Then They Remembered His Words
All day long yesterday, I was reminded that it was a day of waiting. Even in the midst of the Easter Egg Hunt, after the solemn darkness of Friday night’s service, I was reminded that he lay in the tomb. Jesus…dead. Not just sleeping. Not in a coma. Dead. He was executed. They made sure he was dead.
Joseph of Arimathea asked for his body and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid it in his tomb that had just been completed, hewn out of the rock. The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee were there. They straightened his shroud, wiped the blood from his face, placed his arms by his sides.
They went back and prepared spices and ointments for embalming, but it was dusk and the Sabbath was beginning. So, they waited. They observed the Sabbath, resting.
But as soon as it was permissible, as soon as the dawn hovered at the horizon, the morning after the Sabbath, they went to the tomb. I wonder how they woke…if they had laid in bed all night waiting for the first sign of light to rush back to his body because they just couldn’t let him go, or if one of them woke the others and exhausted with grief, they put one foot in front of the other to do what had to be done.
We know the story, but it was a surprise to them to see the stone rolled away. These stones were as tall as a person. They were heavy. And this was a new tomb, so the stone hadn’t even worn a track yet, so they had been discussing how they were going to manage it when they got there.
But when they got there, the tomb was open. The stone was already moved. For good reason, they were scared. Had grave robbers come, did someone steal his body, or the Romans, was it a trap to catch his followers and execute them? His body was gone. Who would have disturbed a body on the Sabbath?
Cautiously, they entered the tomb. Suddenly they were not alone. Two men were there, shining like lightening. Do you remember being woken up by your mom turning on the light? Luke says that they bowed their faces to the ground, and I think of the pain of a bright light suddenly breaking the darkness. I just imagine that in the early morning darkness, their eyes couldn’t adjust to the brightness.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” they asked, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words.
I can only relate it to the final plot twist in a great book or movie. You know the type – the kind of well-written story that makes you immediately think back through the whole rest of the story and realize the need to read it or see it again and appreciate everything with this new realization.
What they hadn’t seen before, they now cannot un-see. And now, everything they thought they had seen and understood has more to see and understand.
When Jesus had said he would be resurrected, they hadn’t really understood what he was talking about. Did he mean that he would have a new start, be vindicated? Did he mean he would raise with all creation at the resurrection of the dead? Never did them think he meant that he would be dead and then alive. But, now they remembered what he had said.
When he had fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish and there were twelve basketfuls left over, he had drawn away with the disciples to pray and asked them, “Who do the people say I am?” “John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the old prophets that has risen.” “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.” And he commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” But they hadn’t understood.
Suddenly the story Jesus told a story about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus meant more. Lazarus was covered in sores, and as he lay at the city gate dogs licked his sores, and he dreamed of eating the crumbs from the rich man’s table. Both men die. The rich man is in the heat of fire, so thirsty. And Lazarus is comfortable in the company of God’s servant Abraham. The rich man asks for Abraham to send Lazarus to give him just a little water on his tongue, and if he won’t do that to at least go and warn his five brothers. Abraham responds, “If the law of Moses and the stories of the prophets aren’t enough to convince them that there are consequences to their actions and to treat the least with respect and dignity, then even if someone should rise from the dead they will not be convinced.”
After a discussion with a rich young ruler about what he must do to inherit eternal life, in which Jesus told him to sell all that he had and distribute to the poor. Jesus took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit; they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise. But they understood none of these things; this saying was hid from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
But as they stood in the empty tomb and remembered his words, they realized that when he was talking about resurrection he meant something different than the world had ever experienced or ever hoped for before.
I was reading an article on preaching Easter in the age of Twitter. The authors suggested that the preacher should consider who would gather to hear an Easter Sunday morning message in Anytown, USA. “Some are sitting expectantly, more than a few are bored, some are annoyed, several are uneasy in an unfamiliar space, several are just tired, but most – even if tentatively on their own terms – are ready” to hear a word they know by heart in a way that changes the mundane of their everyday lives.
The reality is that we, like them women, need to enter the empty tomb and then remember his words because they change our understanding of everything that we have experienced. The impact is beyond what I can capture in words. Behold, Jesus is alive. Love has won! There should be fireworks and doves released and I read one creative suggestion that on Easter the preacher should begin to hit balloons so that the congregation would experience the excitement of the day as they tried to keep all of the balloons up throughout the sermon.
But then, I thought of the movie Groundhog Day. Remember the movie Groundhog Day? Bill Murray plays Phil Conners, a self-absorbed weatherman who goes to cover Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog as he emerges – will he see his shadow or not? One particular scene illustrates to me all that is important in preaching Easter. It is the scene when Phil realized that time has stopped and he is living in a world with no consequences. He spray-pants his room at the inn. He cuts his hair into a Mohawk. He chainsaws the place in two, knowing that in the morning, all will be back to normal. It was difficult and expensive to shoot that scene. They shot it at the end of the first week of filming. It took three days. Everything that was destroyed had to be rebuilt. Paint had to be cleaned off of walls. The set had to be restored for different camera angles. Bill Murray’s mohawk toupee cost thousands to make. Remember the scene?
Of course not. They threw it away and replaced it with simplicity. As he is about to go to sleep, he breaks a pencil and puts the two pieces on his nightstand. Sonny and Cher begin playing on the radio. He wakes up. The pencil is whole.
This is how the Easter story should be told. Not with drama and expense, not with poetry and explanation, not with balloons bouncing around the Sanctuary. We cannot recreate Easter in any size, scope, or impact. But we can simply proclaim what God has done and is doing. They entered the tomb and it was empty. And then they remembered his words, and their entire understanding of all that he is and all that life means was transformed.
The disciples, when they heard the womens’ story thought it was nonsense. They did not believe them. They had to see him for themselves. Mary hears him speak her name. The disciples huddle together locked in the upper room until Jesus appears in the midst of them. Thomas doesn’t believe until he touches Jesus’ hands.
Every year, we tell the story. Not because we are surprised anymore to find the stone rolled away. Not because we expect a different ending, but because the tomb is empty. And when we listen again to the story in light of the resurrection, they change us. The places in our lives that have been broken in two are whole again. Hope is restored. Behold, Jesus is alive. Love has won! Alleluia! Amen.