Have you ever been locked out?
In my college days the doors were locked at a certain hour and after that you had to get a key by contacting the warden.
Some of you will have locked yourselves out of your house, your room, or your car.
Once, a lady locked herself out of her car at our church. It was a type of car as it happened I had learned how to open without a key (please dont ask!)
She was amazed the minister could do this. But she couldnt keep it to herself. Every now and again from then on I would get plaintive requests from others: do you think you could manage to unlock my car?
After the Friday when Jesus cruelly and unjustly done to death on a cross the disciples afraid for their own safety locked themselves away in the upper room where they had usually met with Jesus. It was a black Friday.
But soon it was known as Good Friday.
The doors were unlocked
Within a few days the disciples were out and about again laughing and smiling, mixing with the temple pilgrims, joining in the prayers and the seminars and telling people their crucified Master was the hope of the world.
Something had happened on the Sunday that changed them dramatically. When the authorities were to call them to account their boldness so flummoxed the Sanhedrin they let them go with a caution, afraid to lift a finger against them.
We will never know precisely what occurred that Sunday morning when the change came over them. Each gospel teller has a slightly different account but all agree something happened: Jesus was not in the tomb where they had left him and time after time separately and together the disciples were met by him he became an inescapable presence, in the cemetery Garden, in the upper room, on the Emmaus road by Galilee and on the Mount of Olives.
Matthew concludes his gospel with a promise from Jesus "Remember. I am with you always to the end of time." (Matthew 28: v20)
Marks gospel ends with the information that the disciples went out and proclaimed the gospel everywhere and that the Lord worked with them. (Mark 16:20)
And we are here because in some sense the Lord has been at work in our day and age to influence us and make a change to our lives, attitudes, outlook and behaviour. All this, because Jesus unlocked the door of the upper room where sad and frightened disciples commiserated together and sent them out as changed people with a life changing message of Gods undying love and unconquerable power!
Early on the Sunday Mary Magdalene whose life had already been dramatically changed by Jesus, and a new future unlocked for her, went with Mary mother of James and with Salome to the garden tomb to complete the embalming of the broken body of the Master. As they went with courage and determination they were aware they might have difficulty for the tomb was sealed by a great six foot circular stone. Could the three of them move it? Would there be gardeners there to help? And there was a guard on the tomb in case someone should interfere with it or attempt to steal the corpse. But this was no ordinary tomb.
The guards were gone
The stone had been moved
Only grave clothes were inside
And a messenger to say "He is not here"
"Tell the disciples and Peter he is risen."
As a minister I am frequently in Roselawn Cemetery. I pass close to my fathers grave. I can see it from the car. Occasionally I might stop and look. Even more rarely I get out and walk over to it. Since my mother did not drive I asked her on occasion if she might like to come with me. She usually declined. In 20 or more years I think she visited only a few times. I asked her about this. She said "He is not there: I dont think of the grave as a place where he is." And on his head stone she had the words engraved "In my Fathers house."
Jesus unlocks the tomb and changes our thinking about death and the grave. "We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting." One day the person that is my real self inhabiting this old body will reside elsewhere! Leslie Weatherhead, Methodist thinker and preacher wrote "It may be safely said that there is no known theory of the resurrection (of Jesus) which solves all our difficulties." "Perhaps his physical body matters no more than his clothes" "Our knowledge has not advanced sufficiently far for any theory to be put forward which accounts for all the phenomena" associated with his resurrection. Yet one great triumphant fact emerges. It is that Jesus survived death, convinced his followers of his survival. From that time on death held no fears for them and they risked their lives proclaiming his gospel in a hostile society.
For them and for us
he unlocked those doors,
he unlocked that tomb.
Unlocked their minds
He gave them and us a new way of looking at the meaning of life and its purpose.
Unaware of the significance of what had happened to the three women in the garden Cleophas and a friend went home from Jerusalem to Emmaus at the end of the Sabbath. They puzzled about what the empty tomb might mean and were sceptical about parts of the womens story. On the road another traveller joined them and debated the issues and the hopes people had had in Jesus, the injustice of his trial and death, the speculation about the missing body. Luke says the traveller was Jesus but that something prevented them recognising who he was. There is always that mystery about the risen Jesus and a hint that to be the end of time people have difficulty recognising him as Son of God and Saviour.
At Emmaus the two invite him in. Then the guest says the blessing and divides the bread. At once they know him and all that he had discussed of the Old Testament scripture with them about the suffering predicted for the Messiah makes sense. And then he was gone.
But he had unlocked their minds to the truth. The truth that Jesus died for their sins. That God loved the World so much that he gave his only Son and whoever believes in him shall have everlasting life. Despondency, fatigue and confusion gone they hurry back the eight miles to Jerusalem to tell the others. He had changed their minds about love, life, salvation, forgiveness - and the cross. Now they saw the cross as Gods way of righting wrong, forgiving sin and putting Heaven in our hearts.
For them and for us this meant
Jesus unlocks the future
The locked up disciples thought they had no future worth talking about. Bereaved people feel like that, disappointed people feel like that, betrayed and broken ones, injured, sick and disabled ones, people with thwarted ambitious and broken dreams, and those who think about globalisation and world poverty or take war and terrorism to heart. The church in an overwhelmingly secular society can feel like that.
But Jesus emerges from a locked tomb and unlocks the future. He tells the disciples in their locked room and locked mindsets that the future is his and it is theirs. It does not belong to the sceptical, the materialists, the greedy, the merciless, the unjust or the warlords. They are released from past reminiscing into future ambition for the Kingdom of God and resolve to discover and do his will, ever praying as Jesus had taught them. "Thy Kingdom come thy will be done on Earth as in Heaven." So they would live and strive to bring a little bit of heaven around them on earth until that day.
And you can do that too!
Ignatius of Antioch a great 6th Century church leader said "Christians are branches of the cross."
He did not see it as dead wood and the symbol of death but rather of life living and growing, stretching its branches to the ends of the earth (where its leaves are for the healing of the nations) and to the end of time.
Humorist Spike Milligan was once asked what he thought would be a suitable epitaph on his tomb stone. He suggested it should say "I told you I was ill."
If Jesus had an epitaph it would be these words the women heard "he is not here"
Jesus has no epitaph, no tomb
But he has a people everywhere
People he has set free from circumstances and mind sets that locked them in
People whom he is changing
And who are change makers
Because he is with them always to the end of time, working through them.
And you are that people
Living branches of his cross!