Dear brothers and sisters,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Much of the anxiety that has befallen us in the current context in which we find ourselves is due to the fact that we have not had to walk this path before. Whether it is dealing with isolation or illness or financial distress, the times we are facing as a society and the specific pressures that you yourself and your family members are burdened under are unique and new. The last great epidemic was the Spanish Flu over a hundred years ago. We don’t have people around to talk to about what things were like for them personally or how they managed to endure physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually.
You may, however, still find that some of the elder members of society are handling things a little better than most. That is due to the fact, that although they haven’t experienced this particular crisis before, they have had a lifetime of experience in dealing with a number of anxious times, be it wartime, economic depression, illness, the death of loved ones, and even times of isolation before there was email and Facetime and live streaming of services and events.
They have walked similar paths before and so their level of anxiety may be lower than most. They have seen empty shelves in the stores, empty streets, empty bank accounts, empty living rooms. They know that those were hard times, but they made it through. They know that these are hard times. They are not in denial. Rather, they know that they will make it through these hard times, too. We may not have faced times exactly like this before, but we do have people who have gone before us through times like these and we would do well to learn from them and follow their footsteps.
You might notice that the things about older people that seemed strange to you are beginning to make a little bit of sense now. Their eccentricities may have had some good solid logic and reason behind them. They try to keep themselves busy, always puttering about fixing something or knitting and making something. The fastidious cleaning and yard work, putting things away right after they are used, kind of make sense to us now.
And another thing: They went to church at every opportunity, and would not skip a Sunday or a special service for any reason. At times, that was frustratingly hard to understand when we anted to do something else. And seemingly contradictory to putting everything else away, they leave their Bible out on the table or the nightstand, ready at hand. Even the old hymn book can be found in the house. Who keeps in their house something that you would use only at church? Someone who knows that there is no guarantee that you will get to church when you desperately need or want to get there. There is a calm acceptance and part of it is due to the fact that they have gone through things like this before. We can learn how to get through this by watching those who have walked a similar path.
When the women went to see the tomb toward dawn on the first day of the week, they were put in a situation that they had not been in before. They had experienced the death of loved ones before, but none of them were quite like Jesus, the one they loved above all because of the way they had come to know His unbounded love for them. They had seen Him give of Himself to everyone: infants and adults, blind, lame, lepers, prostitutes and tax collectors.
They had just witnessed His innocent suffering and death on behalf of others. He did not turn in any of His disciples to get a reduced sentence. He did not deny any of His teaching which would have caused them to doubt His love. He went through it all believing that He was suffering on behalf of others. He had even cried out from the cross for those who had done this to Him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Never had they experienced such love before, and so never had they experienced such loss when Jesus died.
They had dealt with their grief over loved ones in the past by preparing their bodies for burial, visiting their graves, bringing spices to the burial place in order to cover the stench of death, and so forth. We do those kind of things too. We visit the graves of our loved ones who have died. We place flowers there and clear away any debris. Jesus had been buried hastily as the Sabbath was beginning, so at the first opportunity the women were going to do their thing that they do in time of grief. But something happened that had never happened before. They found themselves in a new and distressing situation.
“There was a great earthquake” (Matthew 28:2). That would be distressing enough in itself. But they also saw an angel, one of those beings that struck fear into all, like the shepherds outside of Bethlehem who were sore afraid (Luke 2:9). The guards who had been posted at the tomb, prepared to repel anyone who might come to steal away the body of Jesus by force, “trembled and became like dead men” (Matthew 28:4). And although the angel said to the women “Do not be afraid,” his announcement revealed that they were indeed in uncharted territory.
“You seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said” (v. 5-6). Well, that had never happened before. Jesus had raised others and they were given back to their loved ones. He had raised Jairus’ daughter and her parents embraced her and continued to care for her (Mark 5:42-43). He had raised the widow’s son at Nain and given him back to his mother (Luke 7:15). He had raised Lazarus and he resumed his life in Bethany with Mary and Martha (John 12:1-2). But in this case the angel said that Jesus had risen but He was not there. This had never happened before.
There could have been complete despair and hopelessness. They could have had to go home with their heads hung low, and live the rest of their lives isolated from a Jesus who had risen from the dead but was nowhere to be found. Hope was given as the angel continued, “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him” (Matthew 28:7). It was a long way to Galilee but they would see Him there and Jesus was going before them. He would pave the way. He would chart the course. He would make sure that everything was ready for them and their joyous reunion.
“So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples.” That mixture of emotions of fear and joy was comforted by Jesus Himself who met them, greeted them, and repeated the comforting message of the angel, “go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me” (v. 10). Twice, the comfort was given in the promise that Jesus was going before them. They would see Him there.
How would they get through the next days of the unknown? How would they manage their unprecedented situation? How would they make their way through the uncharted territory? By knowing that Jesus was going before them and they would see Him there.
In the distressing situation in which we now find ourselves due to this pandemic. It is comforting to know that there are people around us who have gone through things like this before. Their calm demeanor and steadfast adherence to routines that have helped them in the past will be guideposts for us to stay the course and make it through like they have before. There will be anxious thoughts and fears but we can again turn to them and see that there is a path forward and out.
Jesus went before the women and His disciples, whom He comfortingly called His brothers. In their distressing grief over His death, fear of the Jews who would gladly arrest and kill them as they had Jesus, isolation from their close companion and master, they had His promise that they would see Him and the calming peace of knowing that He was going before them.
But with Jesus, it is not just having the example of someone who has weathered a similar storm. They would walk in His footsteps to Galilee as they had before when He was leading them. They would find hospitality in houses that Jesus Himself had visited over the course of His ministry. They would recognize the places where He had taught and healed and done other miraculous works. They would remember His words and His deeds as they made their way home to Galilee. All of these things would bring them comfort and subdue their anxiety. But there would be something far greater, something unique that came only through the death of resurrection of their Lord and brother.
Jesus had paved a path not just along the rocky road to Galilee, but down into death and through the grave to resurrection and everlasting life. He has gone before, all the way to the eternal presence of our loving heavenly Father. Jesus' death on the cross was not to get Himself to heaven, but to get us there. His journey through the grave and His bodily resurrection opened the way for all of us to be raised again from death on the day when He returns when all will see Him.
In the upper room, before His arrest, knowing what was going to happen to Him and what His beloved disciples would experience in the following days, weeks, and months, Jesus said “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus had told them that He was going on ahead to prepare for them and that they would see Him there, not just briefly in Galilee, but they would be with Him eternally in the heavenly Father’s dwellings.
That promise is for you and for all who believe in this Jesus, who was crucified, died and was buried, but rose again on the third day. He did this for you, so that you could be with Him. He suffered death for your sins so that death would not be able to hold you, but that you might continue to follow Jesus and make the journey all the way to your heavenly home. There you will see Him.
It is with this kind of confidence that the faithful have conquered the different anxieties and distresses of their generations. They have all had to walk their own paths unknown to the generations before, like we have to walk through the current crisis that has been set in our way. But with Bibles and hymnbooks and faith in the Word of God therein, trusting His promises for forgiveness and eternal life, what could they not conquer?
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.