They thought they had won. The one who had threatened the status quo was dead. His broken body hung there on that cross by the gates between two other troublemakers. Such was the penalty faced by all those who dared challenge the powers of the world. This was the penalty paid by that rabble-rouser, Jesus of Nazareth.
Of course that isn't where the story ends. But in order to truly appreciate the end of the story we need to stop and honour the death. Easter glory is meaningless without Friday gloom.
And the reality of Friday is that Jesus, the man from Nazareth who preached and taught about a new vision for the world, who proclaimed the Community of God was killed. Stripped of all the layers of meaning (some would say baggage) theologians have added to this death over the centuries the reality is this. Jesus challenged the social structures and oppression in his world. Jesus proclaimed an alternate kingdom to the empire of Rome. And so he died convicted of sedition. His death was political, not religious (if the two could possibly be separated). Like so many thousands of other “enemies of the state” he was executed in a public display of Imperial might – a warning to those who might follow him.
And so those in power were sure they had won the day. The powers of death had triumphed as they so often do. Might makes right after all.
But God had a different answer. God's answer is that the powers of death never win in the end. They may take the battle but never the war. So God says yes to Jesus. God says YES to life. And when the women go looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was murdered, he is not there. He has been raised. Life has conquered death and we are pulled from the fear of death into the hope and promise of new life.
And why do we keep telling this story all these years later? Because God keeps saying yes to life. Because we know that the Imperial powers, the powers of death and oppression are still at work. Because we need to be reminded that, in the end, life conquers all. We need to be reminded that God's work for abundant life and justice continues.
This is the glory of Easter. Life wins. The reality of the world is that too much of the time we see the gloom of Friday. Too often we see the oppressors win and God's justice gets tossed by the wayside. At best we live most of our lives in the in-between world of Saturday, caught between the gloom of cross and the glory of new life. But if we keep our eyes and hearts open, if we let the spark of hope continue to glow within us, then Sunday's dawn will find us singing praises.
This Easter we have a choice. We can get bogged down in arguments about what really happened 2000 years ago. Or we can ask what truth the story tells us. I choose the latter. And the truth I hear is the great message of hope. In God's plan death has lost its sting. Life conquers all. Alleluia!!!