This is the sermon I preached on Easter Sunday, April 21 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Luke 24:1-12.
The gospels contain no account of a resurrection per se. What we have is a story of an empty tomb and of remembering what we have already been told would happen. We do not find Jesus; we only find evidence of the resurrection. After all, we cannot find Jesus, but the living Jesus does find us.
Just what did the women see at the tomb? First of all, Jesus’ tomb was open and empty. The stone it had been sealed with was rolled away and these are humongous bolder-like stones. There was no body to be seen. Then angels in dazzling clothes appeared. The women responded in typical fashion to God’s messengers. They were scared! Can you blame them?
What did the women hear? The angels challenge and chide the women, “Why… look for the living among the dead?” Why should the women expect to find the living Lord in a tomb? There is incongruity between the women’s expectations and their experience. The function of tombs is to house the dead. However, what they discover is that the tomb was now empty. It is a familiar sign transformed by resurrection.
The angels tell the women,“He has risen.” A better translation is “He has been raised [meaning by God].” The resurrection was not something that Jesus had done to himself, but rather something God did for the dead and powerless Jesus. Just as Jesus did not die a natural death, but was killed, so Jesus did not rise by himself, but was raised.
Hearing the words of the angels jogged the women’s memories. The angels reminded the women of what Jesus had taught in Galilee about his death and resurrection. The women do indeed remember and not only that, they get it! The fact the women don’t initially remember what Jesus had told them does not indicate weakness of character. Instead, it reveals a pattern in which understanding comes through proclamation.
Christ’s resurrection was made real to the women in the proclamation and remembering of Jesus’ life.
Luke does not treat the women as mere messengers. Having recalled Christ’s teaching that they themselves had heard, they were treated as disciples in and of themselves and not told to go tell the others. They took that upon themselves.
The women shared their discovery and their experience with the angels with the other disciples but were not believed. Some of this may have been due to women not being considered believable witnesses at that time. And yet these women had supported Jesus’ ministry and watched his trial and crucifixion and witnessed his burial. They stuck with him through it all, unlike Peter who denied the Lord and yet his testimony was believed by the other disciples.
What makes us look for the living among the dead? We look in all the wrong places for fulfillment in life. We embrace things as substitutes for a relationship with the living God--from the world of advertising that tries to suck us in to feel good through buying, by having the right insurance plans or mortgages Maybe, if we just had a nice boat to enjoy the summer on the lake.
None of these things are bad, but are we looking to them as means of happiness, substituting for our relationship with God? Are we trying to get the life and peace that only our Lord provides, from sources other than God, in other words, places of death? “Why do [we] look for the living among the dead?”
When will we stop crying and looking for Jesus when he is already here? In the resurrected Christ, there is time after the end, life after death, restoration of what was broken, the brightening of what had gone dark. Everything is made new because Jesus is alive!
Resurrection changes lives. The fearful became faithful, and then went out and shared the good news that “Christ is alive.” Jesus had transformed their lives before and after his crucifixion. Resurrected Jesus though was more than they could have ever imagined or hoped for. Death could not contain him. Doors and walls could not stop him. Jesus was a whole person, alive and lively, yet unlimited by the limits of everyday physical reality. He not only lived in them, but lived beyond them, as their animating spirit.
Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farms wrote, “We should worry less what people say they believe happened 2,000 years ago and more whether we are living as if resurrection still happens. The question is, ‘How are we partnering with God today in transforming despair into hope, apathy into compassion, hate into love, and death into new life’” (in Carl Gregg, patheos.com)
Resurrection lives on. An empty tomb and open future beckoned, despite Jesus’ followers’ failures. Such beckon to us today as well. How shall we practice resurrection today? It is by bringing forth beauty and hope in the lives of children and the marginalized and vulnerable. We can tutor them, provide food for them and love them. It is by resisting the politics of division, coercion, violence and greed and learning to live in terms of a beloved community in which all persons can experience abundant living. We can share from our bounty. It is by choosing life in the face of death, trusting God’s challenges, by practicing resurrection through acts of compassion and healing that will live beyond our lifetimes. We can do something about the problems in our community. We can pray for and support the many organizations that address the needs of homelessness, hunger and addiction. Among these organizations is the Mental Health Association, the Addiction Response Ministry, St. Susan’s Kitchen and Love Inc, to name but a few. Another such example is Clarence Jordan from whose work, Koinonia Farms, Habitat for Humanity emerged. This work outlives Jordan, who died in 1969.
We, like the women, need to remember Jesus’ words. The resurrection is made real in both the proclamation and in remembering Jesus’ life. In what ways have we proclaimed when we have witnessed resurrection; the unexpected, impossible love and grace of God? In what ways have we heard the good news when we’ve least expected it? How do we remember Jesus’ teachings and life? Every time we come to the Lord’s Table, eat the bread and drink the wine, we remember our Lord’s death until he comes again.
What will we proclaim? What will the promise of life in places of death sound like to so many people with great needs? What will it sound like to one who has spent the weekend in a hospital bed waiting to have a risky surgery first thing Monday? And what of the one who has been arrested for his third DUI who is waiting for his court date, hoping that the whole town didn’t read the police blotter last week? What would Christ’s resurrection life mean to those who fled their native lands and now find themselves at our southern border with uncertain futures? And what about those whose livelihoods have been destroyed by tornadoes and flooding in our nation’s heartland?
What does it mean to all of these people and all of us today to know that the story did not end with the closing of the tomb on Friday?
According to Jesus’ first followers, Jesus’ resurrection changed everything…and yet the world pretty much stayed the same. Early Christians experienced persecution and martyrdom. The early church became polarized over ritual and doctrine. However, the disciples themselves had been changed. They believed Christ was alive and working through them. Believing in the resurrection did not deny the harsh realities of their world: the tragedies and injustices of life but placed them in a more hopeful context.
Clarence Jordan, also wrote, “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.”
God help us to be those transformed disciples, spirit-filled fellowship and carried-away church as we proclaim in word and deed, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Amen.
M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary
Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year C
Bruce Epperly, Practicing Resurrection, patheos.com
Carl Gregg, patheos.com
Holly Hearon, workingpreacher.org
Janet H. Hunt, dancingwiththeword.com
Robb McCoy and Eric Fistler, pulpitfiction.com