HE IS NOT HERE, HE HAS RISEN!
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I read something recently that was discussing the differences between Christmas and Easter. There is a certain frivolity that surrounds Christmas that doesn’t surround Easter. “Merry Easter” is not something that we hear very often. Nor is “Have a Holly Jolly Easter” or “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Easter”. We don’t set up crucifixion scenes on our church lawns, or empty tomb scenes for that matter. There are no Empty Tomb sales on Monday. For a child, Christmas can be life changing. For a child it can change the whole makeup of your toy box. Or maybe your wardrobe as we get older, or our jewellery box or garage even. Easter not so much. You get some chocolate sure. I remember post-Easter as a child rationing out my chocolate and eating it while watching the playoffs. You might get a new dress, hat or tie sure. But life changing? Could Easter actually be life changing?
The author describes her own memories of these two days like this – “Compared to Christmas, Easter was boring. Chocolate bunnies: good. Scratchy new crinoline: bad. Long blah-blah-blah at church. A lot of wordy grown-up buildup leading to, it seemed, no payoff. You could always count on Christmas to change a lot of stuff, especially in the toybox. Easter didn’t change anything.”
What if Easter changed everything?
When we grow up we put away childish things. As we grow up we learn a thing or two about life. We learn a thing or two about the things of which life is comprised. We learn about loss. About mourning. We all come to church this morning from different places. Chances are many of us know a thing or two about loss. We’re talking about life here. This is where our story begins. “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.” They have come to mourn. These are the women have been following Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. We have been following Jesus throughout these weeks of Lent from Galilee to Jerusalem. They have witness his agony. They have witnessed his death. They did not turn their faces away from his suffering. We did the same here on Good Friday. Their teacher has been executed. The one they praised as king as he entered Jerusalem not long ago. The one on whom they had pinned all their hopes – the one on whom they had pinned their hope to be saved, to be delivered, had been killed. What was it all for? They’re coming to the tomb at early dawn. Literally translated the phrase is deep dawn. Darkness on the edge of light.
This is why I think that we don’t say Easter is for children the same way we say it about Christmas. To grow up is to know what it means to experience darkness. It is to know what it is like to experience meaninglessness. To cry out “What is it all for?” To experience loss. To experience pain and suffering. To experience death. I know we don’t like to talk about it much. We don’t even like to say death or died. Death is to our culture what sex was to the Victorians. We like to hide it away. I passed a funeral home recently called a “Life Celebration Centre.” We’re not called to shy away from reality. These women were not coming to celebrate Jesus’ life. They were coming to mourn his loss. It was deep dawn.
The thing is, it was dawn. Light was beginning to break and it was enough light to let them see something.
They found the stone rolled away.
When they went in, they did not find the body.
We’re not here this morning to celebrate spring. We’re not here to simply celebrate new birth and flowers and buds on the trees (though we like these things and they remind us of other things). We’re not here to celebrate a subjective inner experience that a bunch of people had some time after their teacher had been executed which changed them somehow and we’re here to simply celebrate wise teaching and adhering to it.
We’re here to celebrate and proclaim this. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
The tomb is empty and he is risen. If he is not, then we are of all people the most to be pitied.
But pity is wasted on us, isn’t it? We are in the presence of something beyond ourselves this morning, just as these women were. We know this is the case whenever a couple of people appear in white or dazzling clothes. Dazzling! We saw the same kind of thing when Jesus’ appearance changed on the mountain. Jesus’ appearance changed and his clothes became dazzling white. Two figures appeared in glory. We’ll see the same kind of thing when Jesus is taken up into the heavens at the beginning of Acts. Two men clothed in white appear before his followers. When the figures in white show up, things are happening. When the clothes are dazzling, something is going down. There’s something happening here indeed. The women react in a fitting and a proper way when confronted with the divine – they bow their faces to the ground.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” is the question. Which leads inevitably to the question to whom do we look for life? To what do we look for life? How we do answer this question? To what do you look for meaning in your life? Oftentimes we look in places that bring anything but life. These women are looking for Jesus and they’re down on their faces.
And then the news. The news that we are marking today.
“He is not here, but has risen. 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 how he told you what the plan was? How the Son of Man must… That divine imperative we’ve been speaking of. All the places where we read about Jesus saying what he must do throughout the Gospel of Luke. “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also…” “I must stay at your house today.” Jesus executing the plan. Jesus handing himself over. Jesus allowing things to be done to him, putting himself in sinner’s hands and waiting for the result, just as Jesus awaits the result of our decision regarding him. The Son of Man being raised on the third day.
Just as he told you. What he said he was going to do, he did. “Then they remembered his words.”
We’re talking about matters of faith now. Very often this is how faith works. You hear something that might not have very much meaning until later when you remember it. Someone has said that faith does not usually move from promise to fulfillment, but from fulfillment to promise. In other words it is not usually in hearing a promise that we come to faith, and then see the fulfillment of that promise – more often than not we come to faith or a deepening of our faith in knowing the fulfillment of a promise and then looking back and remembering the promise.
So it was for these women. They remembered the promise. Luke 9:22 – “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
They saw the promise fulfilled and they remembered it. If you’ve been following Christ for any length of time you understand what I’m saying. What are the things that Christ promised? Your sins are forgiven. I am with you always, even to the end of the age. As the Father has loved me, so love I you. Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Is it any wonder this is called the good news? What did you know of those promises when you first took up Jesus’ call to follow him, to call Jesus Lord? How have you seen them fulfilled in your life and in the lives of those around you? What has this meant to your faith? To call Christ our King is to experience the risen Christ, just as there will follow in our story in Luke experiences of the risen Christ (and we’ll look at one next week). Have you experienced the living Christ? Would you like to? The invitation is ever before us. The same one he made to a certain tax collector who was in the middle of his work day. Follow me. The woman heed this call and make a beginning.
They make their choice. They choose well. As is so often the case, the women are far out ahead of the men. Luke names them. The first to tell the news that has been reported now for over 2,000 years. Mary Magdalene. Joanna. Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them. They went and tell all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
All the rest. Let’s include ourselves in that number. Because the grave is empty and we’re hearing the news too. An empty grave is no proof of anything in particular. We’re talking about faith. As someone has said, matters of faith are never fully proven nor is faith generated by an incontrovertible argument. We’re not trying to prove anything this morning. We’re not trying to make an irrefutable argument either.
We’re asking a question. What are we going to do with this empty tomb?
The Bible doesn’t try to sugar coat anything and our story doesn’t have everyone believing and going happily on their way. Our story shows the weight that resurrection puts on faith. We’re talking about Jesus who has died and whom God has raised. If that hasn’t happened then we are of all people the most to be pitied and there’s really not much point about talking about the fact that he was born in a manger because he might as well have been born in the back of a cab for all it matters.
We’re not children any more. We’ve known something of life and all that life brings and has brought and we might even have some sort of idea of what it could bring. What do we do with this? The women are reporting everything. The message is he is risen. “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” This is another possibility of course and I’m not naïve enough to think we’re all on the same page on the Jesus thing here. It’s an idle tale. Same word that describes delirium. The women are delirious. It’s an old wives’ tale. I read a novel recently where two women are talking about the phrase old wives tale after they’ve just experienced the restorative nature of chicken soup. One says “It’s not just an old wives’ tale about chicken soup.” The other responds, “I hate that phrase… it’s so hateful and sexist and ageist when you think about it. ‘Old wives’ tale’ means something that’s untrue or not scientifically proven? ‘Old wives’ tale is basically a way of saying ignore everything that dumb old woman says… I hadn’t thought of it that way either. Not until I became an old wife myself.” I can’t prove any of this to you. I can’t explain to you what it means in your life to find life in giving our lives over to the risen Christ who loves us, and loved us to the end, even unto death. If you’ve experienced the risen Christ you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t I invite you to experience him this morning. Make Easter 2019 the Easter where everything changed. Pray I want to know those promises. Promises of forgiveness. Of accompaniment. Of a new heart. Of peace. Of rest. Of life with Christ as my foundation, my centre, my king.
Peter got up and ran to the tomb. He stooped down, looked in, saw the linen cloths by themselves, and went home, amazed at what had happened. There’s very little immediate effect, but there will be effects. A whole new way of relating to God, relating to one another, relating to all of creation.
New life with the risen Christ. May this be the experience of all of us friends.