I think my three younger brothers are great guys, and we are all very close—now. But growing up we certainly did our fair share of squabbling. Many of these squabbles took place in the car. It didn’t matter how long or short the trip was or where in the car we were sitting. Whether we were in the front seat or the back seat or, in those pre-seatbelt days, playing unrestrained in the “wayback” of our station wagon, we could find something to argue over.
“He’s touching me!” “Her stuff is in my space.” “He’s taking up too much room!” “She looked at me funny!” “He’s kicking the seat.” “No, I’m not.” “Yes, you are!” Mom would put up with it for just so long, and then finally she’d tell us to stop it. But, that usually wasn’t the end of the matter, because everyone involved wanted to get in the last word. We might be muttering under our breath so that Mom couldn’t hear us (we thought) but we kept it up as long as possible, each of us trying to come out on top, until Dad threatened to stop the car and leave us by the side of the road.
I did a Google search on “having the last word,” and I got more than two billion hits—yes, billions. The ones listed first all had a common theme: people who always have to have the last word are given to egomania and obsessed with winning every argument. That’s nothing to celebrate. But today, on this Easter Sunday, we are celebrating the last word. We celebrate the divine “last word”—God’s last word on sin and death. That last word is the resurrected Jesus Christ, our living Lord and Savior.
But, two thousand years ago, on what we now call Good Friday, it looked like sin and death had had the last word. All the words that Jesus had shared with his disciples, all the words he had preached to the crowds, all the words he had spoken over the sick and the rejected seemed to die with him as he took his last breath on the cross.
In his lifetime, Jesus reached out to a crowd of outcasts—Samaritans, Romans, tax collectors, women with questionable reputations. He challenged those who would exclude outsiders. But on Good Friday, the crowd that accompanied him into Jerusalem, waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna,” shouted uglier words. The one who rejected rejection was himself rejected, and it appeared that exclusion and rejection would have the last word.
Jesus preached forgiveness and called on his followers to forgive each other. He called on them to forgive their enemies. He saw that feelings of guilt and shame are at the root of many of our personal problems—physical, emotional, and relational—and he offered the forgiveness that removes our condemnation and unleashes the opportunity for reconciliation with God and with each other. But on Good Friday, when Pilate offered to let Jesus go free, the crowd and those who incited them called for his crucifixion. The One who had preached forgiveness was himself condemned, and it appeared that anger and envy and fear and division would have the last word.
Jesus announced the nearness of God’s kingdom and the righteousness of all who entered it through him. But on Good Friday, the Roman rulers found a convenient way to eliminate a potential political liability. The religious authorities got rid of the man who threatened their position and power and security. The crowds got a scapegoat on whom they could pin all their anger and frustration and fear. On Good Friday, the one who preached the kingdom of God found himself at the mercy of the kingdom of this world. The Light of the World was in the hands of the kingdom of darkness. The One who showed the Way to righteousness was subjected to the ways of human evil, and it appeared that the powers and authorities of this world would have the last word.
Jesus brought healing and life. He healed blind beggars and a woman with constant bleeding and a man too disabled to walk to the healing waters of a nearby pool. He healed a child with epilepsy and a man possessed by demons. He raised to life those who had died—Lazarus, and the little daughter of a Pharisee. He extended his healing to all—Romans, Jews, and Canaanites; friends and strangers; followers and enemies. But on Good Friday, the Healer was himself wounded—by whips and thorns and nails. The one who offered life died on the cross, and it looked like injury and pain and death would have the last word.
Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary watched as Jesus died. Then, they watched as Joseph tenderly placed Jesus’ lifeless body in the tomb and rolled a great stone across its opening. Perhaps they were still there to witness the arrival of the Roman guard, sent to securely seal the stone and to stand watch over the tomb. The world, which appeared to have had the last word, grew quiet.
But God was not done speaking.
After the Sabbath, as Sunday was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to continue their silent vigil at the tomb. An angel of the Lord appeared, accompanied by an earthquake, dressed in the brilliant white that was characteristic of a heavenly messenger. The guards shook and fainted dead away.
But the women were made of stronger stuff. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised, as he said. Come and look inside. You can see where he was. And then, go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
They didn’t hesitate. They didn’t speculate about this incredible thing they had just witnessed. They didn’t debate the truth of what they had just seen and heard. The two women just took off, with a mixture of emotions we can certainly identify with: both fear and joy—great joy. They ran to deliver their news and the message of the angel to the disciples.
Then, as if what they had seen and heard at the tomb wasn’t enough, Jesus meets them! Imagine them in the early morning light, racing through the streets of Jerusalem which, just two days before, they had walked with heavy hearts and leaden feet. Now they skid to a stop when they see Jesus waiting for them. They drop to the ground, and they grab hold of his feet, and they worship him.
The words of the angel weren’t the last word either. Jesus speaks to the women, affirming the angel’s message: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
The hours between Good Friday and Easter Sunday had not been silent. In the darkness of the tomb and the quiet of the Sabbath, God was still speaking. God was speaking life into Jesus, just as God had spoken the world into being at the dawn of creation. That early Sunday morning, the women learned that the Word who became flesh and lived among us lived again. The Word who lived our life and died our death had not been defeated by death. The Word who was the life and the light of all people had not been overcome by evil and darkness. The world had not had the last word after all, because in the tomb, God was having the last word.
In our world today, many may doubt this truth. We see so much that seems to deny the idea that God had the last word in Jesus’ resurrection. We see the anguished faces of refugees and the thin bodies of the desperately poor and families torn apart by addiction. We hear angry voices raised in protest against injustice and equally angry voices fighting to maintain the status quo, regardless of whether the status quo is right or wrong.
We suffer from illnesses—oh, how we’ve suffered from illness this past year—our own and that of tour loved ones—and we can’t understand why healing comes for some and not for others. We, like Paul, don’t do and say the things we want to, and we do and say the very things we hate. So much of what we experience seems to say that maybe God didn’t have the last word after all.
It’s true that there is still brokenness in the world, including in our own bodies and spirits. But these are merely pockets of rebellion after a war that has already been won. These are the muttered words of children, squabbling in the back seat of the car, whose parent is still in control. In Jesus’ resurrection, God had the last word over sin and death, and that word continues to resound to this day.
And what was the last word that God spoke?
We might say that God’s last word was “victory.” All the evil of the world came together to nail Jesus to the cross. But he never abandoned his mission to bring all the world to a right relationship with God. He never backed down, and he never retaliated against those who hurt him and wanted to prevent him from carrying out his work. All the evil he confronted died with him on the cross. He did not allow it to use him as its agent to continue its existence in the world. Jesus refused to allow evil to separate him from his Father or from those he came to save. So, we might say that God’s last word was “victory.”
Or, we might say that God’s last word was “forgiveness.” When the Gospel writer describes Jesus as the one “who was crucified,” he uses a word that means that Jesus’ crucifixion was not an event that was over and done with once the resurrection was accomplished. The word he uses tells us that the resurrected Jesus continues to bear the marks of his crucifixion on his hands and on his feet. In a very real way, we continue to inflict those marks by what we say and do, and by what we leave unsaid and undone. And yet, the living Christ continues to give himself to us and for us. Jesus continues to offer us the grace that takes away the guilt and shame that separate us from God. So, we might say that God’s last word was “forgiveness.”
We might say that God’s last word was “life.” When the angel invited the women to peer into the empty tomb, it was obvious that death had been overturned. It was clear that death no longer had the power it once had. When we recognize death’s powerlessness, we also can heed Jesus’ words: “Be not afraid.” Death holds no fear for those who believe in the power of the resurrection. We see that death ends only our earthly lives, and the death of our earthly body is merely a milestone in the eternal life we live with God in Christ. So, we might say that God’s last word was “life.”
Or, we might say that God’s last word was “love.” We know that it is only because of God’s deep and tender love for us that, in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we can have life and have it abundantly. Because of this most precious gift, we might say that God’s last word was “love.”
But, really, God’s last word is so much more than “victory” or “forgiveness,” “life” or even “love.” God’s last word encompasses all those words and more. God’s last word makes those words possible. God’s last word is the same as God’s first Word—the Living Word, the person of Jesus. And, like the women on Easter morning, and the disciples in Galilee, we can come face-to-face with God’s last Word in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. That is the good news.
And here’s the better news: Jesus is ready and waiting to meet us! Wherever we are, when we decide to go to him, he is waiting. “Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee,’” the angel said to the women. The Living Word of God is waiting for us to come to him. Wherever we are, he has gotten there ahead of us. He invites us to come, and when we do, he is there, ready and waiting.
He also meets us as we go to tell others the good news that, in Jesus, God has had the last word over sin and death. Jesus met the women as they rushed to carry the good news of the resurrection to the disciples. As we go to tell others what we have witnessed on this Easter Sunday, Jesus will meet us, too, whether it’s at our kitchen tables or in our workplaces or in our schoolrooms, at a recovery meeting or in a hospital room. The resurrected Jesus has gone ahead of us, and he is waiting for us to see him there.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Jesus, the Word made flesh, was God’s first Word. And Jesus, the resurrected Christ, the bearer of grace, victor over sin and death, is God’s last Word. Through the resurrection, the Living Word is with us. Go quickly to meet him, for God’s last Word is waiting for you. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
~~ Pastor Carol Williams-Young