April 21, 2019
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they 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.
There’s a meme going around social media this week that says, “In the interest of biblical accuracy, all preaching on Easter should be done by women.” It’s intended as a jab at those churches where women aren’t allowed to preach. But the truth is that we wouldn’t know the Easter story if it weren’t for the women who first told it. Women are central to this story. They are so important that Luke names them (v. 10), even though it was unheard of in that time and place for women’s witness to be valued.
And yet, these women were not looking for resurrection. They had brought spices to anoint a dead body. They were perplexed, wondering, puzzled when they don’t find the body they expect.
Instead, they meet two men in dazzling clothes. We interpret them as angels, or messengers from God. But why are there two? When Gabriel first appeared to Mary – and then later to Joseph – the angel didn’t seem to need any backup. But that might have had more to do with Mary and Joseph, and their willingness to believe an angel’s message than anything else.
This band of frightened disciples is an entirely different audience. And Jewish law requires two witnesses to confirm that something is true. It takes at least two witnesses to establish the validity of a claim. So God sends two messengers, but keep in mind that the women named here far outnumber these two witnesses, these angels of God.
And did you notice that there is something missing from this interaction? Luke tells us that the women are terrified. Of all the encounters people have with angelic messengers in the Bible, you would think that this most important encounter of all would include something it does not.
There are at least 365 instances in scripture of God saying “Fear not,” but we don’t hear it in this story. These angels do not tell the women to stop being afraid. They do not offer comfort or assurance of peace. Instead, they challenge the women with the central question of the story – “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Why do we look for life in dead places? This is still the question God’s messengers ask us today. Why do we look for eternal joy in places that only offer temporary pleasure? Why do we hunt for peace in places where only chaos happens? Why on earth would we go to a grave expecting to find a live person?
We wouldn’t. That’s the point. The women weren’t looking for resurrection. But when the angels challenge them to remember what Jesus said, they start to get it. And they hurry back to the other disciples to share the good news. They remember, and then they return.
When they get back to where the eleven and “all the rest” are still in mourning, they repeat what the angels have told them. He isn’t here. He has risen.
This is how faith grows in us. We remember what Jesus has said, we return to this community of faith, these other believers who are walking with us through life and ministry together, and we repeat the same message over and over again until it starts to sink in. He is not dead. He has risen. We are witnesses to each other, remembering, returning, and repeating what we have experienced. Christ is alive!
It might get frustrating when that message falls on deaf ears. Imagine how all those women felt when they came back to the group and told them what had happened. I think they might have been more than a little upset when the men didn’t believe them. After all, there were certainly more than two of them to make their witness valid. But what they were saying didn’t fit with everyone’s expectations. No one was looking for resurrection.
I sometimes think Peter must have been from Missouri. It’s the “Show Me” state, you know – people from Missouri are pretty skeptical. They have to see something to believe it. Peter wasn’t ready to believe, but he was willing to check it out. So he runs to the tomb.
He doesn’t go in – he just looks in. And he sees a pile of grave clothes, the linen fabric that – according to John’s gospel – Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had used to wrap the body with myrrh and aloes. Here’s the thing about myrrh. It’s pretty sticky. It’s made from an aromatic resin, and applying myrrh to the burial wrapping did more than keep it from stinking during decomposition. It acted like glue, sealing the burial cloth to the body.
Yet when Peter looks in, he sees the linen cloths by themselves. Now, if someone had stolen the body, they would not have bothered to unwrap it first. They would have taken it, wrapped and sealed as it was. The tomb isn’t empty because someone stole the body.
The tomb is empty because Jesus is alive.
The women heard evidence from two witnesses that Jesus was alive. Peter sees the evidence that this is not just a case of a stolen body. Those linen cloths are lying there in a heap because they are no longer needed. Peter goes away amazed. This is a moment of cognitive dissonance for Peter – he isn’t quite ready to believe what he sees. Peter isn’t looking for resurrection quite yet.
How about you? Are you looking for resurrection? Or are you still skeptical, maybe thinking this is just an ‘idle tale?’ It’s possible that the idea of someone coming to life after being completely dead just doesn’t fit with your experience of the universe. Maybe you think this is just a story people made up because they were afraid of death.
And even if you are willing to accept the possibility that the resurrection story is true, maybe it hasn’t impacted you in any meaningful way. It’s just a nice story to you. It hasn’t changed your life.
Well, let me tell you about someone whose life was completely devoted to the truth of this story. It was so important to him, he wrote his own funeral sermon, which some of us heard yesterday. That sermon had just one point – it’s all about Jesus.
And Floyd Alwin, whose earthly remains we laid to rest yesterday afternoon, was not obsessed with the crucified Christ – he never was much for looking at dead trees, he told us. Floyd was filled with faith in the living Christ. He wasn’t afraid of death. He knew that death doesn’t win.
Floyd wanted everyone he met to know and love this Jesus, whose resurrection from death paved the way for all of us to experience life at its fullest. Floyd was constantly looking for resurrection.
You could see it in the smile that was always on his face. You could hear it in the way he thought the best of people and gave them the benefit of the doubt. You could tell, just by spending a few minutes with Floyd, that this was a man who knew what it meant to live in hope.
And that’s why this story matters. That’s why resurrection is important. That’s why Jesus had to die – so he could come alive again to give us hope, to give us life. Because Christ lives, we can experience life at its fullest, life at its best. We can experience eternity immediately, in this very moment. Our hope is not found in some distant future. Our hope is grounded in the resurrection reality that new life can be right now.
Why do you seek the living among the dead?
He isn’t here.
He has risen.
It has become something of a tradition here in recent years to celebrate this living Christ through the Easter homily of St. John Chrysostom, that great fourth century preacher whose name translates as “John the Golden Throated One.” In many churches, John’s homily for Easter Vigil is repeated every year, either during the Saturday night vigil, or at the earliest service on Easter morning.
The tradition in the Eastern Church for this meditation is that, at the mention of word “DEATH (!),” people stomp their feet with joy because Christ’s DEATH (!) has trampled DEATH (!). In some churches, people also ring bells whenever heaven * is mentioned, or whenever you hear Christ’s name spoken, as in “Christ * is alive!”
This message from one of the early church fathers is so full of hope and joy, it is a great reminder that we serve a living Savior. It helps us start looking for resurrection.
So, get ready to stomp your foot (!) when you hear the word “death.” If you don’t have a bell near you, you can jingle your keys when you hear the words “*heaven” or “*Christ.” When I get to the part that says “Christ is risen” I invite you to repeat that phrase after me each time I say it. This is an interactive sermon, and you get to help preach it. Are you ready?
Are there any who are devout lovers of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful, bright Festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary from fasting? Let them taste their reward!
If you’ve labored from the first hour, come to the Festival now!
You who came after the third hour, with gratitude join the Feast!
Those who lingered until the sixth hour, do not doubt. You will not be short-changed!
If you tarried until the ninth hour, don’t be sad or hesitate. Come now!
Those who showed up only at the eleventh hour, let them not be afraid by reason of their delay!
For the Lord is gracious and gives rest to those who came last in the same way as to those who came first.
To one and all God gives generously. The Master accepts the offering of every work: those who labored and those who wanted to labor. Our Lord honors the deed, and commends the intention. All of you enter into the joy of *Christ!
First and last receive your reward.
Wealthy and poor, rejoice with one another.
Conscientious and lazy, celebrate the day.
Those who have kept the fast and those who have not,
Be glad for this day the table is bountifully spread!
Feast royally for the calf is fatted.
Let no one go away hungry or offended.
Partake all of the banquet of faith!
Enjoy the bounty of the Lord’s goodness.
Let none be sad about their poverty
For the universal reign of God has been revealed!
Let no one mourn about failing again and again,
For forgiveness has burst with light from the grave!
Let no one fear DEATH (!)
For the DEATH (!) of Jesus* has freed us all!
Embraced by DEATH (!) God subdued DEATH (!).
Having descended into hell, he took hell captive.
*Christ put hell in turmoil when it tasted of his flesh!
Isaiah prophesied: “Hell was in trouble having met You in the underworld.”
DEATH (!) was in mourning for hell was eclipsed.
DEATH (!) was embarrassed for hell was mocked.
DEATH (!) was shamed for hell was toppled over.
DEATH (!) was destroyed for hell was made captive.
DEATH (!) grasped a corpse and met God
DEATH (!) seized earth and found heaven *.
DEATH (!) took what it saw and stumbled into what it could not see!
Oh DEATH (!), where is your sting?
Oh hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen * (Christ is risen!), and hell suffered the coup d’etat!
Christ is risen * (Christ is risen!), and the demons have fallen!
Christ is risen * (Christ is risen!), and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen * (Christ is risen!), and life is set free!
Christ is risen * (Christ is risen!), and there are no more dead in the grave!
For *Christ, having risen from DEATH (!),
Has become the first-born of those who have fallen asleep!
To *Christ be glory now and for ever! Amen!
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!*