Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | April 17, 2022
Luke 24:1-12 | Easter Sunday
The story is told that after Jesus died his body was placed in a tomb. He was as dead as dead ever is. It was as if a shadow fell across the soul of humankind – that if even the Word made flesh could die, then what hope was there for any flesh. Whatever he said – whatever he did as God’s beloved Son – all dead.
In that tomb is where the worst that can happen, happens.
It’s where children go to die;
where prisoners go to be tortured;
where the condemned wait on death row;
where the marriage flounders;
where the shame festers;
it’s the doomed hospital room;
it’s the bomb shelter.
Gathered around that Word made flesh laid out on a slab are all the condemned, the bullied, the beaten, broken, trafficked and shamed of the world. And they’re all there together. There is nothing to do but wait. Wait for him to get back from his descent into hell. Wait to be astonished, because even in that dead end of a tomb – God is there. We don’t have to say anything – we don’t have to do anything – we just have to wait.
And so it was in a time-frame when most people are still in bed that God chose to change things forever by raising Jesus from the dead.
If we could plan such an event for our time and place it would be at time of convenience – likely when the most people could enjoy the show. Like the Super Bowl Half-Time Show.
Sponsors would be lining up to put their brand on it. There would be souvenir items for sale.
Everyone who was anyone would be there to see it. The best and the brightest would vie for the places of distinction. Viewer ratings would be counted. There would be endless chatter as to what it means and how it would change everything. Scholars would be touted for their ability to explain it. Frameworks of understanding would be built so as to be able to contain it.
And after it was all said and done, people would go back to their lives and the world would carry on pretty much as it had before.
It’s probably a good thing that when God raised Jesus from the dead no one was around to see it happen. Only a few women who discovered a slab where a body once lay and some folded up linen wrappings.
In God’s realm, the dead things we look for and expect when we’re doing the hard work in the ungodly hours aren’t always there. The resurrection happens. Not a cause for alarm; but an opportunity to grasp a new reality.
Those who first heard of it said it was an idle tale, just the sort of thing that women would say. The original language of it meaning, “Utter nonsense.”
Why should we believe you? Why should we take your eye-witness account as the fact of the matter?
We, say the men, didn’t see it for ourselves and so it can’t be a fact. Apart from the fact that all-knowing attitude is our general world view, you must admit that Jesus was dead. His death was not the kind of death where anyone thought to put a mirror under his nose to check for signs of life, just in case. When he was detached from that cross, he was a perfect picture of what it meant to be dead.
That was late on Friday afternoon and his body had been on a slab, sealed in a tomb for a day and a half and to say that he just got up and walked out of there was pure and utter nonsense.
You can almost hear one of the disciples of Jesus, one of the quieter ones, a reasonable one – you can almost hear him say, “We should really face the facts of our situation here. At the end of the day, Jesus is dead.”
“At the end of the day.” This is often said by someone who is trying to be the voice of reason. It comes with the message that we need to set aside our hopes and dreams. We need to forget about what inspired us in the first place. It goes hand in hand with, “These things take time,” and a hundred other reasonable statements of fact.
“At the end of the day” is the harsh voice of reason.
That’s just the way it is in times of crisis or disaster; we can’t be thinking about fairy tale solutions. We can’t be dreaming dreams and hoping hopes. When life arrives at the ‘end of the day’ then we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
“We realize you loved him very much, but that’s not going to bring him back.”
“Sometimes if you want something bad enough you start to convince yourself of things that aren’t there.”
Years later when these stories began to be gathered up and saved for future generations, different communities of Jesus followers began to write them down. There were the stories of Jesus as told under the pen names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
One might think that the main characters of the story would be presented in more heroic terms. That these people who had risked everything to follow Jesus would have said things like, “Yes, well we knew all along that he was going to rise from the dead on the third day. Indeed, we were anticipating just such a thing.”
But no, the ones who told the stories admitted their human failings. They gave credit where credit was due. “At first we thought they were idle tales.” How wrong we were. We carry forward a story that seems like a fairy tale. It is not a story that rational people can believe in. People rising from the dead; nonsense.
Because it’s a story so far beyond the realm of our experience, we have explained it according to the doubts of each generation. Some would say that the message of Jesus was so powerful that his truth lived on afterward. That he was alive through the hopes and dreams of his followers. His rising from the dead was a metaphor for their rising to new life.
Metaphor means to transfer an idea between two objects. It comes from the Latin, “metaphora” which means to “carry over.” Accordingly, all these years on we are just carrying over the hopes and dreams of an earlier time. What in some words might be called a myth and a rather tired out myth at that.
The reality of Easter is that it is real in a way that defies explanation. All of our theologies built to give some framework of explanation to the event fall short of the mystery that defies explanation. The story framed by questions that have no easy answer.
So perhaps when the followers of Jesus said the women’s story was an idle tale, they were telling truth on a level they would yet come to realize.
The utter nonsense of a God who would become completely vulnerable to get the message of love across. Not to hammer it through the military defenses of Roman Empire, but to tell it out in an infant’s first cry.
And the life and work of Jesus that was utter nonsense by all measure of standard practice. A generous God that when it comes to love shows extravagant waste. Breaking the barriers of exclusion, touching the unclean, healing the sick, and planting seeds of dignity and hope within the lives of people who were condemned as outcasts. Eating and drinking with sinners. Raising the dead.
And whenever some lost soul who was now found offered to say thanks, Jesus would say, “It was your own faith that did this.”
The idle tale of an extravagant God revealed in parables – A sower scattering seeds; a father running down the road to greet the lost son; a shepherd going after that one lost lamb – a good Samaritan – all the workers getting an equal wage.
Peter got up and ran to the tomb. He was always the first in the bunch to run off – whether it was to jump out of the boat thinking he could walk on water or offer his denial of ever knowing Jesus when the going got rough. It might have been connected to his ego of “it’s true when I say it’s true.” But he ran to the tomb and he looked in, and he was amazed.
God raising Jesus from the dead would not be a metaphor – transfer of meaning from one thing to another – it would be an extravagant gesture of love. Henceforth, be ready for anything from a God who does that sort of thing. And since resurrection was so far from the realm of their imagination, then don’t try to confine God to the realm of what passes for common sense. The empty tomb is uncommon sense.
We may say, “At the end of the day,” while God says, “Your endings are my beginnings, so at the start of the day, the stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. Christ is alive.” Amen.