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From Doubt to Declaration

John 20:24-29

When you woke up this Easter morning of 2003 you already knew how the story of Holy Week ended. You did not wake up wondering whether or not Jesus of Nazareth was still in the grave. You did not wake up to a world where death and the grave seemed to have won the final victory. You already knew how the story ended. When you walked into the door of the church someone greeted you with the words "Christ is risen" and you responded by saying "He is risen indeed!" We know how the story ended. It is important for us to remember that on that first Easter day so many years ago the disciples of Jesus did not wake up with that same assurance. Whatever they were expecting to face that day, it is clear from the story that resurrection was not on their minds.

Our text today takes us to the evening after the resurrection of Jesus had occurred. The text invites us into the midst of a group of broken-hearted and confused disciples. We can observe them as they wonder what they will do with their lives now that the man they believed to be the Son of God and the savior of the world was taken down from a cross and sealed inside a grave. Parts of three days have passed by and the disciples had remained out of sight, still afraid that what had happened to Jesus might also happen to them if they showed their faces in public.

But now it is Sunday morning, and some of the women who had followed Jesus during most of his earthly ministry were determined to leave that upper room hiding place and go to the tomb where their Lord had been buried. Peter, James and John did not go with them, because someone on the street might still recognize one of them. After all, it was just four days earlier that three different people had picked Peter out of the crowd and announced that he was one of the followers of Jesus. Three times Peter denied even knowing Jesus; and those encounters took place at night when faces are harder to see. Now it is Sunday morning and the chances of detection were simply too high, so the women go to the tomb alone.

We know from other accounts in the Gospels of Mark and Luke that the women had come to the tomb early on Sunday morning to anoint the dead body of Jesus with spices and ointments. This was a time before bodies were embalmed, and in the hot climate of the Middle East dead bodies would rapidly decay and begin to smell. You may remember in the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead that one of his sisters had to remind him that their brother had been dead for four days and by now his body would omit an awful odor. The spices and ointments were largely meant to cover over that smell for as long as possible, and to offer one last gesture of love and respect to the dead. The point that must be grasped is that as those women were making their way to the grave they were expecting to see a dead body and not a risen Lord.

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