The gospel accounts of the Resurrection mention Peter again and again (Mk. 16:7;Lk. 24:12; Jn. 20:1-8; 21:1-19).
If you were reading the gospel story for the very first time, you would not expect to meet Peter again. You would think that he would have come to a similar end as Judas, for after all Jesus had said, “He who denies me before men, him will I deny before my Father” (Matt.10:33). Recalling that categorical word, Peter should have been filled with despair and gone away without any hope.
When Peter had denied Jesus the third time, Jesus turned and looked at him, and that look reduced him to tears (Lk. 22: 61-62). Later on, Jesus gave him an opportunity to undo his denials, by allowing him to affirm his love thrice. Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?”, and Peter replied, “Lord, I love you.” This happened three times.
I like to think of Resurrection as the Festival of the Second Chance. That is what happened to Peter. He was given a second chance. It happened to Thomas, who doubted that Jesus had come back to life. Jesus revisited the disciples so that Thomas could give up doubting. Thomas got his second chance. In fact, all of the disciples who had abandoned Jesus and refused to be identified as disciples of Christ were given a second chance.
In fact, even Judas was given a second chance, though he didn’t take it.
When Judas betrayed Jesus at that very moment Jesus challenged him to confront the enormity of his action. Jesus asked, “Judas, do you betray me with a kiss?” Jesus was challenging Judas to think about the fact that he using a kiss to betray Jesus—a kiss, which symbolises love. Unlike Peter, Judas was not reduced to tears and felt no repentance, only remorse. He went out and committed suicide.
Think about your own life. Hasn’t the Lord given you a second chance, and a third chance and a fourth chance, and so on? Yes, Easter is the Festival of the Second Chance.
Favourite Scripture Passages
I have two passages in Scripture that are my favourites. The first is, “A bruised reed He will not break; the smoking flax He will not snuff out” (Matt. 12:20). A reed has no spine. Once bruised, there is no hope of it regaining strength and standing. Only Jesus will not break the bruised reed. He can take a bruised reed and make it whole again.
The other passage is, “Him that cometh unto me, I will in way cast out” (Jn. 6:37). That is why I am in the ministry. For all the times I have disobeyed Him, for all the ways in which I have denied Him, He still will not cast me off. I’m in the ministry because I have got my second chance, and my third chance and many more. I celebrate the Festival of the Second Chance.