A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] 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.
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
“Oh, I have heard that story before” the old Nigerian man said after missionary Charles Kraft told him about the death and resurrection of Jesus. “It happened to my nephew, just last year.” Kraft was puzzled until he learned that the people of the old man’s village thought that being unconscious was the same thing as being dead. Because the story of a man dying and coming back to life was old and very common news to him, the Gospel didn’t sound like Good News to the old man.
More on that in a moment but let’s take a look at our texts that set this day up for us.
Isaiah’s vision is, in a very real sense, what Easter is all about—because it is what God’s vision for the world has always been about.
In Acts—though Simon could occasionally go on at great length in his exposition—this is perhaps one of the most concise accounts of the Easter gospel to be found in all of scripture.
God ‘s message of peace has been preached to God’s people through Christ, who has been anointed with the Holy Spirit, has been busy doing good, was oppressed by the devil, and was put to death on a tree. God has raised him from the dead — we saw him with our own eyes, sat down and ate with him—and now we’re here to tell you he really is the judge of the living and the dead.
We have silly women telling idle tales, at least that’s what the disciples thought. That’s all the “first” Easter story amounted to in the ears of the first hearers. Well, fortunately for us all, Peter and the others didn’t stop with their first impressions— notice they got up and went to see for themselves.
Ultimately, we all bear the responsibility to go and see for ourselves these Easter tidings we have heard. Like Peter and the boys, when we do come and see—we will most likely be amazed.
But you know what, maybe not. I’m afraid the Easter Story is old news to us too; and because of that we sometimes forget what really good news it is. Most of us have heard the story of Jesus’ last week on earth so many times and in so many ways that, no matter which version of the resurrection we hear, we have ceased to be “perplexed” or “terrorized,” or “amazed.” We are just bored. Like the old man, we shrug and say, “I have heard that story before.” It’s not that we don’t believe it. If we didn’t believe it most of us wouldn’t be in, or watching, church today. It’s just that, for some of us, the story no longer moves us; it no longer seems to have the power to change our lives.
While we still profess belief in the resurrection; as the years go by it becomes increasingly difficult to figure out what the death and resurrection of Jesus 2000 years ago has to do with us, here, in our town, and in our lives, in the year 2022. So, on Easter, we celebrate instead the coming of Spring. We dress up in new clothes and decorate eggs and eat chocolate bunnies, which are a symbol of fertility and new life, but have nothing to do with a supernatural victory over death. We do these things because we’re just not really sure what to make of this resurrection business.
Now, when Mr. Kraft, the missionary, heard the old man say he had heard the story before, he did a brilliant thing. Instead of arguing with the man, or trying to explain to him the difference between being unconscious and being dead; Mr. Kraft asked the man a question. “Okay, if that’s not good news, what would be good news to you? What would be the best news you could hear?” The man thought for a few minutes, then said, “If I knew there was a power greater than the spirits that trouble me.”
That really would be good news, wouldn’t it? That there is a power greater than the spirits that trouble all of us. There are a lot of problems in the world today. There is war, and Covid, and hunger, and poverty, and the economy, and racial hatred, and drugs, and the environment. And there are personal problems that are often a result of those larger problems: loved ones sick with incurable diseases, family fighting, loss of jobs, personal poverty, broken friendships and strained work relationships. There are many powers in our world and in our lives that trouble us.
And the good news of Jesus Christ is not just about one man coming back from the dead. It is that; but it is SO much more than that. It is a story that shouts out to us that there is a power that is greater than the spirits that trouble us. And that that power is the power of God. The God who raised Jesus from the dead. The power of Easter is shown the life of the Church, the Risen Body of Christ in the world. The power of the resurrection is shown in the changed lives of the believers. The power of the empty tomb is this: the truth that Jesus taught continues to be taught, the unconditional love that Jesus lived out continues to be lived out and shown, sins are forgiven, spirits are healed, relationships are restored—all in Christ’s name and all by Christ’s power.
The witness of the women at the tomb, the witness of the apostles who spread the word around the Middle East, the witness of the early Church Fathers, the witness of the monks who clung to the faith throughout the middle ages, the witness of saints and martyrs and ordinary folk for 2000 years is how Christ continues to live on.
That is the best possible news we could hear because the love and forgiveness and compassion of God are part of a power that is greater than the spirits that trouble us.
The witness of the ages is that the empty tomb is the power of God to give us new life, new hope, and a new faith in the future. Christ is risen, CHRIST IS RISEN INDEED!
Easter is the ultimate festival celebration of Christianity. We pull out all the stops on this day. From triumphant music (horns, flutes, a choir and enough “alleluias” to make up for all of Lent); in some churches sufficient flowers to open a floral outlet; to inspired preaching (hopefully!); and Holy Eucharist, our worship on this day is truly fit for the King of Kings. We reason that this day may be our best opportunity to share the Good News and encourage those who rarely come through the church doors to come back often. Easter is a bold and optimistic day.
This day is a vitally important one in the life of the church—a fact few would dispute. Yet, I wonder how it really plays in the lives of those not connected to a faith community. The commercial marketplace co-opts the holiday, just like Christmas, to sell chocolate bunnies, plastic eggs, and Easter ham, basically anything to fill a cheap basket and increase sales of consumable goods. Is it just another holiday rather than a Holy Day?
Like the women at the tomb, we the faithful gather to experience the story afresh, but the wider community often offers resistance to our “idle tale.” Folks have trouble truly believing a resurrection story. After all, when you’re gone you’re gone, right? Shouldn’t we live for the present day and be rational about life? In the words of Karl Marx, isn’t religion simply “the opium of the people.”
Of course the answer to this, at least from the Christian perspective, is a resounding “NO,” but how can we convince ourselves so that we can show others that Jesus lives and is active in the world? Sometimes I feel like our houses of worship might be better likened to the empty tomb. We invite people in to “come and see Jesus” when Jesus has already left the building for ministry in the world. Yes, Jesus is present whenever two or more gather in his name, whenever wine is poured and bread is broken, and in the waters of baptism, but Jesus doesn’t hang out in hallowed human shrines 24/7.
Peter, in Acts, took the message out, and he preached in the home of the Roman army officer Cornelius, saying “He [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Funny thing, the command is to go, to preach, and to testify this to folks. It doesn’t say anything about creating members or giving units in the congregation. There is nothing in this passage about who can be included and who should be excluded. This Easter message of triumph over sin and death is for everyone.
- How will they know unless we believe?
- How will they respond unless we tell and invite?
- How will the world see and experience the risen Christ unless we, through the witness of our lives and our corporate life together, are God’s presence in the world?
The tomb is empty! Go and tell the world that Jesus Christ is risen, and that God is active in this world. Go and be the hands and feet of Jesus to your neighbor. Look around you. This is no idle tale. Jesus is at work in the ministries of GSLC, and other congregations, through the hands of hopeful, helpful people.
The Spirit’s breathe is equipping new generations of leaders. God is calling us to a new vision and new ways of being church. You don’t have to look far to see God in action, but you should look in places where you might not expect to experience the holy. When you start to really look around, you might be surprised at what you see. Share the wonder, the grace, and the love–here, there, and everywhere. We have amazing news to share…He Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed!