In the 1997 blockbuster film Titanic, Jack and Rose enjoy a fairy-tale romance aboard the giant ocean liner. Disaster strikes when the unsinkable ship hits an iceberg and sinks and Jack drowns. But in the film’s last scene, we see Jack and Rose, back to life, reunited on the ship’s grand staircase, as if the tragedy were but a bad dream.
Unless it’s the bad guys, it seems that Hollywood does not much like death. It’s happier to just live on and on, immortal.
Which is what Jesus did not do. He really died. He did not just appear to die. He did not just live on in the hearts and minds of his friends. Nor did he have some “immortal soul” or “divine spark” that endured after his body expired. Jesus was really, truly, completely dead.
And then God turned the tables on death. All four gospels, along with the Apostle Paul, affirm that Jesus was raised from the dead. It’s the resurrection that stands at the heart of Christian faith, not some “immortality” of a soul that just goes on and on.
The truth of Jesus’s resurrection, though, takes a while to dawn on Jesus’s friends. In our text for this Easter Sunday (John 20:1-18), Peter, the chief disciple, races to the open tomb, enters it, and sees grave clothes lying about. But does not come out crying, “Jesus is alive!” He just goes away.
The other disciple with Peter (possibly John) also sees the empty tomb. Unlike Peter, he “believes,” but it is not clear what he believes.
And Mary Magdalene, perhaps Jesus’s closest friend, is so distraught with grief that the two angels in the empty tomb are only annoyances to her. Even when she meets Jesus clothed as a gardener, she does not recognize him, and only pleads for her dear friend’s dead body to be returned.
If it’s hard for Hollywood to accept that death is really death, it was also hard for the dead Jesus’s followers to believe that he had been made alive.
But they finally do become convinced. And then there’s no stopping them. They go into the world with the audacious claim that, while death is—yes—real, Jesus’s resurrection is–YES!– also real. More real, even, than death.
If we’re honest, we’ll admit that Hollywood has got it wrong. Our experience tells us that life can be tragic, and that death is real.
And then, our faith assures us that we need not fear that unpleasant truth, because death is not the last word. The last word belongs to God, and that word is resurrection.
He is risen! Happy Easter.