Rejoice

Luke 24
Easter Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert

As we journeyed together during the season of Lent, with the intent of renewing our lives in God’s grace, we repented of sin, resisted temptation, returned to the Lord, remembered that God is relentless in love and that we are called to revere God. On Palm Sunday and on Good Friday we reflected on the sacrificial love of Christ and on our responsibility to walk in his merciful and life-giving steps.

All of this repenting, resisting, return, remembering, revering, and reflecting was done in the knowledge that we are Easter people who come to rejoice in the Lord every Resurrection day, every Sunday, even though we know the world is full of Fridays. For every Sunday, there is a Friday. Renewal of life is a process of moving in and out through the sadness, despair, confusion, and disbelief of Friday to the amazement, mystery, recognition, and joy of Sunday.

So today, as we read the entire Resurrection narrative from Luke, in several scenes, I hope that you will find yourselves in the story of the faithful group of women who came to the empty tomb to learn that Christ is risen. Find yourselves journeying with Cleopas and the other one who met Christ on the road to Emmaus. Find yourselves rejoicing, even while disbelieving and wondering, like the disciples and their companions who saw Jesus in Jerusalem. And finally find yourselves worshiping the Lord as you hear how he was carried up into heaven.

Today, as we collect the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering for those who are still living every day a Friday life of crucified dreams, we announce by our offerings that we put our faith in the Resurrection of Sunday. As we live out the Fridays of our own lives – the troubled relationships, the bitterness which sits stubbornly in our hearts, needing to be cleaned out like a festering wound, as we live out the Fridays of discouragement when people disappoint and betray us, the Fridays when we disappoint Christ and betray our own values, when we feel trapped in an existence which we know has more of Friday’s death than Sunday’s new life, then we need the good news, the power of the Resurrection to turn every death-dealing Friday around.

I talked to the Donaldsons yesterday and they testify to the power of your prayers to keep them in the faith of Sunday, even while they live in a desperate Friday of waiting and hoping that their grandchildren temporarily placed in foster care will be released soon to their son and that their daughter-in-law will get the help she needs.

The first story we hear is that of the Empty Tomb – recorded in all four Gospels. Luke’s version emphasizes the presence of many women – more than the three who are named – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. They come to faithfully take care of Jesus’ dead body, only to discover an empty tomb and hear two men in dazzling clothes say that Christ is risen. These angels challenge the women to remember Christ’s words. The first Resurrection narrative from Luke:

NRS Luke 24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 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. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 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.

The eleven did not believe the women. They are like many people today, who need to see with their own eyes. Hearing the good news second-hand is not good enough. Peter went for confirmation of the tomb’s vacancy and was amazed. The excitement begins to escalate. We go from perplexity to terror to disbelief to amazement. Thus begins Luke’s remarkable way of telling the story, such that it mirrors the life of one who grows to faith, meandering from disbelief to faith.

The next scene on that first Easter Day is the Walk to Emmaus story, my favorite of all the Resurrection stories in all the Gospels. Two of Jesus followers take a walk and are joined by a mysterious stranger, who listens, then asks questions, then begins to interpret the scriptures in such a way that their hearts are burning, yearning to continue to spend time with him. They invite him to dinner. Hear the story:
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Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" 19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." 25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?"


It is not the walk as much as the meal, which opens the eyes of the walkers to recognize Jesus. Crucial in this story is the interplay of Word and Sacrament, just as it is crucial to our faith development and is the reason why we have a unity of Word and Sacrament every Sunday, because the real presence of Christ is best experienced in the interpretation of scripture and the coming to the table together.

Finally, Jesus appears to the whole group of apostles and their companions, which surely included some of the women, who were faithful followers. Cleopas has just announced the Emmaus experience they had. The disciples announce that Jesus appeared to Simon Peter, though no details are given. Then Jesus appears, and his first words are one which in the last four years of my life have developed layers of meaning. “Peace be with you.” And they are startled and terrified. Even now they have doubts in their hearts, but Jesus says, “Look, touch, see.” He points them to the wounded parts of his body. He went through death, not around it. And this must be one of the greatest lines in the whole Bible, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Got some fish to eat?”

Then for the third time the followers of Jesus and we the readers are reminded of the value of interpreting the scriptures, understand God’s word. In particular, Jesus encourages them to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. Hear the story of Jesus final appearance in Luke:

33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-- that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." 50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

After Jesus promises them power from on high, he takes them out to Bethany and blesses them. Then he was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped and returned to Jerusalem with great joy and they were continually in the temple blessing God. The wide range of emotions for these disciples on the first Easter includes perplexity, terror, penitence, amazement, affection, joy, disbelief, wonder, worship, and rejoicing. And so it is with us, who live 2000 years later – still amazed and perplexed, still wondering and rejoicing.

Rachael is the 10 year old close friend of Elizabeth Tuite and soccer teammate of Kelsey and Rebecca, who has been on our prayer list and in the hospital since Christmas, when she had a severe brain hemorrhage. Short-term memory loss and mobility troubles persist. Rachael came home this week-end for a brief visit before she faces a very delicate but critically important surgery to seal off her aneurysms. Michael, Rachael’s dad writes every two or three days in the Caring Bridge journal about Rachael’s progress, and he always expresses faith in God. This week he expressed the how meaningful it was to have his daughter coming home in this very holy season of Passover and Easter. He speaks of this difficult experience with a sick child as a journey, an increasingly difficult journey.

This Easter narrative is a journey of faith – the women and then Peter journeying to and from the empty tomb, the three journeying to Emmaus, the two running back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples that they had seen the Lord. The disciples going with Jesus out to Bethany, where he then journeyed to heaven. But the journey is not so much about where people go, as it is whom they see and what they come to understand along the way. At the rejoicing heart of our text today is a risen Jesus Christ makes himself known to us in our journeys of faith. Our journeys are the journeys of life and death, of Fridays and Sundays, of doubt and believing.

And at the end of the journey when Jesus is fully known, there is great rejoicing. May it be so, for all of us stuck in Friday despair and even Sunday confusion. May our hearts be warmed by the hearing of the Word and our eyes opened by the breaking of bread. May we be blessed today by a Risen Lord, who knows the depths of human suffering, who says, “Peace be with you.” He is the One who leads us into the peace of our forgiveness and into the grace of our salvation as our minds are opened to understand or more appropriately, to stand under the scriptures.

To stand under them is to marvel in their power to transform us, not to analyze or pick them apart. To stand under them is to be able with those early faithful women and to men to say, “Blessed be the God who raised Jesus from the dead and who leads us into everlasting life. Rejoice. Christ is alive. Rejoice. Death is defeated. Hope is renewed. We still live through our Fridays, but we always know that Sunday’s coming. Hosanna in the highest. Where, O death, is your victory? Where is your sting? Thanks be to God, who give us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia. Alleluia. Give thanks to the risen Lord. Alleluia. Alleluia. Give praise to his name.