I might as well make it a trilogy. Here’s my sermon from Easter morning. I used Luke 24:1-12 as the text.
The men thought that what the women told them was an idle tale. They did not believe them. Their belief was not because they were women, but they didn’t expect Jesus to slip the shackles of death.
The years they traveled with Jesus and witnessed his ministry were probably a gloriously heady experience, which stuck with them. We know, however, that just before he was transfigured he specifically said to his disciples, “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.” (Luke 9:22) He even alluded to his death the day before they shared their last meal together. He warned them “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.” (Luke 21:10-11) After which he told them, “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.” (Luke 21:27) But would they have actually heard it or was it some passing remark? Even if they did, not how could, but how would they have believed it?
Beginning with Jesus’ arrest, they were frightened and terrified. Judas betrayed their friend. The authorities arrested him and though Pilate found no justification to put him to death, he ordered Jesus’ execution. Some of the remaining eleven might have wondered if they, too, would be arrested and crucified.
Their glory ended on the cross. Who would lead them now that Jesus was gone?
We might say they got stuck on Friday. They were stuck on their past glory. They couldn’t see what was ahead. Nor did they see the necessity to take a big step backwards to see the entire picture of Jesus’ life and ministry and the full scope of its meaning. They knew Jesus was dead. The idea that he was resurrected to live again was too fantastic to believe.
The women told a great story. It was good news. It was gospel, which in Greek means good news. Today we celebrate the good news. We tell this story.
I don’t think, though, that we’re telling this story very well. It remains too fantastic to believe even though it has been told over and over again for almost two thousand years. Granted we don’t tell this story the same way all the time, especially when scripture has four different accounts of it. We boil it down, however, to Jesus died and rose from the dead to teach and minister another forty days before his ascension to heaven. If we only see Easter from that perspective, then we’re doing this story a disservice. Told this way, it renders Jesus as a superhero who fights evil in a never-ending pursuit of justice. At the risk of offending, doesn’t that sound like a comic book?
When we look at this story today, metaphorically we’re the women and much of the secular world is the men. We know the tomb was empty, but we have much more to tell of this story than just the empty tomb. Jesus’ warning to his disciples on the day before they broke bread for the last time was ominous. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25-26)
Do these words describe today? Fear is palpable. Whatever you may think of the candidates, we cannot overlook that the rhetoric around this campaign has a dark, ominous foreboding. The promises of hope we hear are framed using fear. Responding to Tuesday’s attack in Brussels, we heard candidates say that we will protect ourselves by having stepped up security in predominately Muslim neighborhoods as well as renewed calls to bar Muslims from entering this country and to make torture legal again. Our hope for economic prosperity rests in building a wall and keeping immigrants out. These messages implicitly say that people who are not Americans are out to kill us and take away our jobs.
We have leadership who believe that our moral strength and character as a nation will prosper when we discriminate against people’s sexuality and gender, whether it is their sexual orientation or their health. We fill our jails and prisons to show we are tough on crime, but don’t realize that as we have underfunded mental health care, they have become our new mental hospitals. We slyly wink at violence perpetrated against people of color because we crave order.
We think like that when we can’t see past Friday. When we’re stuck in Friday; when we don’t ponder the deep meaning of Jesus on the cross. When we don’t leave Friday, we don’t get the gospel. Easter is believing and trusting Jesus’ promise that our hope lies in opening the community to all people. The meals when scribes and Pharisees ate with tax collectors and sinners were lessons to make clear that everyone had an obligation to care for each other. Easter is accepting that leadership is servanthood and that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Easter is living in gratitude so that we come to define wealth not in terms of how much we have, but how much we can give away. Easter is not to dwell in fear, but to dwell under God’s sheltering wing so we can walk through our darkest days into the bright light of hope and joy.
Jesus died on the cross because he was executed by the authorities of his day who felt their power threatened by his message of radical, inclusive steadfast love. His teachings upended a systemic injustice which transferred income and wealth from the poor to the rich. He openly sided with the poor and questioned the divine allegiance of the religious authorities, Caesar or God.
The men knew Jesus died, but for what purpose? Stepping back, we can understand that Jesus died not to save us from our sins, but as an act of love as an ultimate challenge to overwhelming injustice. His resurrection, then, mocks the cross, the instrument of terror used by the empire to foster peace. Resurrection tells us that real peace does not come from terror or fear, but compassion and love. True peace, God’s peace, shalom, comes not from weapons of destruction, but the broken bread and the shared cup.
We must tell the story differently because we have to distinguish it from the many superhero stories. We must tell the story better because as fantastic as it is, people have to understand its implications in order to leave Friday behind and hear the good news. Telling the story means speaking truth to power. We must give voice to the people who struggle to be heard. We have to tell this story so all the people who are stuck in Friday will see there is something better than hunkering down, circling the wagons, and defending ourselves against those who are not like us. We must lift up those who don’t have daily bread so they are no longer discounted or ignored. We have to stand with those whose sexual orientation and identity do not conform to the traditional binary male-female mold.
By telling the story we offer hope to people who struggle to find it every day. Telling the story will hasten the day when all people will have the peace that comes when they live as God desires for all of us. Telling the story helps all of us create true community. Telling the story says that Good Friday was not the end, but a beginning, which culminated in Easter and continues to live on through us today. Telling the story is letting a seed die for new life to blossom. Telling the story makes clear the resurrection promise that life always triumphs over death and love always chases fear.
Easter was no idle tale, but we must tell it better. We’ll tell it better when we speak truth to power. We’ll tell it better when we live out Jesus’ teaching through our ministries of love and grace.