Luke 24:1-12 Easter Sunday.
Elizabeth M Deibert 27 March 2016
Weren’t those two kids on youtube so cute telling the Easter story? That tomb is still empty! I was wondering how long their parents worked with them to get that string of recordings perfected. I love their enthusiasm, just the kind of energy the story deserves. One of the songs they sang was Matt Maher’s song, which I want you to sing with me in a minute, right before we read the scripture.
Those of you who were able to be with us on Friday know how powerful it was to hear Troy portraying Jesus from the cross, saying the seven last words, the last being “Father, into your hands, I commend my Spirit.” As I heard that said, it hit me in a new way – that’s most sacred moment in a memorial service at the ending called the commendation. At the end of the service the minister says, “Into your hands, O merciful God, we commend _____the person who has died.” Christ walked this lonesome valley of the shadow of death before us. He showed us how to live. He showed us how to die. It made it possible for us to die and then live. He taught us that dying is the way to live, at so many levels.
We’re reading from Luke this year. Luke’s story emphasizes the loyalty of the group of women who were at the cross, at the burial, and on Easter morning go to the tomb for anointing the body. They see the angels at the tomb, hear that Christ is risen, are reminded of what he told them, and they go to announce the good news to the eleven and all the disciples. But the others did not believe them. Peter believed enough to go verify for himself that this “idle tale” was true. Christ was risen from the dead. It’s an amazing story, so amazing I am sure I am in good company in that I never feel adequate to preach on Easter. It’s as if there’s no sermon worthy of Easter’s great truth. So when words are not enough, I always shift to music. So let’s sing a little with Matt Maher. “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death. Come awake, come awake. Come and rise up from the grave. Christ is risen from the dead, we are one with Him again. Come awake, come awake, come and rise up from the grave.”
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 two words of the angels drive the story in Luke. First, why look for the living here among the dead? Second remember what he told you – that he was going to die and then rise. Funny how you can know things and not really know, until you need to know, until you have an experience for which that knowledge is necessary.
First why look for the living among the dead? Well, they did not think he was living. They thought he was dead. They are looking for the dead, not the living. What about us? Are we looking for the dead or for the living? What are your expectations of God? Do you expect death or life? Might the angels be speaking to you to say, “Why are you looking for life in a tomb?” What is the tomb for you? Is it your loneliness? Is it your failing body? Is it your frustration with work? Is it your primary relationship, a marriage or friendship or family relationship, which has become tomb-like? Is your own perception of yourself deadly? Why are you looking for life in a tomb?
Jesus shows us that life cannot be constrained by the normal rules of death and tombs. Just when you go to the tomb to anoint the deadness, you find no body to anoint. Jesus beckons you to leave the tomb. Walk out of there, and find Christ, and follow Christ into new life, away from that deathly existence. But there is a catch. New life always requires dying. Jesus shows us that living requires dying. Way back in the beginning of creation, Adam and Eve could not kill their curiosity. They wanted to live without sacrifice but by trying to live without loss, they lost the joy of life, the wonder of the garden.
Same with us when we try to have it all without any loss, we become lost. When we try to surround ourselves with only good, when we try to protect ourselves and our families from all that hurts, we find it to be impossible. Life necessarily involves our dying. We must die to the security of the womb to enter life on earth. We must die to the self-absorption of crying all the time as infants and wake up to a life of speech where we learn to communicate our needs effectively. We must die to the selfishness of thinking the world revolves around us, and rise to the shared life of siblings, parents, friends and family members who also have needs that matter. We must die to the notion that we are immune to the dangers and temptations of life, and rise to the adult challenge of taking responsibility for our actions and risks. We must die to our need to control outcomes as our children develop and we must live into the faith of trusting others to make their own choices. Is that not what God does with us after all? We must die to the notion that we will be strong and healthy forever and rise to the middle and older adult challenges of weakness and frailty of body. We must die to the fears that Jesus is dead, gone, or absent and cannot ultimately bring good from every situation. Fear that he is still in the tomb and that will be be stuck in the tomb is what makes us afraid of those who are different from us, those who might be our enemies. Let’s stop fearing the woman with a headscarf, because until we know her, we have no reason to fear her. She was created in the image of God so give her a chance. Christ is alive and we have no reason to fear. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The early Christians were not afraid to tell the story, even though they knew what happened to Christ and to most of his disciples. They were hung, beheaded, tortured, and more. But they were not afraid. Why?
Because they were not stuck in a tomb. They knew he was alive and so they could get on with living like Christ did – all out for others. Living all out for others means you might die. No, not might -- you will die. You will die to lots that matters to you, because what you care about most is showing God’s love.
Ironically, the better we get at dying to our own selves, the more life we find in giving to others, just as Jesus did. He has shown us that dying is life. So start dying to your need to be right all the time, especially with your family. Die to your need to have it your way. Die to your need to put others’ down with your critical comments. Die to your need to be in charge of everything. You are not!
Die to your need to buy anything you want, justifying it with this crazy notion that you deserve it, while innocent children are starving and hard-working refugees who just happened to live in the wrong place at the wrong time are stuck in tents for months and years. You can keep on spending frivolously, if you want, but it will be like searching for the living in a dead tomb. No life comes from serving yourself to the neglect of other’s life. You have an opportunity today to give to the One Great Hour of Sharing to help people who have faced disasters, hunger, and who have never been given a fair chance at life. You can go to the tomb and anoint the dead body of your own comfortable existence, or you can get on with finding Jesus who is out living among the struggling people in the world.
But we keep going to the tomb to anoint deadness. We purchase all the sweet perfumes and colognes and all the oils and make-up and to try to cover our deadness. But the angel of Christ says, “Remember what Christ told you.” What was that? He said that he had to die, but after dying, he would rise again. Dying is necessary, even good.
You can rise too, friends, but not if you are unwilling or scared to die. Gotta get on with facing death bravely. We’ve got to lose people, lose dreams, lose wishes for how life might have been. We’ve got to lose control of our own lives. Give it up to God. That’s what trust or faith is, by the way – acknowledging that you cannot control everything, that you trust God with what really matters.
There are all kinds of ways to re-enter the tomb of death striving for personal control again, by living according to our own personal expectations, by not being grateful for what we have, even if it’s not what we want.
Forgiveness – that’s dying too you know. God forgave by recognizing that we were never going to be faithful to the covenant, so Christ came to do it for us. How can we forgive but by dying to what we wanted. When you are so bitter about something, is it not because keep insisting in your mind that you were right and that the other was wrong? You have not died to your own expectations about that relationship. We must grieve what the person did and grieve what the relationship could have been and grieve what we wish we could have done or repaired and grieve everything that we wanted to be different. It is a death. But we must let go. We decide to stop going to that tomb of regrets, that tomb of hatred, that tomb of bitterness, and that’s when resurrection happens.
Why are we looking for life in that dead tomb of things not going the way we wanted? Why are we searching for life in that dead tomb? We’ve got to lose our ego-centrism and rise in the new life of sacrificial love. The joy of Easter is seeing what God can do with life after death, every kind of death. Over and over again, if we are willing to die to what we expected, we will find the tomb empty and Jesus walking, able to bring us joy unimaginable. Let’s get on with dying, friends, so we can really live.
When Martin Luther King Jr died several days before Easter, Brian Wren wrote this hymn to affirm that no matter what is happening in this crazy violent, hate-filled but still amazing world of ours, in fact, Christ is alive!