April 12, 2020
Pre-Scripture – Shot in the pews?
I’m going to come right out and name it. This is odd.
I have this expectation for today. It’s Easter Sunday so I expect to see this place full of people. A sea of pastel clad worshippers. Tons of familiar faces, and some unfamiliar faces, restless seekers in search of good news, or perhaps those with a faded faith who wander in out of habit or heartache for what once was so important to them. I’m expecting there to be big brass and an even bigger organ raising triumphant hymns up to the rafters – “Jesus Christ is Risen To-day, A-a-a-a-ale-lu-u-ia.” I’m expecting lilies as far as the eye can see, their sweet smell filling the air. Maybe even a pack of Peeps, though they do gross me out a bit.
Maybe you share those expectations. Today is Easter Sunday, though, and my expectations are disappointed. So it feels odd, and lonesome even.
And yet, I imagine that’s how the first Easter felt for Jesus’ friends, you know, before they knew it would be EASTER.
I’m wondering if the emptiness of this Sanctuary, and the emptiness we’re feeling inside, maybe that is preparing us more than ever for the emptiness of the tomb. Maybe, in spite of all of our disappointed expectations, maybe this year we are more prepared than ever to receive the story of Easter. So listen to this, a reading from the Gospel of Luke:
Scripture – with Sunrise visual
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women 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.
Meditation – Shot from side of pulpit
We began worship with the call and response HE IS RISEN. HE IS RISEN INDEED. That is the proclamation of Easter. The words are taken straight from the mouths of those mysterious figures the women encounter in the tomb. It was fun to see so many of you pitching in with your personal videos joyfully saying He is risen indeed. Seeing your faces does give me a taste of what we are missing not being together today. But let’s zero in on that for a second. Instead of being in the same room and saying that Easter Proclamation together we’re all alone each in our own home saying it to a computer screen. Thankfully we have this technology that helps us feel a bit more connected but the fact of the matter is that we’re each making this Easter Proclamation in isolation.
So – what I want you to do is to take that feeling don’t run from it but hold it right here in your heart and now imagine what it must have felt like to be one of the women disciples who went to the tomb that morning. You’re walking with the heavy steps of one who is going to do a very unwelcome task – you’re going to give a proper burial to a beloved friend. And not just any friend, but the one in whom you placed all your hopes and dreams. He’s gone now and there’s nothing left to do but lay him to rest along with those tattered hopes and disappointed dreams. Arriving at the tomb, however, you notice that the stone is pushed aside. You peek in and to your great surprise it’s empty – Jesus’ body is nowhere to be found. In its place there are two men who are glowing so bright you can’t even look at them. One of the strangers says to you “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. Remember what he told you. He said that this would happen.” And then you begin to remember. You access that memory buried underneath all the despair– you remember him telling you that death would come, and it would seem like death had won, but it hasn’t. That there would be resurrection at the end. The memory is fuzzy and faint but it’s real. What you’re experiencing, the empty tomb, the dazzling figures, it’s all real. You rush back to tell the other disciples what you have just experienced. Can you imagine being in their shoes?
Luke takes special care at this moment to tell us exactly who these women are. It’s Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James among others. Remember we’re in a patriarchal society here. So when these WOMEN come back and tell these MEN that Christ is risen – the MEN don’t believe them. Women were not considered credible witnesses. They have the most amazing news to share – but nobody believes them. Nobody is with them. They might as well be proclaiming it all alone with nothing but a blank screen to receive it? All they want is somebody, anybody, to believe them and say the good news with them. He is Risen.
To be fair, resurrection does have an uphill climb in a world where what’s dead stays that way. It’s little wonder that this is too much for the eleven male disciples to take in. But Luke takes it further and tells us that the men thought their words seemed like “an idle tale,” that‘s how the NRSV version of the Bible translates it. The Greek word here is Leiros. It might be more accurate to say that the disciples considered the women’s testimony to be “A bunch of bull.” That’s Leiros.
I’ve been around for more than a few Easters and every year we proclaim what the women did on that first Easter. He Is Risen! And every year there’s so many reminders that death and all of his friends are real. Fear and Greed are real. Suffering is real. And not just real, but powerful.
And here we are in the year two thousand and twenty and we’re sheltering in place because the threat of death is a real and present danger. All of this makes that Easter proclamation feel so fragile. The bold proclamation “He Is Risen” twists in our mouths until it becomes a question filled with doubt “Is he Risen?” Or is this just Leiros?
If you have ever felt like that. If you feel like that now. I want you to understand that you’re in good company. Resurrection is by nature unbelievable. From the very beginning the Church had a hard time believing its own proclamation. And like those women when you proclaim it all alone it can feel like a load of Leiros.
But something happened that day. Between verse eleven when the men dismiss their story and verse twelve, something happened. Those women must have said or did something that was not included in the record. Perhaps they injected enough hope or doubt or wonder, or maybe their joy simply bubbled over in spite of being called liars. It was enough to cause Peter to get up in verse twelve and run to that tomb. It wasn’t all eleven of them – just one, just Peter. That’s less than a 10% response rate, but Peter went to the tomb that morning with purpose. He didn’t wander to the tomb. He didn’t meander to the tomb, he ran.
Maybe those women said “I know this sounds crazy. I know it seems like a load of Leiros. But go see for yourself. Go look in the place where you just buried the best of your hopes and dreams. Go look in the space where you expect there is nothing but death. You don’t believe he is raised? Go and see for yourself if that dead-end tomb isn’t empty. Go and see for yourself if God didn’t just take all of our expectations and turn them upside down.”
In every time and place there will be people who hear the Easter proclamation and call it Leiros. It might be more than 90% of them. Perhaps there was a time in my life when I would have fought that; when I would have debated and argued the case that Resurrection is real. But I don’t feel the need to do that anymore. Not even in these days when the threats are closer and this talk of Resurrection feels more fragile.
The Church’s Easter proclamation is and always will be that Christ is Risen – full stop. But let’s not see this as an invitation to debate with the doubters; to convince the skeptics with elaborate proofs. Instead, let’s stand with these women who had the courage to proclaim Easter even if they were proclaiming it all on their own. Let’s stand with these incredible witnesses who simply told the truth as they know it and then said “Go and see for yourself.”
We began this service with that Easter Proclamation He is Risen. The traditional response is “He is risen indeed.” One thing I’m holding on to today. Whoever you are, wherever you are and whoever you are or are not worshipping with today, Anyone who says He is Risen indeed has been to the tomb himself, has gone and seen it for herself.
We’ve discovered unexpected life in the graveyard.
Me, I’ve seen a woman so far down in a cycle of abuse and self-loathing leave the only home her children ever knew to scrap out a better and safer life for her family beyond the reach of her abuser.
I’ve seen teenagers whose wrists bear the scars of yesterday lay their hands on life and claim their tomorrows with hope and courage.
I’ve seen young men in Haiti come back from lives of absolute desperation and I’ve seen disabled orphans who would have certainly died a lonely death born up on hands that want to do nothing but bless them.
I’ve seen students from nations who only know enmity say to one another “I’m not supposed to like you but after spending two weeks together I now know that everything I’ve ever been taught about you is a lie and I am committing to be a builder of bridges.”
When I have gone to the tomb to see for myself, that’s the new life that I have experienced. I wonder what glimpses you’ve had of this mysterious and admittedly far-fetched power that we call Resurrection.
Still, the doubters will doubt and that’s okay. Even if it is 90%
Go ahead, call it Leiros. I only know what I’ve seen. But don’t take my word for it. Go and see for yourselves. He is Risen. He is risen indeed.
 Florence, Ann Carter – “Our Bibles translate it as ‘idle tale’ or ‘nonsense’ but the Greek word actually means ‘trash, garbage, or bull.’ It is a locker room word…a wet towel whipping through a chorus of jeers…and until high school boys start accusing each other of being ‘full of idle tales,’ a more faithful translation would probably be, “these things seemed to them to be bleepity-bleep…and they didn’t believe it.”