A sermon based on Isaiah 65:17-25 and Luke 24:1-12 for Easter Sunday, March 27th, 2016
We have four sketches of Easter, one from each gospel, each with their own point of view, shades and shadows, texture and depth.
This Easter morning, we look at the empty tomb from Luke’s vantage point. Luke gives us traces of Good News. There are angels—two of them—who appear to the four women just as they walk into the empty tomb. Imagine that. It’s dawn. Only traces of sunlight are spilling over the hillsides. You’ve come to anoint a dead body—to faithfully do your duty for the dead among you. But what you find when you get to the tomb is that there are no traces of the deceased among you. You expected a tomb full of death and stench, but as you walk into it—with its huge gravestone somehow rolled away, all you see is emptiness and light! There you see Jesus’ burial cloth strewn over the place where you saw him just a day ago, but like a bed sheet, it’s tossed and twisted in every direction. You can see where His body once was in the curves of the sheets, but that’s all, that’s the only trace of Him left—some old laundry.
Why do you look for the living among the dead?
the angel speaks.
These must have been confounding words. We should not expect the women—or anyone else for that matter—to know what these words mean. He was here just yesterday and now he’s not. What’s this “living among the dead” talk?
The four women run back and tell the 11 apostles what they saw—or rather what they didn’t see—what they heard but did not yet understand. And the apostles dismiss them as foolish right away. These women are all speaking nonsense—some idle tale spun out of perhaps their weariness or grief.
See, Easter dawns on us like that. Like early morning light, it comes upon us slowly. First, we may not even believe it. It takes a while for us to see because most of us don’t have eyes for Easter.
I wonder what that first Easter morning felt like. Peter rushes to the tomb after the women’s news. He sees that, except for the linen cloth, it’s empty just as the women said. That was the morning when their world turned upside down. When nothing at all made sense. Little did they know at the time, but it was not only their own personal worlds that flipped upside down. That first Easter morning was when God tossed the entire world upside down, or perhaps right-side up. And a world tossed upside down or right-side up never works the same way again.
When I put myself in the shoes of these four women, the first witnesses to the dawn of Easter truth, or in Peter’s, I think of Alice falling down the rabbit hole. The darkness of that first Easter morning gives way to a brighter sun, but all of what happens from that first moment on only gets curioser and curiouser. At one point in Louis Carrol’s novel, Alice says,
I knew who I was this morning, but I must have been changed several times since then!
That sounds a whole lot like resurrection to me.
When we hear the word resurrection, we think of what’s gonna happen to us the day we die, or on the day when the All-In-All finally becomes All-In-All. But resurrection is much more than that. It’s both bigger and smaller than that. Resurrection didn’t just happen 2,000 years ago, and it won’t just happen at some point in our future; it always happens. Easter resurrection is a matter of living into, waking up to the wonder of God’s creation, celebrating God’s salvation in our Risen and Living Lord, and gathering in community with the redeemed, the forgiven, and the beloved.
There’s traces of resurrection everywhere! Like the disciples on that first Easter Sunday, it takes a while for us to see because most of us don’t have eyes for it. There are traces of our old self that tell us that the Good News of Easter can’t really be true. So, little by little, as the light of day cracks open the darkness of our old selves, traces of our new selves begin taking shape as the truth of Easter dawns on us, as we grow new eyes to see the brand new creation born among us and sprung to life! As the angels said,
Why do you look for alive things among dead things! Can’t you see what is happening right in front of you? It’s the third day. There are only traces left of him here. He is risen!
Once you see the stone rolled away, once you walk into an empty tomb, the stench of death no longer inside of it, and only a cloth remaining where He once laid, there’s no going back to the world and its old ways. All the former things are no more. Now, a new way of being, seeing, living is available to you!
Resurrection takes time, though. It doesn’t happen in just one moment. Notice that the resurrected Jesus makes no appearance in Luke’s story of the empty tomb. Later on in his gospel, as we move through the seven Sundays of Easter, Jesus will appear to his disciples in several ways and in several different places. But for now, on this first Easter morning, an empty tomb and the words of two angels are all there is. Like seeds planted in soil that sprout only in their season, resurrection happens when we are ready for it—when the time is ripe. When all the pieces start coming together and a new vision begins to form in front of us. When we start tracing lines between all the scattered dots we’ve encountered. That’s the long journey of Easter. It’s the space between seeing the nothingness of an empty tomb and that first moment when we come face-to-face with the risen Jesus. And in the in-between time, there are only traces, nudges, hints of resurrection. We collect them until one day they all fit together in our minds and hearts and we can suddenly make sense of them.
Easter takes time. Resurrection takes time. Both of them always happen—when we’re ready to see them. When God’s ready to show them to us. But they take time.
As she’s trying to make sense of what’s happening to her in that funny place called Wonderland where everything seems upside down, Alice says,
I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!
Easter resurrection changes us into new people. Ones we have a hard time recognizing.
Indeed, resurrection is a puzzle! And that may be the most amazing thing of all. God raised Jesus from the dead, but He left it up to a bunch of disciples to figure it all out. God placed the world-changing message of His Son coming back from the dead in the hands of its first witnesses! God knew that the first and overwhelming emotions Easter’s first witnesses would feel would be hardness of heart, skepticism, and disbelief. But God placed the story into their hands anyway. It’s a story that would change the world, but it would take a while for those first witnesses to share even a word of it with anyone, but God knows it takes time for the truth of resurrection to dawn on us—to come to life, and then take on a life of its own.
God trusts us, too. God trusts us to tell the greatest story ever told to those we meet along the way. Sometimes it takes a while for our eyes to adjust to new rays of light. Sometimes it takes time for us to find the words to use, or how to share our stories with others. But the wondrous thing is that God trusts us to share it.
The apostles thought the story the women told them was Nonsense. A tale spun from their imaginations, and only that.
Resurrection happens within us, around us, among us, inside of us when we share our stories no matter how others may react. Resurrection happens when we take the nonsensical story of Easter, give it a heartbeat by sharing it. Making it come alive! This is how we are witnesses to the resurrection
Peter ran to the tomb after dismissing the testimony of the female disciples. He bent over to look inside, seeing only traces of things—the linen cloth where Jesus once laid. He returned home, wondering what had happened. Some other translations of this text say that Peter was amazed.
This Easter, be amazed, but don’t stop there. Speak of the amazing. Give it words if you can. Words to share the unreal miracle of Easter in real ways. Become curiouser and curioiser about the Good News of our Risen Lord! Bear witness to it, and live into it, because there’s no going back to the world and its old ways. That’s how deep this rabbit hole goes! All the former things are no more. Look for traces of the risen Lord among you, in the faces of others, in a world made new with Spring promises. Even Alice said it herself:
It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.
Resurrection means leaving our dirty laundry behind us and walking out of the tombs that once enclosed us. May you live into the new ways of Easter resurrection, and may not a trace of the old way hold you back.
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!