Will you join me in a moment of prayer? May these words of reflection and resurrection remind us of the eternal cycle of birth and death and resurrection. And through that cycle be drawn closer to you O God and one another. Amen.
As you can see from the meme on the screen, there are two ways we can look at the word FEAR.
Forget Everything and Run
Or Face Everything and Rise.
The choice is yours. Or, as a community of faith, I like to say, the choice is ours. The Bible says something along the lines of ‘fear not’ or ‘be not afraid’ over a hundred times, in both testaments. I thought this was a perfect message for Easter. And a perfect message for us as we are often faced with that choice.
We can choose to live with a Good Friday theology of death. Or choose to live as Easter people, with a theology of resurrection and new life out of death.
In the Gospel of Luke, we hear of women at the tomb that first Easter morning. They are the women who followed Jesus from Galilee, and who had stood at the foot of the cross, and then followed as he was taken and buried. Listen to the encounter at the tomb as written in Luke 24: 1-12
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.[e]
Imagine that morning… early morning… still dark… they have been grieving… the women creeping quietly through the streets to the tomb… And as they arrive to an empty tomb, and two men or angels who tell them to stop looking for the living among the dead!
They go back and tell the 11 about their experience, but the disciples do not believe it…
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had a choice that morning, they could forget anything and run, or face everything and rise. From our perspective of 2000 years of the story being retold, it is easy to overlook the women’s courage and choice.
Imagine with me again… Jesus, their friend, their teacher had been killed like a common criminal… it may have been dangerous to be thought of as one connected to Jesus. The easiest thing would be to hunker down and regroup…
But what did these brave women do… they went to the tomb… despite their loss, despite their fear, despite their grief… they go to the tomb. And they don’t encounter a gentle, loving presence there… they experience a raided tomb and two dazzling beings… men or angels sitting there. And a message of resurrection
Whatever your belief about the resurrection, whether you believe it was symbolic or literal, there is power in the story. There is power in the story because no matter what presence these women encountered, they were transformed from grieving and terrified, to joyful and courageous.
In every gospel, it is the women who go to the tomb and tell the disciples that Jesus is no longer there. And his followers, women and men, named and unnamed, are the ones who retold the stories that Jesus told… they created the kinds of communities which Jesus spoke about. Where everyone was welcome and nobody was hungry or excluded. And they become known for their love for one another.
And that is still our challenge today. To be transformed from fearful and grieving to joyful and courageous. Both individually and as a community of faith. It is easy for us to be overcome with grief and despair and to stay locked in that place… locked in that tomb.
For those of us who have experienced the death of someone close to us recently, it may feel as if joy will never return. If you are grieving some empty chairs in this sanctuary, it may feel like a death. If you are grieving for a time when churches and Sunday Schools were full, and there was no Sunday shopping, the culture we have today may feel like betrayal.
And we may spend more than three days in our metaphorical tomb. In that tomb however, things are happening… we may not realize it because it a dark and lonely place and everything we relied on as right and true is no longer so. I have been there myself. The message of Easter is that the tomb is not the end of the story… that resurrection is possible… For ourselves as individuals and for us as communities of faith.
Holy week resonated with me very strongly this year. Where did you locate yourself in the story? Were you with the crowd shouting Hosanna? Were you the betrayer? Were you among those who denied knowing Jesus? Were you one of the bystanders… waiting to see which way the wind blows? Were you the one betrayed? Were you one of the faithful women who stayed with Jesus? Were you one of those same women who announced Jesus’ resurrection? Were you one of the disbelieving disciples? Who thought the women’s account was an idle tale? Wherever you located yourself in the Holy Week story, Easter is for you!
Resurrection is for you! And for us!
A resurrection that, as Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber says, “God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, and our addictions. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over.” (Pastrix)
Jesus is not in the past… he is always ahead of us, calling us, inviting us, challenging us. Calling us to be joyful and courageous. Inviting us into his mission of welcome and inclusion of all. Challenging us to Face Everything and Rise! The choice is ours.
Thanks be to God, for the resurrection of Jesus, the witness of the women and the challenge and opportunity of living as Easter people! Amen!
Luke 24: 1-12
April 1, 2018
Easter Sunday – Elmsdale Cooperative Ministry
Rev. Catherine MacDonald © 2018