SCRIPTURE – Luke 24:1-12
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with 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; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
Easter Out of Nowhere
March 31, 2013
It’s finally Easter! I don’t know about you, but Lent felt like it took forever this year. It’s technically only 6 weeks long, but it felt to me like 42 days! I’m sure the un-Spring-like weather didn’t help. Still, I hope your journey to Easter this year has been a meaningful one. I know I have thoroughly enjoyed it, especially looking at this season through the eyes of those who were around Jesus, which we’ve been doing in our sermons leading up to today. We’ve followed Jesus through the eyes of his disciple Peter, his betrayer Judas, the good thief on the cross next to him, the centurion who watched him die, and the crowds who called for his crucifixion.
I remember about 42 days ago in our weekly staff meeting I was sharing with the other ministers my subjects for the sermon series. They nodded politely, but had these quizzical looks on their faces. And then one of them asked, “So, where are the women?” Uh-oh.. You would think because I live in a house full of women, I would be a little more sensitive to this kind of thing. But I’m not. So I offer sincerest apologies to my esteemed colleagues for my male-centric Lenten sermon series.
I’m going to try and make up for it today, because I have good news. I’ve found the women! That were already way ahead of me (no surprise there), waiting at the empty tomb. In our Sermon Talkback session this past week we read through all four gospel accounts of the resurrection. It’s interesting to note how different those four accounts are, but there’s one thing they all share in common. They all start with the women at the tomb.
Now, you could explain that away by saying it’s logical the women would be the first to Jesus’ tomb, because they had the task of preparing Jesus’ body for burial. But that’s where the logic ends, because not only do the women not find the body they are looking for, they are the first recipients of the joyous resurrection news. Not the religious leaders. Not the disciples. The women.
That one fact is an incredibly persuasive argument for the authenticity of the resurrection as an actual event. In the heavily patriarchal society that existed in the first century, if I want to create an account of the resurrection with some power behind it, I’m having the empty tomb discovered by someone of notability and status. Maybe Pilate or Caiaphas or even Peter. But the last people I would have making this discovery are the women, who had virtually no authority. Even Jesus’ own disciples thought the women’s account was an idle tale. You don’t invent a story you want people to believe and make women the main characters. And yet, there we have it, in all four gospels. The women are the ones who find the stone rolled away.
We really shouldn’t be surprised, you know, because there’s very little about Easter that follows convention. Virtually nothing in this story makes sense, and after 2000 years of interpreting and translating and explaining, it still doesn’t make sense. Heavy stones don’t get moved. Dead bodies stay dead. You see, we have rules, and we expect God to play by them. But God has a way of making an appearance where we least expect it, like at an embalming ceremony in a cemetery.
That’s the thing with Easter, I guess. Can anyone tell me the date for Christmas next year? How about two years from now? Sure, it’s Dec. 25th. That never changes. What about the date for Easter next year? Or two years from now? I don’t know. It’s never the same. I think the date is set by multiplying the circumference of the earth by the wind chill factor, then dividing half of that number by Pi – don’t forget to carry the three – and then factoring in the square root of the lunar equinox. Whatever formula is used, I haven’t figured it out.
That’s OK, though, because I’ve also never figured out the formula to predict when Christ will turn up in my life, either. Or in my church, or in my community. I just don’t know when he’s going to show up. All I do know from reading the resurrection accounts is that I should start expecting him to show up in the most unexpected places with the most unexpected people. I think this unpredictability may be a sign of God’s sense of humor. There have been so many times in my life when I just knew exactly where God was and what God wanted and – poof! – he was just beyond my grasp. I laugh now as I think about how many times this happened to me in seminary. I’d write a paper about this belief or that theology, thinking I’d finally put the puzzle together, and – poof! – God would do something in my life that would show me I understand as much about God as I do about calculating the date of Easter.
That lack of understanding can be a real struggle for those of us who prefer our faith with a healthy dose of reason. I believe that’s one of the main reasons why there are so many people who don’t believe. This faith stuff is just too irrational, too illogical. At some point you have to stop trying to understand and surrender to belief, and that leap of faith is too big for some folks. So it’s oddly comforting that this story in Luke has a group of believers who find the women’s news too irrational, too inexplicable – and those guys had heard Jesus predict that he was going to do this very thing! Jesus said three times, “I’m going to be killed and then I’m going to come back to life” and they said, “You’re gonna be KILLED?” Talk about an exercise in missing the point.
But let’s not be too hard on them, OK? Because belief in resurrection is no pushover. It’s not an easy sell. I believe there’s just as much skepticism about the resurrection today as there was then. When we are faced with easy choices, decisions that almost make themselves, we call them “no-brainers.” Well, this is a “brainer!” Having faith in Jesus Christ as God’s reason based on the account of his bodily resurrection takes every square inch of our brain to figure out, and even then we’re not going to get it.
Maybe we’re not meant to get it. After hearing the women’s story Peter runs to the tomb to see for himself. When he gets there, he sees the rolled-away stone, he saw the burial cloths neatly folded in the corner. Luke doesn’t tell us, “And then Peter went home, understanding all that had happened.” No! Luke says, “And then Peter went home, amazed at what had happened.” Maybe we’re not meant to get it. Maybe we’re not meant to understand the empty tomb; we are simply meant to be amazed by it, and to let that amazement be the lens through which we view the rest of our lives.
I believe if we do that, then we will be better able to see God around us in the most unexpected places. We’ll be able to see the risen Jesus beside us, even we are tending to necessary chores and doing the most mundane daily tasks, even when every day of the week feels like a Monday. We’ll be able to see Easter poke through the heavy blanket of grief and despair and anxiety that often surrounds us. The angel says to the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” If all we expect in our lives is a dead Jesus, that’s all we see. But if we truly believe Jesus is alive and present and calling us forward, then we open ourselves up to Easter surprises. The truth of this day can hit us when we least expect it, like in the babble of a small child or the nostalgic laughter during a funeral.
I was in downtown Chicago once for an appointment with my doctor, and decided to walk back to Union Station to catch the train home. As I was walking down Adams Street, I was thinking about the bad news I had just received and beginning to wonder what it would mean for my health, my family, and the rest of my life. And I started to get a little worried. So I prayed, not really knowing what to say. And then the strangest thing happened. Up ahead of me about 10 feet, floating above the sidewalk at about eye level, was a bubble. A perfectly round bubble. How would a bubble that looked like it belong in the backyard of a three-year-old get to a busy street in downtown Chicago? I walked closer to it and reached out my hand, and the bubble floated right down into my palm – and popped. Out of nowhere, a bubble shows up, a glimpse of pure beauty along a busy downtown street, and then disappears just as it reaches my grasp. Now, you could very logically explain to me that my bubble came from a window washer’s bucket up above, and that the bubble didn’t change my diagnosis or my future. And you would be right. But God doesn’t come to us in ways that offer us logical proof or evidence; only in ways that offer hope.
Ultimately, that’s what this story is about. In the midst of the mundane, while we are going about our routines, even when we feel as if God is far from us, a glimmer of hope will appear, like the sun piercing the gloom of night, like a shaft of light in a dark tomb, and all of a sudden it’s Easter all over again. You never know when it’s going to happen – could be today or tomorrow or next Sunday, or next Spring. You never know where it’s going to happen – a sanctuary, a hospital room, a dinner table, even a crowded city street. But it usually happens when we don’t think it’s going to happen. The women didn’t go to the tomb saying to themselves, “We’ll we’ve got the spices just in case, but let’s hope he’s not there!” Easter is always a surprise.
I can’t explain to you what happened on this day at the tomb. I can prove to you the biological processes that led to the resurrection. I don’t understand. But I believe. And in that belief I find my source of hope. In that belief, I find the strength to look for Easter in the most unlikely of place. Because Jesus lives – and I believe he does live – I have hope that all my miserable Mondays and terrible Tuesdays and not-so-good Fridays and all the other days have the chance to be Easter Sunday. Because you just never know where Jesus is doing to show up, and then – poof! – it’s Easter all over again. If we think he’s dead, we’ll miss it. But he’s not. He’s alive. Surprise!