4/22/2019 2:02:45 PM
Amazed: Entering the Story (Sermon Manuscript)
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they 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.
Pastor Marc's sermon on Easter Sunday (April 21, 2019) on Luke 24:1-12. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
One of the joys about being a parent of three small kids is that I get to spend a lot time with the middle of the night. I’m there when someone’s a little fussy, a little sick, or when they’ve decided that 3 am in the morning is the right time to start their day. Now that phrase, the middle of the night, can be used many different ways. We use it to describe those moments when we’ve stayed up way past our bedtime or when we’re talking about what we saw, felt, and experienced while working on the graveyard shift. The middle of the night tends to be exactly that - a time designation used to identify when something happened. But that’s not the middle of the night I know. When you’re awake when you don’t want to be, time stops being time - and instead the middle of the night becomes a character in your own story. It usually has its own look - maybe gloomy, dark, and damp - and it comes with its own sounds - like a single car driving down street or the creak of the floor as you walk across it. The middle of the night comes with its own thoughts - including moments of inspiration, an opportunity to re-experience old embarrassments, and time to focus on our current anxieties. That kind of night is more than just a moment in time. It’s a presence that we meet when we can’t sleep or when our 3 month old just has to get up.
I have no idea if the women who followed Jesus slept those first few nights after he died. Scripture doesn’t go into detail about what they felt, thought, or experienced. Instead, we’re given this space - this gap in the story - that invites us, I think, to use our imagination. Whenever we come across a moment in the Bible that could use a little more detail, that’s God inviting us to use the gift of our imagination to put ourselves into the story. But to do that faithfully, we need to remember the parts of the Bible around that gap. We need to remember what happened before the first day of the week.
Now, over the last week, we’ve spent time listening to Jesus’ final journey into Jerusalem. We heard about his arrest, trial, and his eventual execution. But Luke also gave us one verse letting us know that when Jesus was on the Cross, the women who followed him, stayed. They kept their distance - but they were close enough to see his final moments and to know where his body was laid. The women kept watch while the rest of the disciples, including Peter, James, and Thomas - scattered. Those men who followed Jesus didn’t see the rest of the story and Luke doesn’t tell us when they finally learned that Jesus had died. But I think we can assume that, once they saw Jesus arrested and handed over to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, they knew how Jesus’ story would turn out. The Roman authorities would never tolerate anyone who gave others a different kind of life where the Roman Emperor wasn’t the ultimate decider of what was true and right. So once Jesus was put on trial, some of the disciples already knew what to expect. The tale they told themselves about Jesus didn’t need any outside confirmation. Jesus had been arrested by Rome - and so they thought they knew what would happen next.
Yet the women stayed. They’re the ones who looked on. They saw their teacher, their friend, the One who had healed the sick, welcomed the unwelcomed, and who reconciled our relationships with our God and with each other - end up being arrested and mocked by an Empire that could only say no: no to a way of life that valued peace over violence; no to a way of life that focused on healing rather than competition; no to a way of life that didn’t celebrate winners but instead invited the marginalized, the poor, and those we ignore - to thrive. Jesus was doing more than offering life lessons to those who followed him. Instead, He gave them a new life that wouldn’t let the world’s values of power, control, dominance, and injustice be, in the end, what finally defined them.
So - the women stayed - and they’re the ones who witnessed all of Jesus’ story. After his death, they returned to the places where they were staying, and they started preparing the spices needed to give Jesus a proper burial. All Luke tells us is that the women “prepared.” But I like to imagine that, as they worked, the women told each other the story that mattered to them. Which means they admitted their heartbreak. They shared in their confusion. And they made sure all knew that none of them could really sleep. And how, even during the day, it felt like night.
We can, as we are right now, sit with the women in that moment. We can share with each other, our stories - including all our hopes and dreams and even those moments when things didn’t turn out the way we wanted. We, along with those women, can admit our heartbreak, our worries, our fears, and what’s causing us to spent too much time with the middle of the night. Regardless of who we are or where we’re from; whether we come to church every Sunday or if we’re visiting for the very first time - God wants us, right now, to be exactly who are. Because those women, 2000 years ago, were exactly who they were too. They were caught in the middle of their night and they weren’t sure what to do next. So they did what they could. They gathered together. They leaned on each other. They shared their story and, above all, they loved, cared, and served one another. They were the body of Christ, they were the church, together. And even though they were living in the middle of their night, these women - Mary, Joanna, Mary, and others - would be the ones who followed Jesus to the end. Because they knew - that Jesus had never stopped loving them.
And so on the first day of the week, they got up in the middle of the night so that they could be at the tomb at dawn. They took everything they had prepared, even though they had no idea how they were going to open the tomb to see him. I imagine they were still in grief and were afraid that the Empire of No would deny them the chance to go to the tomb. But unlike the other disciples, unlike those who were already telling themselves a tale about Jesus of their own choosing, the women showed up, together. And when they got to the tomb, the stone door was rolled way. Their fears changed. They were filled with new questions. And they suddenly discovered that the middle of their night would not be what finally defined them. They were the first to be given Jesus’ full story. And that story - that Jesus - has been, through our faith and through our baptism, given to us too. The idle tale we tell ourselves that’s filled with all the things that keep us up in the middle of the night will not be the limit to who we are. Because, on Easter morning, in the middle of the night, a new chapter for Jesus - broke open. And because of Him, a new chapter in our story has already begun.
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