Year C Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal Church, Ashland, VA
Collect: Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 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." Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
Alleluia! The Lord is Risen! [Response: The Lord is Risen, indeed! Alleluia!]
Now hold on. How did you know to do that, assuming that you did? You have done it so much over the years that you just knew. You knew it so much you did not even have to remember; it was a part of you. (Or maybe you picked it up this morning, too.)
When we do something so often it becomes a muscle memory. Recently in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, when the UVA player #5 Kyle Guy won the semi-final game against Auburn with three free throws it was not because he was lucky. He did it out of repetition. Over and over and over and over. 10, 20, 30 thousand times in his life?
This may be your first Easter with us, or your 80th. But I doubt that ANY of you, any one of you who understands the words I am saying, are surprised by the idea that Jesus died and on Easter Sunday he rose again. Even if you do not wholly buy into it, you knew before you got here what I was going to talk about today. It is a given. But in our reading today, I need you to take a step back. Step away for the known, let go of the assumed. And think and hear if you you can what the women heard and saw and remembered. Also, let us read Luke only today. The Gospel variations are out there, but today let’s stay just with what Luke tells us.
It was Sunday, the first day of the week, and early dawn. The women set out as soon as the sky began to lighten, bringing spices for the quickly decaying corpse. Jesus’ funeral had been a rush job. Racing the sunset on Friday the could only do the briefest of preparations for the Lord’s corpse. Joseph, the righteous and sympathetic man from Arimathea, wrapped the body in linen and put it in a freshly dug, unused tomb. It would have been a chamber carved out of the very bedrock.
In the Jewish tradition, the body was buried within a day. In Jesus’ case it was immediate. Normally a body would have been wrapped with spices and herbs to lessen the odor of the decaying corpse. It was wrapped in linen to hold everything together, and then nature took her course. Over the coming months the soft tissue would decompose and rot away. And a year or so later, they would reopen the tomb and put all the gathered bones in an ossuary box that would be engraved with the name of the deceased. A bit bigger than a bread box, it had to be long enough to hold the femurs while all the other bones would fit around it.
Because of the rush to get Jesus in the tomb before the Sabbath began at sunset, when he could not be touched nor could any work be done, nor any walking to get home, the spices the women had prepared would have to wait through the day of rest and prayer.
So that is why the women were anxious to arrive the MOMENT they could to get the spices on Jesus before the smell and decay became too much to bear with the heat of another day. But then they arrived. There were several women in Luke, three named. Mary Magdalene, a devoted follower of Jesus is known for bathing his feet with perfume. Joanna, a fascinating women if church tradition holds true. Google her. [Joanna information] And then Mary the mother of James. Notice it is James, not James and John, which means that this may likely be the mother of James the Less, our namesake who went on to become the first Bishop of Jerusalem. This Mary would have been a sibling to Mary the mother of Jesus, as first cousins could be called brother. And then there were unnamed women who came to help, and probably planned to roll away the heavy stone. A large tight-fitting stone would have been covering the hand chiseled cave so that critters could not get into the tomb to disturb the corpse. Sizable, it would have been a hardship for a few people alone. It had to be movable, but not easily so.
So here we are, all ready to prepare a dead body for its final rest. But what do they see?
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? 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.”
Why do you look for the living among the dead? A powerful question. I cannot tell you how many people I have met, probably the same for you, who have decided to reside in the past. Holding onto resentments and grudges. Clinging to lost loved ones. To go to a certain point and not move any further. It could come from a tragedy or a loss. “Arrested Development” is a psychological phrase we apply to people who have paused moving on. Most often I deal with this spiritually, but it could apply to so many areas of life. So that there is no question, they say it plainly, using unmistakable words. “He is not here, but has risen.” He was dead, but now he is not. He got up. He arose. That is what we celebrate this day.
The Bible has many stories of resuscitation, when others were brought back from death through the grace and power of God. But only one resurrected. Only one, unaided and alone, rose again. Jesus of Nazareth, the one we call the Christ. And we gather this day and every day in that name which is above all names.
And in kindness, the men in shining clothes simply repeated for the shocked women the words Jesus had said. “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. Remember is a word we use a lot. We use it so often in one context we forget that it has a double meaning. And both are important, and both are applicable this day.
Remember, how we use it 99+% of the time, is to “think of again. Bring to mind. Recollect.” The women remembered Jesus words, as the ones in glowing clothes encouraged them to do. This should not be a surprise. He told you this would happen. And that was when they had their Epiphany. He had told them. He had explained it all. He said it would be like this. And it was.
But think on this, to be a member is a part of something else, something greater. I can be a member of a club. A part of me when it is cut off is dismembered. And I think that a big part of Remembering for the women that day was not just thinking again of what Jesus had said, but to Re-Member with him as well. What they thought was dead, was alive. What they thought was gone, was still with them. When they “remembered” they “Re-Membered.”
And they did not keep it to themselves. They went and told the disciples.
Now we see two responses to this story, the greatest story ever told.
The first: now “these words seemed to [the disciples] an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” You see, these who were closest, the ones who knew Jesus best, who heard him say it the most, the ones who had the MOST TO LOSE and the MOST TO GAIN, had not yet “Remembered.” Listen to the voices of the ones so often, too often, dismissed. They may know the Truth better than the “reasonable” voices.
Thankfully, not everyone stayed in what they “knew” to be true, hiding away in fear: “But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.” And because of that response, we are here today.
We are a people of faith. We must live in that. We must remember, and in doing so Re-Member. We come today to do both.
This week we have seen something that his been with us for centuries burn down in a night. What seemed so real and permanent, fell too quickly. The world watched and wept. I have prayed in Notre Dame Cathedral. I have stood in awe of its grandeur and beauty. I have walked along the Seine and taken pictures of it. It was a shining testament of love of God.
On Monday when it happened, I saw something amazing. I saw people remember their trips, if they had taken them. They shared their stories. They laughed, smiled, and cried over those stories, while they gathered together virtually and literally to connect over those. And it is a good reminder this Holy Week. Notre Dame will resurrect because we are a people of Resurrection. It will rise again. And more importantly, it reminds us that the Church of Christ is not a building, nor is it an institution.
The fire at Notre Dame was not an attack on the Church, but the bombings in Sri Lanka this Easter morning were. You may not have yet heard, but in a systematic attack with multiple bombings many were killed or injured. 160+ and counting are dead. 500+ were injured. This is the Church. And together we mourn. But even in this, EVEN IN THIS, we trust in the one who lived, who died, and rose again. He will make all things were together for good, even this. Even this.
The Church, the ekklessia, the “called-out ones,” is the Body of Christ. We saw the people standing and watching with mourning Notre Dame Cathedral burn, but at the same time they praised God by singing Ave Maria. That praising God in the midst of life’s tragedies is more the Church than any building, no matter how glorious. In fact, this image of the singers grieving and praising echoes our funeral rite. The powerful words echo that contradiction:
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind;
and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we
return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying,
"You are dust, and to dust you shall return." All of us go down
to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
We live in that Abundance as we claim and reside in Christ’s Resurrection. As we live into that vision, that dream of God for the world, we have two choices. Either this is an “idle tale” and we are fools, or Jesus came to show us another way. A way of peace and love and grace, where systems are just and all are a part.
Easter forces us to choose. Hear again the words of the ones in the tomb:
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
Remember. Re-Member. Amen.
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