Students of Life (a sermon for easter sunday)

Students of Life

“Instructions for living a life.

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.” 

~Mary Oliver

Luke 24:1-12
24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they [women who followed him from galilee] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.
24:2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
24:3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.
24:4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.
24:5 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.

24:6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,
24:7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
24:8 Then they remembered his words,
24:9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
24:10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.
24:11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
24:12 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.             

Who are these crazy women?

We’ve got some unlikely witnesses here… today’s scripture tells us that it is “Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James”, and then adds “and other women”. Earlier in chapter 23 Luke tells us that these women are the ones who followed Jesus from galilee (Luke 23:55) and earlier in chapter 8 he describes them in this way, “there were women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: [that was] Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8:2-4)

These women from Galilee, have been with Jesus for the long haul, they fed and followed him, sat like students at his feet and prepared for his death.  They witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion (Luke 23:49) – and remained at Jesus’ side when everyone else had fled, Among the “other women” I imagine Martha and her sister Mary walking together and Mary, Jesus’ own mother who ushered him into the world at birth and sat at the foot of the cross when he was crucified, surely, she was there too… All of them climbing the hill to the tomb – a community of women, ready to do the burial work, the grief work – ready with their spices and their oils – to lovingly say goodbye.

But when they arrived at the tomb it was open… can’t you imagine them peering in – too many to all look in at once, they crowd the opening and take turns gaping at what appears to be an empty tomb. But their confusion turns quickly to fear when two men appear… dazzling white like that messenger Mary must remember from so many years ago who brought the first rumor of incarnation…

Can you imagine them dropping together to the ground – in terror and amazement…

And this is my favorite part – according to Luke, these men don’t even bother with trying to calm them, there’s no “don’t be afraid” or “do not fear” like we’ve heard from such gospel messengers before. Instead they ask the women whose heads are on the floor,

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.

Now, all the gospel accounts of these days are rich in their variety and each offers a unique interpretation of the events leading to Jesus death and resurrection but one detail they share is utter silence on the part of the disciples and followers of Jesus in those hours and days between his death and sunrise on the third day… its almost as if the whole community dies with Christ on the cross… after a blow by blow account of the days and hours from Palm Sunday till Jesus last breath and final word from the cross the silence of the following hours and days is deafening.

The gospel of Luke tells us these same women saw his body from the cross to the tomb. and then we get nothing until the sound of their footsteps fall on the sunlit path to the tomb. There is not one account – not in Luke or any other gospel – of a disciple, man or woman, who said “wait a minute, Jesus said this would happen, Jesus is not dead, I know it!” There was silence and there was sorrow, there was disappointment and disbelief – in the face of such trauma, such violence and loss how could they possibly remember…  how could they even think straight, they must have been overwhelmed with such grief. How could they have thought to look for Christ anywhere but the grave?

But when the dazzling men said to them,

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.”

They remembered his words and turned back towards Jerusalem at once to tell the others.

This is what a witness does – they see or experience something – something that moves them or marks them or terrifies them and they can’t help but tell about it.
Can you imagine how their sorrow began to ebb making space for curiosity? For joy as they moved, in mass, back to Jerusalem? Can you imagine how what had been a quiet moving vigil towards the tomb transformed into a noisy procession as this crazy news bubbled up from inside them on their way back?

When they return to the disciples still huddled in grief they all crowd in and tell them everything they had seen. I imagine them all speaking at once, telling one another, confirming and affirming their stories – an unlikely bunch of witnesses, chosen to be the bearers of terrifying and exhilarating news.

The gospel of Luke tells us that the story fell on deaf ears, that these words seemed, to the apostles gathered there, an idle tale, and they did not believe them. The words: idle tale are a kind translation, “the greek word here is lēros, (it’s only appearance in the New Testament), is usually reserved to describe the ranting of a person suffering from delirium.”[i]

Which is ironic given that for many of these women such as Mary Magdalene, this is just what Jesus rescued them from in the midst of his ministry and now as the witnesses of his resurrection our thought to be mad. Once again Jesus turns everything we think we understand upside down…

Martin Marty says that “Sometimes stories are too weird to be taken seriously, and sometimes the tellers of the stories are weirder yet.” And this is a weird story – really the whole story of Jesus from beginning to end – like an sixth grader I met recently said, “first God gets born to this random woman and then grows up and does all kinds of weird stuff, healing folks and loving folks… how does that work?” And then instead of loving him back he gets rejected, then  he ends up dying a scandalous death of an outlaw, crucified on the cross… and now… and now, he’s not dead? He’s alive? It’s an unbelievable story told by this crazy community of women,

The tomb is empty – Jesus is not there, Jesus has risen – he is among the living.

Don’t look for him among the dead.

This news the community of women bring is perplexing, and disconcerting… if there’s anything we can count on in the human experience it’s that generally dead people stay dead… we face these losses and we struggle with the grief and we turn to our memories for comfort – but it’s a story we know how to do. We know how to gather together for comfort and burial preparations. We know how to tell stories and reach back into the past to canonize and eulogize…

But Jesus is restless in the grave… Can’t you imagine that skin and boned Christ digging his feet into the ground and getting ready to rise? Thinking, “I’m not leaving this world yet…” I love that the incarnation doesn’t end on Good Friday, no, this is just the beginning – Life wins, love wins… it stubbornly pushes up out of the dirty ground of our grief and says,

The tomb is empty – Jesus is not there, Jesus has risen – he is among the living.

Don’t look for him among the dead.

My dear students of God, resurrection insists on three things:

Resurrection insists that we turn our attention from death to life…

Where are you holding onto that which is no longer life giving? What do you cling to that keeps you from knowing amazement? From experiencing joy? What makes you surge with energy and what fills you to the brim? Have you noticed how much better we do death than life? How much more comfortable we are there?

Jennie and I are getting married in June and it’s gonna be a rockin party – almost everyone we love is genuinely excited. We’ve gotten tons of support, great response from friends, family, communities… so much love. There have been just a few folks who have responded in the negative, and wow how I lived into their rejection. Gone days worrying and despairing over an unkind word. Why? Why do we do that? Why are we so easily overcome with despair when God is pouring delight into our lives?

God is present in our pain but is ever inviting us into the open spaces where the light will nurture in us the story of resurrection… the story of new life.

Resurrection insists that we remember…

Just like the messengers remind the women to remember, we too are invited to remember the ancient story of one who would not be moved, who would not be swayed from the path of love. The one who insisted that a trip to the cross would wound him but could not defeat him, this is not a static put it in a keepsake box kind of remembering, no this is a dig it out and wear it – let it change you again and again memory made new each time we tell it, it is a embodied and reimagined re-membering that will put us back together each time we fall apart.

Resurrection insists that we turn back with joy… this isn’t new we can simply sit on… resurrection insists that we too witness to the this amazing news… that we tell this weird story of love and life winning out over death… of God showing up in human flesh, vulnerable and tiny, the story of how God gets good and dirty, digging into the hardest things that humans face:

Greed, loss, suffering, illness, rejection, insecurity, poverty, relinquishing their power when we really really want to hang onto it.

Again and again offering love in the face of our fears and grace every time we fall short.

Resurrection insists we tell this story even though it makes us sound crazy… just like those women who found the empty tomb… delirious with delight.

Mary Oliver writes this poem: “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” 

And this is your Easter homework friends. We’ve been students of God all through Lent but we haven’t had a lot of homework… but this is your takehome assignment for the Easter season that begins today and doesn’t end till Pentecost Sunday (you get awhile).

Pay attention – seek out the resurrection… look for signs of life!

Be astonished and amazed… even terrified!

Then report back… tell about it. Tell me. Tell one another. Tell everyone you meet.

Amen


[i]
Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2011-06-10). Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 12519-12523). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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