“Never Saw it Coming”
By Rev. Jennifer Christenson
For Christus Lutheran Church, Greenville, Wis.
March 31, 2013
Easter – Luke 24:1-12 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=%20Luke%2024:1-12&version=NIV
They never saw it coming. As well-prepared as they were for the task at hand – namely the proper burial of their friend and rabbi, Jesus, I think it’s safe to say that the women were completely unprepared for the events of that first Easter morning.
They went to the tomb that morning to complete a sad task. They had watched a few days earlier as Joseph of Arimathea carefully laid the body of Jesus in the tomb. They had gone home and prepared the spices and ointments that were customarily used in burials. And then, as the Sabbath day was upon them, they rested and waited.
It’s most likely that they just waited. I can’t imagine any of Jesus’ followers did much peaceful resting on the Sabbath day after his death.
Thoughts of despair and anguish and regret must have filled their hearts. Peter must have relived his denial of Jesus over and over and over. The other disciples must have wallowed in the shame of having run off just when Jesus needed them the most. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women must have sat surrounded by the scent of the spices they had prepared, a fragrant reminder of their sorrow, their loss.
So it was a day of rest in the technical sense, but not much resting likely happened.
That they didn’t get much rest is evident, too, in the early hour the women set out to go to the tomb. It’s as though they were sitting by the window, watching for the merest sign that the sun was about to rise.
And when it did, in the early dawn, the “deep dawn”, the women gathered their spices and went to say their final goodbye to Jesus. They were in death mode, grief mode, and nothing could change that.
What then did they think when they got to the tomb and saw that the stone was rolled back? Did they figure some of the other disciples had gotten there before them? Or, in their grief, did it not even register? Surely anyone who has lost a loved one knows how in the immediate aftermath small, and even details as large as a tomb-sized rock, tend to get lost in the fog and tears.
We do know what they thought, or at least experienced, when they went in and found the tomb empty. The gospel-writer Luke tells us they were perplexed…utterly confused, disoriented, bewildered. And this was even before the men in dazzling clothes appeared and proclaimed the best news of greatest joy ever.
This tells us too that they clearly didn’t see the resurrection coming. If they had, at the very least, when they walked in the tomb and found not the body of Jesus, but instead an empty space, they would have kicked up their heels and rejoiced and started dancing and singing and shouting “Alleluia, by golly he did it! He really did it!!” instead of just being kind of dazed and confused.
And, truth be told, there is a certain amount of hopefulness the rest of us can draw from their confusion. I say that because for many of us, despite the fact that we have heard this story before, or at least some version of it, despite the fact that we joyfully, dutifully shouted at the beginning of the service, “He is risen indeed, Alleluia!” Sometimes, we still don’t see this resurrection thing coming. Sometimes, it still seems too fantastic, too good to be true, too unexpected. Sometimes thinking about Christ’s resurrection, and the possibility of resurrection and new life for all of creation and for us leaves us feeling, like the women, perplexed, disoriented, bewildered.
The cross, we can almost get. People get put to death all of the time both for noble and not so noble reasons. Throughout history, the dark forces of human pride, abuse of power, and the like, have caused the downfall of many, good and evil alike. Bad things do happen, terrible and inexplicably unfair things do happen: cancer strikes down a young victim, impoverished nations fall victim to horrific natural disasters, the innocent suffer, that kind of stuff happens. The death part fits with our experience of the world we live in and the way it works. So that, we get.
But resurrection? A man, even the Son of God, rising, being raised from the dead? That’s just weird! Despite our protests of alleluias, it is entirely possible to leave the joy of the Easter service more than just a little perplexed about how all this stuff works.
So, there the women stand in the empty tomb, confounded, perplexed. Now, enter the men in dazzling white, revealed later on in Chapter 24 to be angels. Breaking with tradition, they do NOT offer the standard angelic greeting, “Do not be afraid.” Perhaps, in the new world created by Christ’s resurrection from the dead, fear no longer held the same power over God’s people. Or, perhaps the angels were just too excited about the message they had to share…or they themselves were perplexed that the women disciples hadn’t figured things out yet, so they just bluntly ask, “WHY are you looking for the living one among the dead? He’s not here, why would he be here? This is where dead people hang out! He’s not here, he is risen.”
And then they add the kicker…that announcement by itself isn’t enough, so they add that all important word that finally put it all together for the women: Remember. Remember, dear Mary, Mary, Joanna, and others…remember what he told you and all of the other disciples who followed him around these past few years. Remember that he told you that all this terrible stuff you endured these past few days…he told you it would happen exactly as it did. Remember, too, that last confusing, perplexing bit at the end of each of those warnings…the part where he said he’d rise again! It all happened, including the best part, including the he is risen part. He is risen, he is not here. Remember all that he said. And if this last and best part is true, his resurrection is true, remember that all of the other stuff he taught you, why that’s true too. Remember.
And the amazing thing is, they do. And, without the angels having to tell them to do so, they run off, full of joy, excitement and purpose. And the first people they share the news with is their fellow disciples, who were at that moment still in their sorrow and grief. And they tell them what they saw and heard…they go and offer that joyous Easter proclamation, “Christ is risen!”
But instead of getting a robust “He is risen indeed, Alleluia!” from the rest of the disciples, they get:
Bullfeathers. “Idle tale” as it’s translated in our reading is the G-rated version of this word. It’s really more like bullfeathers. Bologna sandwiches. Poppycock. A load of…
Suffice it to say, the women weren’t the only among Jesus’ followers who didn’t see the resurrection coming. The disciples, despite the fact that a whole group of fellow followers was standing there, joyfully, breathlessly telling them, “No, really, he wasn’t there and then two angels showed up and told us he is risen and reminded us of what Jesus told us, remember what Jesus told us?” They couldn’t believe it. It didn’t fit with life and death as they knew it. It was simply too good to be true. It was bull-feathers and nothing more.
What a let-down that must have been for Mary, Mary, Joanna and the rest.
And yet, it wasn’t a total loss. In what is my favorite part of Luke’s retelling of the resurrection, we have good old Peter. Although along with his fellow disciples he dismissed the women’s story as an idle tale, Peter still decides it would be best to go and check things out for himself.
This is my favorite part, because I truly believe that Peter is us, Peter is you and me. We hear this good news, Christ is risen, and even if we don’t go so far as to call it an idle tale, at times we do have our doubts and wonderings, so, we decide to just go and see for ourselves. And we do that by doing what we’re all doing right here, right now. We sneak off to worship in the early (mid-)morning light, and come to hear the Word, to remember what Jesus taught and preached and proclaimed, to remember how he healed and forgave and fed and gave sight and hearing and more. We come to peek with hopeful hearts into that empty tomb and see for ourselves what all of the fuss is about. Peter is us, he is you and me, filled with wonder, doubt and hope, just checking things out.
He didn’t see it coming. No one saw it coming…and yet even so, no one ended that day in the same place as they started it. Mary Magdalene, Joanna and the others, left their spices behind, traded that sad duty in for a far more joyful, albeit frustrating one, convincing the disciples to remember as they had remembered, to remember what Jesus taught, and maybe even to go and see for themselves the empty tomb. Peter left the place of despair and entered one of budding hope – hope that Peter’s denial would not be the last word in his relationship with Jesus; that a new future, a resurrected future, was ahead of him.
Likewise, whether we saw this Easter proclamation, “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed, Alleluia!”…whether we saw that coming or not, we too leave this place transformed. For we have heard once more that God’s love for us and this world IS more powerful than any sin or wickedness we can conjure up, death does NOT have the last word over us, and resurrection IS possible, not just at the end of life, but each and every day. Each and every time we forgive and are forgiven. Each and every time we help to alleviate the suffering of others, through gifts of food, our time, our love. Each and every time we peek into that empty tomb and wonder and marvel and doubt and rejoice…each and every day, in Christ, resurrection happens.
They may not have seen the resurrection coming, and it’s possible we don’t either, but come it did, it does, it will: Christ is risen, he is risen indeed…say it with me: ALLELUIA!!!!