4/21/2019 Easter Sunday The text is Luke 24:1-12.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When we left there Friday evening, the mood was somber. The sanctuary was barren and stark, like a tomb. Death was in the air as we read scriptures recalling the events of Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution. The brief eulogy of the Roman centurion, “Surely this man was innocent,” came too late. The damage was done. It was indeed finished! All whose who gather to see the sight of three men dying on crosses returned home without a glimmer of hope. It was all over, period, the end – the end of the messianic dream….the end of teachings…the end of the healings…the end of hope…the END!
No one was around to hear the funeral arrangements being made by Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph took Jesus’ lifeless body and laid it in a tomb, Joseph’s own tomb, one designed for his own use, but now the final resting place of Jesus of Nazareth. The women who had accompanied Jesus watched from afar as his lifeless body was carted off and placed unceremoniously in the grave. There was no getting around it…Jesus had not just fallen asleep. He was dead…stone cold dead…utterly dead!
Now, we are a people who find it hard to use this “d” word. We would rather say people pass away, or go to their reward, or meet their maker. There’s even a Whitelight Casket Company in Dallas that helps take the edge off death – with no more wooden boxes or boring bronze coffins. Your casket can be designed to be “as unforgettable as the life they commemorate.” A golfer can choose the “Fairway to Heaven” model, or if you live on the Cape, you can choose a beach scene, or a high powered corporate executive may find that a view of the New York skyline fits the bill. (And no, I’m not making this up and I wonder if I wanted if I could have one designed with Border Terriers running about.) But then, of course, treating death in this way is not new. Even the pyramids in Egypt are nothing more than impressive final statements on death. But, death is what it is. A love one laid in a casket can only look good for a dead person. For in death, life is finished.
Life, as we know it, was finished for Jesus. He had been crucified. He died a horrid, humiliating and painful death. His body was marred by the experience. And it was laid in the tomb, echoing with emptiness, without a showy casket and devoid of the customary spices and perfumes.
On Easter morn, the women traveled to the place where Jesus’ body was entombed. They brought with them prepared spices in order to provide Jesus with a proper burial. There was not a question in their mind that what they were going to see and experience was the stench of death. They were convinced that the story was over. It was great while it lasted, but now all their hopes were dead and buried along with Jesus. And the disciples…well, the disciples were hiding in terror. They knew what was next for them. They knew they, too, were on the threshold of death. And, those who sat on the council that had demanded Jesus’ crucifixion? Well they must have been celebrating the elimination of Jesus, the troublemaker. Only Mary Magdalene and the other women went to the tomb, drowning in tears of grief. They went to the tomb, knowing it was over, the end, case closed.
When they approached the site, they saw the stone that sealed the opening had been rolled back from its place of permanence. They must have seen this unexpected turn of events as a stroke of luck or good fortune, for it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to roll back the stone in order to gain access to the body. But with a clear access to the enclosure, they could enter and what they found was shocking. The body was missing. It was then, in their grief and confusion, that out of nowhere, two men in dazzling clothes appeared beside them and announced the good news. Like shepherds before them who were the first to hear the news of Jesus birth, these faithful women were the first to hear – “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you…” And they remembered. They remembered! And in remembering, they believed the impossible. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! His body had not been stolen. He whom they had seen die was alive! Christ is risen!
With new hope, the women couldn’t wait to share the good news with others – so, they told the disciples. But, the disciples took the news as nothing more than the idle tale of some crazy, mournful women. And yet, Peter, impetuous Peter got up and ran to the tomb to see for himself. And what he saw upon entering was not an empty space, but the burial cloths by themselves. The linen cloths, not the women, not the empty tomb, not the rolled away stone, not the remembrance of Jesus’ words, but the linen cloths convinced Peter that something amazing had happened – for no one, not even today, would unwrap a dead body and leave the linens behind. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! And yet, it would take more than the witness of a few women, the jogging of memory, and some linen cloths in an empty tomb to fully convince the disciples of Jesus’ victory over death. For them, Easter morning was just the beginning.
For us, it is the amen…the so be it…the alleluia…the hope and the promise of all that is to come. So, year after year, we gather to listen to this familiar story. Year after we year, we come here to celebrate the witness of a small band of women who were chosen to be the first to hear the good news. Year after year, we come here to remember what Peter saw and experienced. Year after year, we speak the same words and sing the same familiar hymns in order to help us remember! To help us remember the cross and the grave. To help us remember the stone which was rolled away and the empty tomb. To help us remember the depth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. And in remembering, to help us believe and trust in the words – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! And in his rising, our relationship with God is restored.
May we remember and believe all the days of our lives – Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.