Sermon 2016-3-27 (Easter)

Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

Luke 24:1-12

I don’t know all the reasons you’ve been looking forward to Easter this year… Maybe an Easter Lily smelling up your house/your apartment–maybe the ham on time-bake for later today–maybe one of those spectacular pancakes our young people are making/made for you this morning–our annual Park Avenue Easter Breakfast…  For me, as good as all that is–especially the pancakes thing!–but for me, when it comes right down to it, what I have most been looking forward to is really this one thing—I have been looking forward to today as the day we fill up the church to acknowledge the only real hope able to sustain a human life through any and everything!  See, people have not gathered for the past 2,000 years to say, “The stock market has risen! It has risen indeed!”  They haven’t gathered to say, “The employment rate has risen!  It has risen indeed!” or, “Apple stock has risen,” or, “the value of my 401K has risen,” or “the Powerball jackpot has risen!”   No, there is only one hope that has held human beings up across every continent–every culture–for two millennia of every kind of challenge–poverty, disease, pain, hardship–even death itself: “Christ has risen!”  “Christ has risen indeed!”

There’s something I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten a little older (not that I’m really getting old, mind you—just a bit older)—but I’ve noticed that sometimes it takes a young person dying to remind us just how fleeting life is—have you noticed that?–how soon life can be over–in the blink of an eye–even for those of us who will live the longest?  You see, over two thousand years ago, somebody died too young, and his name was Jesus.  People try telling me, that–given the whole life-expectancy-of-the-time thing—you know, 33 years wasn’t too bad.  Well, let me tell you something: don’t you dare try convincing me that only 33 years of having the Son of God on this planet was enough of him!  It’s what makes today so unreasonable, Jesus dying young…

I’ve always appreciated how the writer Anne Lamott puts it—she was thinking about her mom’s struggle with Alzheimer’s—thinking about her country being at war—thinking about all kinda sadness around her–and so she wrote this (that): “We are Easter people in a Good Friday world…”  And I happen to think she’s right.  I mean, this is a Good Friday world, what with terrorism in Brussels and racial violence in our cities and all kinda political acrimony and gridlock—it is a Good Friday world.  Which is why Ms. Lamott made a confession (she said): “I don’t have the right personality for Good Friday–for the crucifixion—would rather skip ahead—ahead to resurrection”—like the resurrection vision this kid in her Sunday School class showed her one day—kid drew a picture of the Easter bunny outside the tomb—looked something like this:

Or maybe it conjures up this one:

I mean, you talk about mixing metaphors, right?  Or then this one—churches wanting to get in on the action:

We voted that signage down at Park Avenue this year, actually!  But those pictures have it all, don’t they–everlasting life and a box of chocolatesnow we’re talking!”[1]

And of course, the truth of the matter is that that’s us, too, isn’t it–we who would rather skip the brutal part of the story—the whole death thing…  In fact, isn’t that what some people have been trying to do from the get-go–trying to make the whole morbidity part of Easter a little more reasonable—trying to make sense of something that’s just plain unreasonable?  All these explanations people come up with trying to make sense of things—all these theories floating around for those who can’t buy the whole resurrection thing:

  • Like maybe that vinegar stuff they gave him when he was on the cross—up there crying out for something to drink—maybe it had some kind of medication in it—made him look like he was dead but what really happened was, well, he just revived there in the tomb—you know–got up—walked right out… Maybe that
  • Or maybe the disciples stole the body…
  • Or maybe the gardener moved it…
  • Or maybe he went back to his hometown in Galilee–married Mary Magdalene–they had a kid named Bobby—and they all lived happily ever after. Maybe that

See, the early accounts of Easter morning found in the Bible—they all describe what took place differently, but something every one of them agrees on is that Jesus of Nazareth was dead–as dead as you can ever be dead.  It’s because Roman crucifixion was so efficient, so dependable, so complete…  So that if, for whatever reason, the victim did not die, why, it was the job of the guards, those assigned to the detail, to finish him off.  Which is why the earliest creeds of the Christian church made sure the point was unmistakably, irrevocably clear: “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, and buried, he descended into hell.”  And that phrase—so curious, so dramatic—doesn’t mean Jesus was punished so much as it means that he was completely, utterly, absolutely, physically dead (really most sincerely dead J)…

Anybody who’s lost somebody close—somebody in their family, say—knows that when there’s a death, someone has to step up, right?–do what needs doing?  Somebody has to do the dishes, clean the house, put the casserole in the oven.  Somebody has to take charge–call the undertaker, the florist, the church, the cemetery.  And all those years ago, one of the “somebodys” who stepped up was a man named Joseph–from the town of Arimathea–someone who was a “kind-of-a-big-deal” in his world—wealthy, a distinguished member of Israel’s Supreme Court (his nomination not having been derailed by politicians, apparently!).  But what we know about him–this Joseph of Arimathea—is that he did something so unexpected that day—he went to the Roman governor and asked for the body of the man who’d been executed–asked for the body of Jesus.  It’s because the Sabbath was approaching–Jewish law requiring that burial happen before sundown (even though Pilate coulda cared less about Jewish custom–in fact, most of the time the government would leave the body of the crucified up on the cross in full view of the gawkers—this big capital-punishment-warning-thing to any would-be troublemakers…)  And Luke tells us this good and brave man (Joseph) took the body of Jesus down, carefully and lovingly wrapped it in linen, and placed it a tomb that he owned–did what somebody needed to do…

There were women, too–more “somebodys.”  See, one-by-one the men around Jesus all bailed when he was arrested—fear got the best of them…  But the women–they stayed—stayed and watched as their Lord was tormented and crucified–stayed as he died his agonizing death–watched as Joseph took the body down–followed and watched as it was placed in the tomb…

So, now it’s Sunday morning, and here they are, these women—dawn breaking– hard to see much—come to do what needed to be done.  But when they get there, why, the stone’s been rolled away; the body’s gone.  Two men are there–the women all terrified–fall on their faces.  “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” they’re asked. “He is not here; he is risen.”  It’s news nobody expected–news nobody could believe.  And when the women came running to where the male disciples were in hiding, well, no real surprise–their out-of-breath announcement dismissed—thought to be ridiculous–an “idle tale,” they’re told…

Of course, what you and I know, don’t we, is that the story doesn’t end there.  We know there was another side to the miracle.  Peter had to run see for himself, the others all coming ‘round in their own way, but what started happening was that this news took root in them; they chose to believe it, and believing it changed them.  Because when they believed, they walked through a door into a brand new world.  Those frightened, discouraged, grieving men and women got transformed—transformed into brave, hopeful, loving bearers of good news—news they could not and would not shut up about!  What happened was that Good Friday people became Easter people!—people who lived out the rest of their days in the confidence that there was no thing so fearful, no darkness so dark, no threat so awful, no death so final able to hold them back!  As our friend Anne Lamott has it in another place, “Easter is so profound that it dares to say love is more powerful than death—is bigger than the dark—is bigger than cancer—is bigger than airport security lines—is bigger than any grim, bleak blankety-blank thing anybody can throw at us!”[2]  Oh, yeah!

It means that today is a day we can see the reality of Easter and resurrection all around us—see it in courageous people—people who live with hope and grace and love even in the middle of seemingly hopeless circumstances.  Don’t you see that?

  • We see resurrection in the woman who finds the courage to leave an abusive situation—or in the man who won’t give up while he lives with a debilitating disease…
  • We see resurrection in parents or grandparents—those who keep on caring for a son, a daughter, a grandchild—struggling or rebelling…
  • We see resurrection in a doctor–using her retirement resources to start a clinic in Swaziland–to treat AIDS patients…
  • We see resurrection in the teacher who won’t give up on his students—no matter how much they act out their fear and confusion and anger toward him—we see that courageous teacher showing up in his urban classroom day after day finding ways to believe in kids…
  • We see resurrection in the hospice nurse–sitting at the bedside of a patient dying alone; in the musician–practicing, practicing—making ready to be able to add beauty to life…
  • We see resurrection in the woman going through chemotherapy–putting on her stylin’ wig–planning next summer’s vacation.
  • We see resurrection in ordinary people who will not settle for war, who will not settle for injustice, who will not settle for children starving for food (or for attention), but who keep on praying, keep on working, keep on giving themselves to God’s kingdom and doing what needs to be done and making a difference! Oh yes, we do

You and I see resurrection in the lives of Easter people—people who know that we are living in a new world, a world where hope is stronger than despair, where love is stronger than death.  That’s the miracle of this day–of Easter Sunday–the miracle that keeps happening—happening to extraordinary people like you—and even to people like me

So I want to ask you something, this morning.  I’m imagining some are here today–walking anything but lightly right now—there’s a heaviness going on (or a guilt, a fear, a loss, a doubt…).  And maybe, just maybe, you came to church on Easter Sunday needing what only resurrection can bring—needing to be changed—changed from being all weighted down to knowing and feeling the lightness, the life, the calming, the healing, the reconciling of your heart—the stuff only resurrection can bring.  Maybe you’ve been looking for the living among the dead, and the truth of the matter is, you have not found it.  And so what I want to say to you–with all my heart do I want to say it to you: the resurrection power of Jesus is still available—it has not gone away…  For two thousand years people have done what needed to be done so that the message of God’s love for you could be preserved—preserved so that you could hear it today—right now—in this holy moment.  God is still about the business of raising people from the dead–of giving us a brand new way of life…  Amen?

[1] From Traveling Mercies, p. 140.

[2] Traveling Mercies, p. 274.