April 4, 2021
Luke 24: 1-12
Christ has risen, alleluia!
Normally, this morning we would have already shared buns from the Witness Committee and Bernice’s traditional mixture of ginger ale and juice … the Easter lilies on the crosses in the narthex would be in full bloom … the rock would have been rolled away from the cardboard tomb at the front of the sanctuary.
Yesterday, the altar guild would have placed the white paraments on the altar and the pulpit … Judi and Karin would have adorned the tomb with flowers representing the new life that came into the world …
The air in the sanctuary would be filled with music … we would hear the water flowing into the font … we could feel the drops of water as they land on our faces as Chloe would wisk the water up into the air … and we would hear the story of Jesus rising from the tomb.
It’s ironic that we’re hearing the story of an empty tomb on a day when … if someone peeked in through the window or door, they would witness an empty and silent church … a reality that has been true for more Sundays during the past year than we care to remember … and for more such Sundays to come.
But that is life during a pandemic.
It is a time of absence … and of presence.
Absence and presence …
That is what has marked the past year … even today, we are physically absent from one another, but virtually present as we recall the tomb and celebrate the risen Christ.
This morning, we heard the story of the women who went to where they knew Jesus was buried following his death on the cross.
These women had been with Jesus during his ministry in the Galilee.
They had been present when he suffered on the cross … they heard his final words when he commended his spirit to his Father.
The women had watched Jesus’s body taken down and watched Joseph of Arimathea wrap the body and place it in the tomb. They watched as the large rock was rolled in front of the entrance.
They knew where Jesus could be found this morning.
The women spent the hours following Jesus’ death preparing the spices and ointments necessary for a proper, respectful burial … the spices and ointments that they now carried toward the tomb.
You can picture them … in the first light of dawn … spotting that the rock had been moved away from the opening … dropping the spices, ointments and whatever else they carried and running to the tomb … expecting to see Jesus’ body still lying there … perhaps even desecrated by the Romans.
You can imagine the looks on the women’s faces … “perplexed,” is how Luke puts it.
… as they are confronted with the emptiness of the tomb … faced with the unexpected.
Then, the terrifying appearance of two men in dazzling clothes sends the women to their knees in fear and reverence.
The men ask the question that is our focus this morning:
“Why have you looked for the living among the dead?”
That’s one of the interesting points about today’s passage.
The women … up to this moment … were not looking for the living … they were looking for the dead … they fully expected to find Jesus’ body among the other bodies in the tombs that dotted that spot in the countryside.
The dead are in their graves … death is real… that’s the reality of the world that they knew … that’s why they were looking here for Jesus, because he is dead.
Instead, they are confronted with the unexpected … the gift of Easter … the resurrected Christ. They are the first to encounter the resurrection.
And in their confusion … in their sense of uncertainty … the women are reminded of what Jesus had told them that “… and on the third day he will rise again.”
The two messengers tell the women,
“He is not here, but has risen.”
The women … the first witnesses of the resurrection … race off to share the news with the others … only to be discounted by the male apostles … death remained the reality they understood … except for Peter … who goes to the tomb to see for himself and then finds himself perplexed by what he finds.
Theologian Richard Vinson says that Peter finds himself between the men’s disbelief and the women’s faith.
Which begs the question … where … in the midst of the pandemic – do we find ourselves … where between disbelief and faith are we located? Where between death and life are we?
Like the women and the apostles, we have found ourselves in a time of confusion, uncertainty, grief and distress.
It’s easy to focus on the dead during a pandemic … the news offers daily statistics of how many cases and how many fatalities have affected life in the province … nation and the world.
In the months of our pandemic-induced isolation, how often did we seek the dead … the negative stuff that does not give new life? How often did we look at the church and see only absence?
The apostles in today’s story misunderstand what the empty tomb represented … they took the absence of Jesus’ body as an absolute absence.
But the women get it … they recognize that Jesus’ absence in the tomb means that he is present in the world again.
Maybe the empty church buildings can stand as a reminder that God is not constrained by the walls of a building, but is contained within the walls of our hearts.
Perhaps, the absence we’ve felt calls us to a new direction … a new way of thinking … to remember that the tomb wasn’t the end of the story … it just a turning point.
Perhaps, this is a time to consider the opportunities present within that absence … opportunities to share today’s story as the women did … the opportunity to boldly and faithfully share the promise it offers … and help foster the new life it represents.
… the opportunity to be present.
Theologian Rolf Jacobsen once said that resurrection is the norm of god’s activity … resurrection is the norm of god’s activity …
This means that God’s activities are always directed toward seeking life … and in that activity, hope is carried out from the tomb and out into the world.
The message of Easter calls into question one form of belief … that death has the final word … and replaces it with the summons to another belief.
The women’s experience at the tomb … their response to the message of the two men … remind us that when we love God … when we love others … and love ourselves … through our words and actions … through acts of reconciliation … we make God visible … we make the presence of god’s love fully felt.
… and when that happens, new life blossoms forth just as the flowers around the tomb.
Christ has risen, alleluia!
<he has risen indeed, alleluia!>