Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.
Hallelujah! Christ is risen! [Christ is risen, indeed! Hallelujah!]
This evening we are gathered to celebrate the pinnacle of our church year, the holiest of days in the Christian life, the feast of the Resurrection of our Lord. This is the day, and the 50-day season, where we shout HALLELUJAH at all available opportunities, praising God for bringing life out of death. And all the songs have exclamation points!
If you attend a few year’s worth of Easter services, you’ll notice that there are four different versions of the story. We have the Gospel According to Matthew, to Mark, to Luke, and to John. Each story is a little bit different—the cast of characters shifts a bit, the dialogue and the events are not quite the same, but in every version, the tomb is empty. In all four versions of the story, the women who knew and loved Jesus—who had watched him murdered just days before—arrive at his graveside to mourn, to pray, and—in this year’s Gospel According to Luke—anoint his body with “the spices they had prepared.” Imagine, for a moment. It is merely hours since Jesus has died and been buried.
Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, and “the other women who were with them” spent their sabbath day afraid and unsure about what the future would hold. They relied on their tradition to point them toward action, to move through the rituals of grieving together.
These women probably fed their families, and gathered to pray in the candlelight. Then, before anyone else was awake, I imagine them meeting, quietly, at one of their homes, and gathering the spices they’d prepared. I imagine them looking one another in their scared faces, taking a few steadying breaths, nodding resolutely, and walking out into the dawn.
What did they talk about on the way, I wonder? Their community was in disarray, as Judas had disappeared and Peter had denied being one of them and, come to think of it, they weren’t sure where Thomas had gone to, either. Should they be going into hiding? Should they be demonstrating in the streets? Who would decide? I wonder if they simply discussed their work for the rest of the day, and their children, like a normal morning.
But when they arrived, “they found the stone rolled away from the tomb” and “they did not find the body.” This was not what they expected. I imagine their minds beginning to race. Had their friends come and moved his body, without telling them? Had they misremembered where he had been laid? Had the Romans not been satisfied with stealing Jesus’ life, they had to come back and steal his death, too?
Before they probably even formulated a complete sentence to say to one another, “suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.” Terrified, they fell to the ground and covered their faces. Nothing prepared them for this. One of the dazzling strangers speaks: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
“He is not here; but has been raised.”
“Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again."
Remember. Last week, on Maundy Thursday, we talked about that word “remember.” Re-member. To put back together. These dazzling strangers are complicating the story by the second, and yet have calmly asked these women to put the pieces together. While Jesus was alive, he told them he would be killed but that he would rise again.
These women—and the male disciples, too—were astounded by this every time, and never believed that Jesus could have been telling the truth. It was impossible. And yet, in the creeping light of the resurrection dawn, it is all coming into focus. Maybe, just maybe, the worst thing has not been the last thing.
The Luke story doesn’t tell us the play-by-play, but I imagine that these women scrambled to their feet and ran all the way back to their homes, panting for breath, shaking their loved ones awake, exclaiming “Jesus is alive!” To what I’m certain was their unspeakable disappointment, the women are dismissed by the eleven male disciples, who call their proclamation “an idle tale.”
In general, I abide by the maxim “believe women.” Have you ever—whether or not you are a woman—told an important story only to have someone wave it off as unlikely, since he hadn’t experienced it for himself? You can identify, then, with these women. It is important that we listen to people’s lived experience, especially when it vastly differs from our own. There are many ways of knowing things, many ways of being true.
And, simultaneously, we live in a world where seeing isn’t even always believing. A healthy dose of skepticism and doing your own research can, sometimes, save you from being dangerously misled. So, if you show up to the resurrection dawn with confusion and skepticism, you’re in good company. Most of the disciples are unsure.
But Peter—dear, dear Peter—got up and ran to the tomb. He corroborated the story of the women, that the tomb was, in fact, empty, and was amazed.
The thing that changed on the first Easter morning was not that a group of people suddenly became certain—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that Jesus had been raised from the dead; it was that they were willing to live the rest of their lives open to the possibility. They stopped looking for the living among the dead. They understood that sometimes God steps in in ways that don’t make sense.
One of my favorite writers, Hanif Abdurraqib, wrote this week that his “relationship to faith changes daily, but [he’d] like to think that one part of believing is our shared stumbling toward the witness of something that was once thought to be unbelievable.”
The resurrection morning isn’t about certainty, isn’t about correct belief, isn’t about being able to explain how someone who was dead is alive. It is about the vulnerability of allowing yourself to live into the wildly unlikely reality that God put an end to death.
Through the life, death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus the Christ, God shows us what it means to be fully human. God shows us that it means expecting the unexpected and delighting in mystery. When we find ourselves in the depths of despair, in the throes of grief, frozen in fear, and trapped in our anger, God has been there. God has lived and died as a human being, and understands our life—and our death—from the inside.
As Jesus is raised to new life, so, too, are we! In the light of Easter, we see with new eyes that the possibilities are endless! God’s love for you is boundless! You, beloved, are alive!