Luke 24:1-12 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. ********************************************************************************************************************
Our service starts out dark- shutters closed... bare…stripped of signs of life except for the breath and muffled whispers of those sitting… and waiting. You can feel it... despite our preparations and morning celelbrations at home, we entered a room that was dark and empty… maybe confused… even questioning if we are in the right place… The first Easter morning was not so different. Those who had watched Jesus die a few days earlier were devastated… grieving. And after their Sabbath had passed, a group of women got up early to go to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been placed after the crucifixion. It was their job to care for his body for burial… they had prepared spices and oils that they carried with them.
There wasn’t much conversation on the way to the tomb. Hearts were too heavy. MJ- that’s Mary the mother of James- walked up in front carrying the spices. Mary- that’s Mary Magdalene- went next with a couple of other women…. Joanna lagged behind. She wasn’t looking forward to this. She pulled her wrap tightly around her shoulders… she was still in shock, really… Just a couple of weeks ago she had been at a party with Jesus- She smiled as she remembered him… always so full of life! Jesus had that big bawdy laugh that everyone loved to imitate when he wasn’t around. He was one of those people who was always slapping people on the back when he said 'hello'… maybe a little too hearty in his enthusiasm, but people knew that was just the way he was… he had that dry sense of humor that sometimes meant that you might not get the joke till you got home... and sometimes (you realized later) that the joke was on you. But still, whenever you saw him, you couldn’t help but smile. All he had to do was look in your direction and you felt the compassion in his eyes- you knew he cared about you, and you felt like a million bucks! In the middle of her musings, Joanna tripped on a tree root and lost her balance.. took three giant leaps forward and would have fallen is she hadn’t grabbed on to Mary… “Geeze Joanna, be careful!... Are you ok?” Joanna looks silently back at Mary, teary eyed- “I just can’t believe he’s gone…” Mary lowers her eyes and nods… and she puts her arm around Joanna as they walk on together toward the tomb.
But as they approach the clearing, they see MJ already over near the tomb in a panic… “Look! Look at the stone! It’s been moved…” They run up to get a closer look and Mary puts her hand on the stone… “Who could have done this?”
Joanna looks at her friends, then at the stone, and then down at the dark hole in the side of the hill… “Who’s going to go in?”... The women silently exchange glances, and then, one at a time, they crouch down and enter the tomb…
Inside, the air is cool, and they take a moment for their eyes to adjust. But as they scan the shadowy walls they realize their worst fears- Jesus is gone… the tomb is empty. Someone has stolen, not just his body, but the last moment they would share with their friend… There was nothing to do but hold each other, and weep.
But then, in the middle of the tomb, in the middle of the darkness, in the middle of their tears, two men in dazzling white appear…(don’t you love that word, ‘dazzling?’ Like glittery magical sparkly knock your off your socks whiter than white… like a new pair of Keds in the summer sun… new snowfall white…white you have to shield your eyes from, white…) and when these dazzling emissaries just ‘appear,’ it literally scares the heck out of the women and they fall to the ground on their faces like a shot! They lay there in the dust... terrified.
But one of the men kneel down next to them, and puts a hand on Joanna’s arm… she can’t look, but hears these softly spoken words... “Ladies…why are you looking for the living among the dead…”
Still to afraid to speak… Joanna lifts her head and turns it toward the voice…. The sequined suit rises to his feet, lifts his arms and smiles a dazzling smile… “He’s not here…he is risen!”
“WHAT???!!!” Jo spins her body around like a top to a sitting position and glares at the men… “What do you know about him? Where is he?”
And Dazzle says... “Listen… Remember… he told you about this… he told you this would happen, while he was still back in Galilee, Jesus told you himself- that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again. (v7) What did you think he meant by that?” Joanna leaned her elbow on her knee and began to twirl her hair and mused some more… “Could it be true? Could Jesus have really come back from the dead? Could he really be alive?”
She looks over at Mary… Mary was biting her the inside of her lip and beginning to cry… she looks at MJ- she’s still trying to get up off the floor- Oh no! there’s blood! She must have fallen on the jars. “Mary!” and they rush over to help her up, and Mary puts a cloth over the cut on her hand and Jo smoothes a strand of hair around her face… She looks ok- just shocked. But when they turn back toward the glow, the men have vanished… and the sun is streaming in from outside… filling the once dark tomb with heavenly light…
"It’s true? It’s true!" And in their best attempt at looking like the three stooges, scuttle toward the entrance…”We need to go tell the others!!!” They begin to run to the house, but as they make their way back, something is different… everything has life… "When did the trees get buds? When did those flowers come up? The grass is so green and everything is so fragrant and new!"
They reach the house where the apostles are holed up, and practically trip over each other trying to get to the door. They fly into the room, chattering and laughing... but inside the house feels more like the inside of the tomb… cold, and dark- shutters closed... bare… stripped of signs of life except for the breath and muffled whispers of those sitting… and waiting.
Mary begins opening the windows and Joanna starts spilling out the news of joy that she can no longer hold inside… “He is risen! Just like he said! So we were there, right? .. and we went to the tomb, right? .. and like, it was empty… and like we saw these two men.. they were all in... like... white… and it was like reeeeallly bright… and everybody fell on their faces- it was sooo cool… and MJ cut her hand but it wasn’t too bad… and so like we talked to them, and they told us that its just like Jesus said it was going to be and he is not here and why are we looking for the living among the dead and it was the coolest thing that he isn’t dead anymore after all and…”
“Can someone PLEASE get her to be quiet?” A voice from across the room echoes the sentiments of everyone present. It’s Peter …. “Mary… What happened?” So Mary… no calmer than her run-on friend tries to explain what happened, but before she is halfway through, Peter realizes what she is saying. He springs up out of his chair and bolts through the door… now he is the one running… 'could it be… could it be…'
And in seconds he is at the door of the tomb- crouching down, daring to take a look and hoping against hope that what could be… has actually happened. He gasps as he sees the tomb filled with light... Jesus… the tomb is empty…. He sits back against the stone and begins to rub his head and do some musing himeslf…" I need to think this through…" And every conversation he has ever had with Jesus floods through his mind: … That first day on the beach- there was something about him even then, something that had made Peter want to drop everything and follow… he watched as Jesus healed people… that little girl he brought back to life- Lazarus for goodness sake! Peter remembered supernatural things he had seen that he had never been able to explain… how he walked on water in the middle of the sea, or how Jesus calmed a storm with one word… tuning that little boys lunch into a banquet for 5,000 people… the way he would say that all it took was faith to move a mountain… Jesus had faith…so sure of himself… and everything Jesus ever said would happen had happened. Two…no, three times that he could remember, Jesus had said that he would be killed and then in 3 days rise from the dead… and here it is…he had told them it would happen. And Peter sits... amazed…
Have you ever been here?
Where Peter is right now? Sitting just outside a tomb of death, wrestling with
a promise from God? Sitting with your head in your hands trying to sort things
out… and wonder if the things God said were true… were really possible?
Or like the disciples? Sitting in a dark
room… defeated… sad… alone… grieving for something you lost… and not only can
you not see God, you sure as heck don’t think God is going to show up…
Or are you traveling toward the tomb- like Joanna- remembering what was...
remembering how things used to be and you prepare yourself for
the worst… and the spices you carry with you are scented with your own
expectation- your own hopelessness-
My friends, we know these people, don’t we? In fact, they are so much a part of
us that we came here this morning to spend time with them again. We know them
so well that we can tell their story by heart- because each of their stories is
also our story! And hearing it gives all
of our stories… hope.
Hope! that although we may not feel it, or the situation may not seem like it…
that although we may be living inside this tomb of death. there is a possibility
that at any moment, we will be dazzled with good news that literally knocks us
off our feet. That although we may not be able to see past the darkness of our
own hurt, or our own brokenness or even our own disobedience- that there is
something out there more loving and more powerful than anything we can see…
And we realize the one with the big laugh… the one who shines compassion and
caring through his eyes… LIVES! Just like he said! And his spirit is working in each of us, to help us accept God's
unconditional love… and feel like a million bucks! Happy Easter!