April 17, 2022 Resurrection of Our Lord The text is Luke 24:1-12.
1 On the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!). What a week it’s been! On Maundy Thursday we dined with Jesus and the twelve disciples, and heard that he has given the world the new commandment to “love one another”. On Good Friday we were once again painfully reminded that God’s people were quick to have the bandit Barabbas released instead of Jesus, and that our shouts of “Crucify him!” were loud in Pilate’s ears. On the cross, Jesus said “it is finished” and breathed his last. Later that afternoon Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’ body, placed it in a secure tomb in a cave and sealed the opening with a heavy stone.
It’s now the morning of that first Easter and I invite you to come along as we assume the roles of those first witnesses to the resurrection.
We are Mary Magdalene; we’re Mary, the mother of James; Joanna, whose husband Cuza is a steward in King Herod’s household, and the other women. The sun hasn’t yet fully risen as we make our way to the garden and the tomb carved into the rock. We’re carrying with us the spices, ointments, and oils necessary to complete the preparation of the body that was required by Jewish Law. Since Jesus had been laid in the tomb about three hours before sunset on Friday, there wasn’t time to complete the ritual before the Sabbath began. We’re overcome with grief and sadness, after watching our Lord Jesus die on the cross. We’re about to begin a ritual practice that we never expected we would have to do; after all, we have been accompanying Jesus, along with the disciples for three whole years. We’ve come to believe that he is the Messiah, our long-awaited king; and kings aren’t executed like common criminals. Yet, here we are, in the early morning mist, readying ourselves for this unexpected, unpleasant duty.
And, as we draw near to the place, we see that the heavy stone has been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. “Who could have done this”, we wonder? “Could grave robbers have broken in, thinking there might be some valuables on the body?” But the real shock happens when we stoop down and go inside the tiny cave carved into the soft rock that is common in Israel. We ask ourselves, “did someone steal Jesus’ body, and if so, why would anyone do that?” And, while we remain standing there, stunned and confused, we suddenly find two men right there, next to us. And, we immediately recognize that they must be angels, due to their dazzling white clothing. Our confusion now becomes terror and we lower our gaze to the ground, so overwhelmed are we at the striking appearance of these heavenly messengers. We’re all thinking the same thing, “what on earth is going on here, this makes no sense?”
These beings in blindingly bright clothing ask us why we are looking in a place of the dead, for someone who is alive. This only adds to our confusion. We’re obviously not looking for a live person, because we’ve all seen Jesus hanging on the cross and we watched as the soldier pierced his side with a spear. We saw the blood and water flow from his wound. As far as we are concerned, Jesus is most definitely not among the living.
And, that’s why we’ve come to the tomb in the first place, we expected to prepare Jesus’ dead body for burial. Then the angelic messengers make the most amazing pronouncement to us; he is not here. Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!). They remind us of what Jesus had previously told us and the others, that he would rise again on the third day. Now we remember that he said this to us! I suppose we didn’t really give this proclamation much thought when Jesus told us this, for I guess we never imagined that the events of the last week would come to pass. But now we begin to recall the things that we observed as we travelled with Jesus and the twelve disciples. We remember that there were healings and miraculous signs; Lazarus was raised, and thousands of people were fed with just a few dried fish and a couple of barley loaves. Now, Saint Luke didn’t write this part down in his gospel, I suppose because he wanted to get to the part where we all return to tell the disciples what we discovered. But right about then was the time that we all came to the same conclusion; we looked at each other and we suddenly recognized that this same Jesus who performed miracles for others really did come back from the dead, just like he said he would. We are so amazed at this revelation that all thoughts of funeral preparation are completely forgotten. We now realize that Jesus lives again. Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!).
At this point, Luke writes that we women “returned from the tomb”, like we all kind of just sauntered back to tell the eleven remaining disciples that, “oh, by the way, two angels just told us that the tomb where Jesus was laid is empty because he rose from the dead”. Like it was no big deal.
No, you all remember how it really happened; we rushed back to tell the others; we were all so excited and we couldn’t wait to share the unbelievable news with Peter and the others. We told them what we had seen and what the angels said to us, Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!).
Now that the women have done their part, it’s time that we assume the role of the disciples, who were waiting back at the house when Mary and the others went off to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. And, you remember what we said to the women when they came bursting in with this unlikely story; Luke writes that we told them their words were what he called an “idle tale”.
Apparently, the people who translated Luke were taking something of literary license with our actual response to the women. The Greek word that Luke wrote was an accurate description of our reaction to their story; we told them it was “nonsense”. And, you know how we men were back then, we didn’t really put much stock in what women had to say, after all we were living in a strict patriarchal society. So, we really didn’t believe them; just goes to show how wrong we were.
Next, we take on the role of the disciple who was to be rock upon which the church of Christ was to be built. We are poor Simon Peter, and it seems like we never get it right. Our weak faith caused us to sink when Jesus told us to walk to him on the water; Jesus said to us, “Get behind me, Satan” when we argued against his going to Jerusalem to fulfil the prophesy of his death and resurrection; and in our final weakness we denied Jesus three times, just as he said we would. But, this time, it seems like we might actually have a bit more faith than we thought we did. Even as the others met the women’s story of Jesus being alive with the claim that it was nonsense, in a moment of hope, expectation, and anticipation we ran off to the tomb to see for ourself. Unsure of what we might find, we don’t even venture all the way in to the tomb. Instead, we crouch down, and looking in we see that their story is true. The massive stone has been rolled away, Jesus is not there, and the linen shroud he was wrapped in is neatly folded, there on the stone shelf where his body had lain.
Again, in something of an understatement, Luke noted that we, as Peter were amazed at the sight. What Luke didn’t write was that we too exclaimed with unbridled joy, if even just to ourself, Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!).
And now, we return to the present day, some 2,000 years after that first Easter. The first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection saw the empty tomb for themselves; and shortly after this, Jesus appeared on the road to Emmaus and he ate and drank with his disciples. This is some pretty strong evidence that Jesus’ foretelling of his rising from the grave did happen, just as he said it would. But what about us, in the here and now? In this time and in this place? Other than what we read in Scripture, what proof do we have that this resurrection story is true?
Well, you might say that our faith is all we need, and that there really is no tangible proof that Jesus rose. And for some, that faith is enough. But I think that there really is actual proof of the events of Easter, that there are signs all around us that Jesus Christ, the Son of God did, in fact rise on the third day. For in spite of all the negativity in the world, in spite of those who would perpetrate evil, despite all the forces that conspire to undermine the Father’s will for creation, we trust in our God, for we know that God’s promises are kept. Every gloomy night is followed by the light of a new morning; after each cold winter comes the blooming rebirth of nature in the spring; these are examples of the new life God promises to us. This is the resurrection life that has been secured for God’s people by the rising of Jesus that first Easter morning. This is no “idle tale”, all we have to do to find proof of the keeping of God’s promises is to look around us. Evidence of abundant life is everywhere!
In spite of the challenges that God’s people face, we are blessed to gather together this morning, to celebrate this most holy of days; when we rejoice that our Creator withholds nothing from us, not even God’s own Son. We are the women at the empty tomb; we are the disciples who doubted them; we are Peter, who, in spite of his failings rushed to see for himself. They were the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection; we are the ones who acknowledge his rising today.
We have the proof that comes from the goodness we find in the world around us, and we have the faith that we have been granted by the Holy Spirit. And, as our brothers and sisters in the faith have been doing for generations we joyfully proclaim, Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!).