He could barely breathe and felt like he was slowly suffocating to death. His arms and legs were cramped, sore and tired. He just wanted to rest for a little bit, even if it was just for a minute, but his body would not let him. His chest felt like it would explode and he needed to breathe out. As he pushed up on his feet he could feel the nails that had been driven through his bones. Wrenching pain caused him to bite down on his teeth as the nerves in his feet would tear with each push. He could feel fresh blood running down the feet and onto his toes.
His legs felt numb as he tried to find the strength to straighten them. And if the pain in his chest and the pain in his feet were not bad enough, every time he pushed himself up he could feel his back rubbing against the cross behind him. The throbbing of his back muscles as they tore against the wood caused him to close his eyes tightly as he struggled to keep himself from crying out in pain.
Finally being able to breathe out, he felt the pressure in his chest diminish. He opened his eyes to look around. Everything was hazy but after a moment he was able to see things about him. Several guards were standing below him, near the cross and he heard them chuckling among themselves. He saw some women nearby. He recognized his mother and could see tears rolling down her eyes. She was part of a small group in the crowd. The crowd itself had dwindled in size, but there were still those there who seemed to be enjoying the moment. They watched in awe as torment was being inflicted on the three human victims. They would laugh about how the bodies would twitch and wrench about. They thought it was funny to hear the cries of pain and see blood sprinkling out of the wounds on the naked bodies.
As he struggled to hold himself up the muscles in his legs weakened and his body slid quickly back down against the wood causing the skin of his back to tear open once again. The slide only stopped when the full weight of his body pulled hard against the nails that were driven into his hands. It felt like his arms would be pulled from their sockets. Fiery pain would then shoot up from the fingers through his arms and into his brain. The blood in his head throbbed and he fought to keep from crying out in pain. And then his chest became heavy and he could feel himself slowly suffocating once again.
This struggle went on for hours. All his strength was used to push himself up with his feet just so he could breathe. Each time, new wounds would open up sending burning pain to his head and each time his body would become weaker and weaker. His throat was parched and burning with thirst. He could feel the chill of death creeping through his body.
She stood there in the crowd watching. It was difficult standing by and not able to do anything. She prayed for a miracle. She prayed that this was all just a dream and that she would wake up and everything would be okay. She prayed that they could all just start over again and that it would end differently. This was the hardest thing she had ever done in her life, but she felt that he needed her to be there. In this moment when he was suffering so much, she was sure that he was comforted in knowing that his friends were nearby.
Every now and then he would look her way and she felt his strength. Even in his weakest moment she was still being strengthened by his faith and conviction. But it was difficult watching as he struggled to breathe. She could see him covered in blood and his flesh was torn open with wounds. She could see how his body was being stretched and torn apart by the cross. She could hear his cries of pain and feel his agony.
Then he stopped moving. His breathing stopped. The twitching stopped. It was all quiet. She looked at him, hoping for a sign that he was still alive. But his limp body was being held to the cross only by his stretched out arms. The head was bowed down and she could not see his eyes. Blood continued to drip from his head, from his hands, from his back, from his legs, and from his feet. The blood covered the cross and sprinkled down onto the ground below. Only those in her group had seemed to notice that he was no longer moving. They held each other close as they look at the scene in horror.
It seemed like days passed as they silently looked at the limp body of the man they knew as their savior. They were in shock and their minds were having trouble catching up with everything that had happened that day.
There was movement now among the soldiers. One of them picked up a large heavy iron club and smashed it into the legs of one of the victims. A cry of pain filled the air mixed with the sound of bones being broken. The victim immediately slumped down in agony. When the man approached our savior he noticed that he was already dead and went on to smash the legs of the other man.
She watched now as the crosses were lifted up out of the holes in the ground and fell to the earth in front of them. The dead victims were stilled nailed into the wood and now dirt splattered about with the force of the cross hitting the ground. This was all too much to watch and she hid her head from the sight. His mother was filled with tears and she reached over and hugged her and they cried together.
They continued to cry as the guards now forced the feet from off the nails that had held them to the cross. They yanked his hands up off the nails that that held them in place. Then they just dragged him to the side and left him lying there. He was naked and cold and all covered with blood and dirt.
Some of the crowd now came down to take a close look at him. Some spat down on his body and others gave it a kick to make sure he was dead. Others just stared over it boastfully feeling that they had gain victory over an enemy. These men became easily bored and soon left.
There was only a small crowd left when she found the strength to look up again. On the ground curled up in front of her was the lifeless body of the man who had saved her, who had given her hope, who had given her life. But all she had left now of this man was his lifeless bruised body which was so brutality tortured that it was no longer recognizable.
A couple of men came and spoke with the mother. She hugged them and then they went over to the body and began to wrap it in linen. They wrapped the head separately and poured out spices. Then several men lifted the body up and carried it to the place where they would lay it to rest. The women followed behind. They all walked on slowly in silence, no one saying a word. The only sound that filled the air was the sound of quiet weeping and even the men had tears flowing from their eyes.
It seemed that they walked on forever this way until they reached a place where they would bury the man that they all loved. The men bent down and passed the body into the tomb, gently laying it to one side. Then they went back out and together pushed a very large stone to close up the grave.
For those who have had to do this, burying a dead love one is one of the most difficult things we may ever do. The same person who once was alive, once moving about, once laughing, eating, talking, and singing – the same person that we have spent time with and have done things together with is now nothing more than just an empty body. We might want to see the body, we might even want to hold the body one last time hoping for some comfort, but once the person dies there is no comfort. There is nothing that will remove that emptiness we feel inside and we will carry it for the rest of our life. We just want them to come back to life to be with us once again. We long to see their smile and to have them wrap their arms around us. We want to hold them once more and feel their warmth.
Painfully we realize that they are not coming back to us and we prepare to say goodbye one last time. All we have left is the lifeless body and we tenderly care to make sure it is put to rest. We watch as it is lowered into a grave, lowered into the dark cold ground of the earth. We may tell a few stories about the person, we may say a few words, we may even sing a song, but nothing really heals our broken heart. It is so hard for us to leave the body there in the dust. We worry that it will get cold, we worry that it will be lonely; we worry that something will happen to it.
So it was the day that our Savior died. Those who tended to his burial also felt torn apart inside. There was no comfort, instead for each of them there was this unbearable deep empty feeling inside. They all just stood and looked in silence at the tomb which now held the one they loved. They hugged each other again and slowly they began to leave.
Soon the tomb was quiet. Outside the sun was now setting and the sound of birds and creatures began to fill the night air. Inside the cold tomb there was no noise at all. The body lay completely still, wrapped in the linens. It was very dark and there was no movement at all. The tomb blocked out the sounds of the world. Inside the tomb the air grew stale and inside the tomb there were no flowers, no trees, no animals, and there was no life. Only an empty space filled with a lifeless body. Minutes turned to hours and still all was dark, quiet and silent.
Graveyards are perhaps the most eerie places that we know. We see the markers above the ground, but just a few feet under the ground there are many bodies of people who once lived, who were loved, and who were missed when they died. All we know about some of those people is maybe a name, maybe their age and the year they died. Their body lies below the ground, very still. There is no heart beat and there is no breathing. It hasn’t moved for years and may now be nothing more than a pile of dust. There is no life at all in the graves.
He felt fresh cool air move over his body. His eyes were still closed when he began to hear sounds around him. He tried to open his eyes but something was blocking the view. His mind was still trying to grasp what was going on. The last thing he remembered was that he was having trouble breathing and the pain was horrible and then it all went black. But now something was different. Someone was lifting his head and unwrapping the linen that somehow had been wrapped around it. As the linen came off his eyes squinted at the light. His mouth opened to take in the air. Oh how good it felt to breathe. His chest no longer hurt and he began to move his fingers. He laid there trying to take it all in.
He was alive again and his senses were being filled with sights and sounds and feelings and his body was warm again. He could feel his heart beating inside. He sat up still wrapped in linens and he could smell the spices that they had buried him with. He slowly unwrapped the linen enjoying every movement of his hands and taking slow deep breathes of fresh air.
He had no idea where he was. It was some sort of tomb, small and cramp. He looked at his hands and wondered at the wounds that were in them. They still looked like they should hurt but for some reason they didn’t. It was strange being able to push his finger into the holes. The angel gave him some clothes to wear and he put them on and then stood up onto his feet. It felt so good to be able to stand. He moved forward slowly, enjoying each step that he took.
Outside the tomb he stood for a moment to take in the beauty of the world around him. He was in some sort of garden and there were birds singing in the trees, flowers were in bloom, and the sound of a nearby running creek filled the cool morning air. He went forward and up a hill to see where he was, and he listened with amazement to the sound his feet made as he walked. The sun was beginning to come up and already he could feel the warmth of its rays. He knew it was time to go to appear before the Father and he took a moment to bow down and pray.
Outside the tomb she just stood there in shock. She had rushed to the grave early that morning. She wanted to have that final moment to be with her Lord. To have a chance to say goodbye and to take some time to clean and anoint his body. But now the stone was rolled out the way and the tomb was empty and she had no idea what had happened. Imagine what it would be like for you to open the coffin of someone you loved and find it empty.
She couldn’t even move. She didn’t know where to go. She didn’t know what to do. She felt lost and helpless. And it was all just too much for her to take. She started to cry, and once she started to cry she just could not stop crying. The tears just poured out and she cried so hard she had trouble breathing.
A short distance away he looked up from his prayer. He could hear the sound of someone crying in the distance. It was painful to listen to. He stood up quickly and ran toward the tomb. He saw her there looking into the tomb, her eyes filled with tears and just pleading for someone to help her. He went up to her and asked her why she was crying. She looked over her shoulder and then turned back towards the grave and said please, please if you have taken him please just tell me where he is and I will go get him. Her heart was completely torn in two.
He needed to give her comfort right now. This is when she needed it the most and it could not wait. He spoke her name and she turned and looked. At first she wasn’t sure, but as she looked into his eyes she knew that it was him and that he was alive.
She was the first one to witness the power of the resurrection right before her very eyes.
This happened almost two thousand years ago this very month. The foundation of everything we believe in, the basis of every thing we hope for, the center of our belief all hinges on the power of the resurrection. For if Jesus had not risen then everything we believe in would be vain.
What do these things have to do with us?
Well first of all we learn that there is nothing that anyone could ever do to us that would limit God’s power to raise us up from the dead. They could torture us, they could cut off our limbs, they could make us bleed, they could whip our backs, they could drive nails into our hands, they could spit on us, they could laugh at us, but nothing that they could ever do to us will prevent our God from raising us up from the dead.
Second, we also take comfort that when we weep, when we cry, when we have had it with all the evil of this world we live in, when our heart is just torn in two and we feel lost crying out for our Lord – we can take comfort that he hears our tears and will come running to give us comfort and strength. We are never alone.
We are not alone and the hope of the resurrection is true. Everything else the bible says has been proven to be true. The bible is clear in what it teaches us about our nature, our life and what happens to us at death. We witness the truth in our own lives and we see that death happens to everyone. Athletes, superstars, politicians, parents, children, school teachers all die. So if everything else the bible teaches about life and death is true then it is certain that the teaching of the coming resurrection is also true.
These words are to remind us that this is not just a piece of bread that we eat and this not just another cup of wine that we drink. These symbols remind us that almost 2,000 years ago a life was given as a sacrifice for each one of us. A person willingly suffered a very horrible death to spare us from having to suffer in the same way. It is by the blood of that sacrifice that we now have hope of eternal life.
Yes, there are days when we all feel the suffering of life. We may feel like our life is going nowhere and the pain of living can be unbearable and we cringe at the news we hear of things going on in the world around us. We hate how our bodies are losing their strength, how it is even painful for us to walk, we hate how we begin to forget things and how uncomfortable it is to move our hands. We hate going to funeral after funeral, graveside service after graveside service. Watching as friends, parents, children, brethren are laid to rest in the dust of the earth. We hate all these things and one day we ourselves may even breathe our very last breath. One day we may feel our own life slipping away into nothing but darkness. One day our heart may stop beating and not start again, our eyes may gloss over, our hands stop moving, and our blood comes to a rest. One day our own body may lie in a coffin buried several feel below the dust of the earth. There will be no movement, no breathing. It may all seem hopeless.
That is when we will hear His voice telling us to get up. Our eyes will open again, our heart will begin beating again, warmth will flow through our body again, we will breathe in fresh air and then we will stand up and feel the power of being brought to life once again.