Easter Day—Year B; Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12
Have you ever sat vigil with someone who was dying? It is an amazing, holy, sacred, luminous, painful experience, and it is exhausting. And once the death has occurred, a tiredness such as you have never felt before settles over you. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee had lived this very experience. They had been there every step of the way, all the way from Galilee, all the way to the cross. When others couldn’t stay, they remained. Even after he breathed his last, they stayed. They watched Joseph of Arimathea come and lovingly take their Lord’s body down from the cross. The watched him wrap it in a linen cloth. They followed as he carried it to rock-hewn tomb. They saw the tomb, and how his body was laid. And having learned the way to the tomb, they left to go and do what love demanded they do, prepare the spices and ointments to anoint the body of their beloved. And on the sabbath day, they rested. Read, “They fell into a hard, hard sleep.” Truth be told, they were spent. Their hearts had been through the wringer. Their bodies stretched to the breaking point. Their souls rent apart. They couldn’t go one step more; they had to rest.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, while the sun was just starting to peek through the mist, while the pavement was still wet with dew, they made their way back to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone, the stone, remember the stone? That huge stone that had been rolled in front of tomb to seal it, they hadn’t even thought about how they were going to move that stone. But you know how women can be when they put their minds to something. You think a stone would deter them from doing what love compelled them to do? Yeah, right. But their fierce determination would not have to be exercised, at least not yet. That stone had been rolled away. They went in, they had seen where his body had been laid, but they didn’t find the body. While they were perplexed about this…You think? Perplexed? I like the greek better—“they were entirely at a loss”—NOTHING had prepared them for this.
Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. Not in front, not behind, not above, not below, but beside them. The messengers came right alongside them in their perplexity. Their at-a-loss-ness turns to terror, they were “thrown into fear,” and they 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.”
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Where on earth else could they look? Death was all they knew. How do you turn a grieving heart on a dime? Love hopes all things, yes, but these women were realists. They had witnessed the death. They had pushed themselves to stay present to the dying when the others had fled. But now, Love was calling them to let the graveclothes lie and strike out to find the Risen One.
They ran, these women come from Galilee ran to the eleven and to all the rest. They told all this to the apostles. But, oh, are you ready for it, it hurts, “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Why, would you not believe these women? Were the apostles’ hearts too broken to hope, were they too afraid to risk believing that what the women said was TRUE?
But Peter, brave, impulsive, cowardly, jump-in-first-ask-questions-later Peter—he got up and he ran to the tomb. He stooped down, and looked in, and he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. Again, the greek gets it better, “he marveled, he was full of wonder,” that great, great word from Godly Play that unlocks the soul of a child, and all of us, if we are open to it.
So, all week long, we have been walking in the shoes of all the characters who play a role in this drama, and now we come to today. Who are you today?
Are you one of the women come from Galilee? Are you grieving? Have you experienced some sort of death that has left you so tired that you don’t even know how to take the next step, but that next step keeps coming anyway? Have you come today expecting to continue your burial rituals, living out the rhythms of your loss, not daring to hope for it to be any different than when you felt it a day ago?
And when the holy messengers call to you and challenge you to lift your eyes, when they proclaim to you that your reality is not among the dead but is among the profoundly alive, can you allow your heart to leap because at some deep, deep level, your heart knows that what they speak is TRUE? Can you dare to see that your whole world has just been turned upside down but in a gloriously good way? Can you dare to see that your world has just been made completely new? Your life can change in an instant when resurrection calls your name.
And then, can you throw your reserve to the winds and run as fast as you can to tell others who are lost and afraid and grieving and locked away? Can you tell them, “We have to look in a new place, we have to look in a new way, we thought death was the final word, but death is never the final word, not where Jesus is concerned. He is alive. He has risen. And we are rising too!”
Or, will you stay where you are, locked away in your fear, entombed in your grief, safe in the certitude of death, and dismiss it all as an idle tale? Because if we can dismiss this as an idle tale, we can go on with business-as-usual. Oh, life will be painful, we have lost the One who made life make sense, but loss, we know how to do loss. But resurrection? Who knows what that looks like? Resurrection, life, there are no rules for how to do this. Resurrection is insanely unpredictable. Resurrection is risky. I don’t know that I can risk that much. No, it’s much easier to dismiss all of this as an idle tale, or a great myth, or a powerful story, but not really connected to reality.
Or, will you take the risk of your lives? If anyone had reason to be anxious, it was Peter. He had denied his Lord, not once, not twice, but three times. Jesus knew Peter would blow it, and Peter didn’t disappoint him. “If what the women said was true, how would Jesus receive him? Would he tell Peter to go away, and maybe with stronger words than that?” Peter had lost Jesus through his denials, he had lost Jesus in death, could he bear to lose him again? But Peter was as good as dead as it was; his heart was that broken. No, Peter would risk it all to taste the resurrection. Will we?
This isn’t just a great story that happened 2,000 years ago, but this is the deepest reality of our lives today, this day. The men in dazzling clothes have come along beside us, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Whatever losses, whatever deaths, whatever death dealing patterns have become our tombs, the stone has been rolled away. It is time to leave our graveclothes behind. It is time to dance our way into the life that God is raising in us.
Resurrection life would be way too scary were it not for the fact that Jesus is one step ahead of us, and he is reaching back to pull us into this Life. All we can do, all we can do, is see our graveclothes lying in the dust. Your life is not to be found among the dead. You are rising. Be amazed. Be filled with wonder. Risk believing that resurrection isn’t just possible but is heartbeat of your life. The One who has risen before us, the One whom death could not contain, he has risen, and we can’t live among the dead any more. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
March 31, 2013