April 1, 2018
On February, 27, 1991, at the height of Operation Desert Storm, Ruth Dillow received a devastating message from the Pentagon. The message was that her son, Clayton, who was stationed in Kuwait, had stepped on a mine and killed.
Ruth later wrote: “I can’t begin to describe my grief and shock. It was almost more than I could bear. For 3 days I wept. For 3 days I expressed anger and loss. For 3 days people tried to comfort me, to no avail because the loss was too great.”
We all can relate to her grief.
But 3 days after Ruth received that message, she received a phone call. The voice on the other end said, “Mom, it’s me. I’m alive.”
Ruth later wrote: “I couldn’t believe it at first. But then I recognized his voice.”
Ruth’s son was alive. The earlier message she had received was a mistake! She writes that: “I laughed, I cried, I felt like turning cartwheels, because my son whom I had thought was dead, was alive.”
Surprise, Ruth. The son you thought was dead is alive.
There was a two-year-old girl who could hardly wait for Easter to come. She had a new dress to wear and new shoes to go with it, and she was so excited. Her father, however, wondered whether she knew the true meaning of Easter.
“Do you know what Easter means?” he asked.
“Yes, I do,” she smiled.
“What does it mean then?” her father asked.
With a smile on her face and her arms raised, she cried, “Surprise!”
There is no better word for Easter.
That was the clear reaction of Christ’s disciples and closest friends that first
Easter day, wasn’t it? And who could blame them?
In John’s relating of the story of the Resurrection Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb and sees that the stone has been rolled away. Not knowing exactly what to do, she
runs to Simon Peter and John, and says,
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
Evidently the thought had not occurred to Mary that Christ could be resurrected from the grave!
Peter and John run to the tomb, and when they, too, find it empty, what do they do?
They simply go back to the house where they were staying.
There was no celebration, no cries of, “He’s alive. He’s alive” that you might expect. You would think that those who knew Christ best would be bubbling over with excitement that first Easter morning! Jesus had been delivered from the tomb, just as He said He would be.
Instead, they were totally mystified that His body was gone. They didn’t expect Him to be alive any more than Ruth Dillow expected her son to be alive.
As for Mary, she stands outside the tomb crying. She bends over to look into the
tomb and sees two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head
and the other at the foot. They ask her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she explains, “and I don’t know where they
have put him.”
She then turns around and sees Jesus standing there, but she doesn’t recognize Him.
“Woman,” He says, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Mary thinks He’s the gardener, and says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me
where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Then Jesus calls her name, “Mary.”
She turns toward him and cries out “Teacher! ”
Surprise, Mary! Surprise!
Jesus is alive!
Surprise, Peter! Surprise, John! Surprise disciples!
Jesus is not dead – He’s alive!
Surprise, Pilate! Surprise, Caiaphas! Surprise, Herod!
You thought you had killed Jesus – but Jesus is alive!
Easter is such an extraordinary day! Easter is such an extra ordinary surprise!
I read of a pastor who was traveling in Russia with a group of church leaders in April 1992 just as the Cold War was ending. These Christian leaders were there to celebrate Russia’s first Easter after the fall of the Iron Curtain. A large banner proclaiming “Christ has risen” loomed over Red Square in Moscow. The pastor wrote that he couldn’t help noticing that less than twenty-five yards away stood the tomb of Vladimir Lenin, the father of the Soviet Revolution. It struck him as ironic that the banner with “Christ has risen” overshadowed the tomb of the Communist leader who had once proclaimed that God was dead. Lenin lay entombed in a granite and marble mausoleum, his body sealed in a glass sarcophagus, while Christ’s tomb was empty.
Surprise! Lenin is dead. Stalin is dead. Hitler is dead. All who thought they were so powerful and mighty are dead. But Christ lives on!
Today, of course, is Easter, but it is also April 1 – April Fools Day – when people play practical jokes on others then say “April Fools”. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the day after Easter is celebrated by telling jokes to show that the resurrection of Christ, the event of Easter, is the greatest joke on the devil of all time.
Yes – surprise! Surprise all who believe believe that they are in control of the world!
Surprise all who are mourning or are sad and don’t see a chance for joy ever again!
Christ has risen! Believe it! It is the joyous surprise of Mary, Peter and the great cloud of witnesses — those throughout the centuries who have known that Easter means the greatest surprise of all!
Jesus is not dead, He is alive – and because He is alive, we can live also! Amen.