My favourite cartoon is of two Roman soldiers guarding Jesus' tomb on the first Easter morning. Each has a mug of tea in his hand, and the sun is just rising above the horizon. One is encouraging the other. "Cheer up, it's Sunday morning. As I see it, we have one more day of guarding the tomb. By Monday the whole thing will blow over."
A moment later Mary Magdalene and another woman called Mary came to check the tomb. As they arrived "suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised"" (Matthew 28:1-6).
The world is still astonished that millions of Christians celebrate Easter with such excitement. Like those guards at the tomb they assume that "By Monday the whole thing will blow over." But it doesn't. You see the more we enjoy this life the more we enjoy Easter. Christians already have much to rejoice about in this life. God loves us, we are forgiven, we find a strange power of the Holy Spirit that freed us to love others. Why make so much of Easter?
Look at it this way. The more we enjoy the love of God, the more we sense that his world cannot be all that God has in mind for us. We know we are loved, but all around us people are terribly unloving. There are wars, cruelty in families, injustice, people hating and despising one another.
Not only is the world imperfect but our own bodies are frail, easily get sick and miserable. As we grow older we watch our loved ones one by one grow old and die and we know that our turn is coming. If God really loves us, he must have something better in mind for our bodies.
Even when we are healthy we are frustrated because we are not free to attain what we would love to achieve. We begin with great plans and aspirations, and we have some successes but even they turn sour, and slowly we find ourselves hemmed in. We know that in this life we can never be free to be what we would love to be.
Now you can see that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is like a pilot project that enables us to picture what another world, another body, and another kind of freedom might feel like. So let me tell you my three favourite Easter stories.
Once upon a time there were twins inside their mother's womb. Every day they argued about life after birth. One of them said "How could there be another life?" There is nowhere to go. This world is all there is. Here in this womb we can hold each other's hand and kick our feet and turn around. But that's it. When we die that's the end of the road.
The other twin said "There must be more to life than the two of us kicking each other in this place which is too tight for us already. And can you hear that music and those noises from out there?" So they kept arguing about life after birth till the ninth month when the woman went into labour. Suddenly they started getting squashed and squeezed to death. They said "This is the end of the world." Then one of the twins disappeared, and the other said "He's gone. I'll be dead next."
Then he also was born, and the twins found themselves next to each other sucking at their mother's breast. And the world which they now began to discover was infinitely bigger and more wonderful than they could possibly have imagined. Eventually they would visit Toronto and the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, the Amazon, and a million other exciting places.
The interesting thing about this story is that in one sense the twins were as close as they could be to their mother. They were actually inside her, but they could never know her face to face till they were born. Although God is never more than an inch away from us we will never know the beautiful perfection of his love this side of life after death.
We should also remind ourselves that all of us have already made the transition from the world of our mother's womb to life after birth into this huge and marvellous world. Jesus' resurrection assures us that the next transition will be infinitely more wonderful.
The second story is about a daffodil bulb. When she was young she was smooth and good looking, but then she was put in a shoe box to dry. She became ugly, brittle, and crinkly. She noticed that some of the other dried up bulbs were taken out of the box and buried, and she guessed her turn would come next. Sure enough the day came when she was pushed roughly into a hole in the cold damp earth, and covered over. "That's it. I am dead."
She didn't know how long it took but one day she felt the ground warming around her. A little shoot came out, and she saw the sun and felt the rain giving her all she needed to grow. To her astonishment she now became the beautiful flower she had always longed to be. It was her resurrection body. That's was why Paul said "So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42.43).
The resurrection not only assures us of a new world and a new body, but it also promises us a totally unexpected freedom. Once upon a time there was a caterpillar who used to crawl along the branch of a tree. He spent his life chewing and crawling. That's all he knew. Some of the other caterpillars said that one day all caterpillars would be freed to fly, but that didn't seem to make sense when you were hungry for the next leaf to chew on.
All around our caterpillar there were butterflies flying around from flower to flower. Mostly he didn't even notice the butterflies. And he certainly didn't recognize them as his friends and loved ones who had already found their freedom. From his point of view all that was absolutely certain was that you went into your cocoon and there was no more crawling and eating for ever.
So the day came when he found himself caught in the threads of his own making, and every turn enclosed him till there was no escape. He didn't know how long he stayed in that state, but one day he found himself coming out. What were these huge wings for? The next thing was flying, and then the astonishning nectar of the flowers. He was free to go wherever he chose. He even flew over an old girl friend still doing her chewing and crawling. "Look at me" he said but she was too busy to bother with him.
So the resurrection of Jesus points to an infinitely greater freedom. Jesus' resurrection body was not limited by our dimensions of time and space. He was freed to come through doors, join the disciples for an evening meal, walk with two of them on the road to Emmaus, or meet with them for breakfast by the Sea of Galilee. As Jesus himself said, "If the Son shall make you free you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).
We can begin to experience the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21) now, but that is only a foretaste of the freedom we will enjoy in heaven. Even if the caterpillar thought about life after death all he could imagine was more of the same crawling and chewing. He could never picture the totally different freedom of butterfly life.
So those are my stories to remind you that this world is just a womb for the real world of God's perfect love. This body of ours at its best points to our resurrection body. And our caterpillar freedom is only a preparation for the butterfly freedom to enjoy the nectar of all the flowers of heaven.
On that first Easter day the disciples saw the resurrection body of Jesus for the first time. And he showed himself to them in that form for forty days, so they could go out into all the world and proclaim that resurrection is not less but infinitely more than we can ever imagine. That is why we say "The Lord is risen" and Christians all over the world reply "The Lord is risen indeed, Allelulia."