Once upon a time, one early Sunday morning,
three women were making their way
along the winding path through a beautiful garden.
Flowers bloomed everywhere, the grass was fragrant with dew,
and birdsong heralded the rising sun.
But the three friends heard nothing,
saw none of the beauty around them.
Their downcast eyes were clouded with tears as they moved
silently on their mission of love- to anoint and properly prepare
for burial the body of their dear friend, their teacher,
He had been crucified on Friday, the day of the Passover- had died this hideous, brutal Roman death reserved
for criminals and slaves.
And because the eve of the Sabbath had been upon them,
they had been unable to perform the ritual preparations
for burial proscribed by their Jewish religion.
And so they had risen early on this first day of the week
in order to visit the tomb andperform their sad task
before life resumed its busy after-Sabbath pace.
Mary Magdalene carried spices- nard and myrrh-
while Mary and Salome held fresh white linen to re-wrap
the bruised and wounded body. There was no conversation;
each woman was deep in her own thoughts, each picturing
with dread the sight which would soon confront them,
each trying desperately to remember Jesus as he had been…
his sparkling dark eyes, his ruddy cheeks,
his swinging stride, his hearty, infectious laugh,
his strong, loving hands.
They had followed him faithfully, at first timidly
and at a distance like proper Jewish women…
But he had included them, had taught them,
had treated them with a dignity and respect
unlike anything they had ever known.
Oh, how they had loved him!
And how much they would miss him.
Their eyes again filled with tears.
Suddenly, a terrible realization dawned on the three and
they broke their mournful silence in consternation:
“We forgot about the stone. Who will roll it away?” Salome asked.
“Oh, now- we should have brought some of the men along!”
“Hah!” Mary Magdalene was scornful. “Which ones? Those who care are hidden away in fear of the Romans and the Sanhedrin. Who would have risked coming? We’ll just have to try it ourselves.”
But her bravado slipped away as she recognized the enormity of the task ahead.
The path turned sharply and as the three women rounded the curve,
they were startled to see that the tomb was open!
The huge stone had been rolled back.
Dear God, what had happened? What was going on here?
They entered the tomb- they could do nothing else.
Fearful as they were, still their love and loyalty
and concern for their dear friend drove them.
And there- in front of them- there on the very spot
where the body had been placed, sat a youth-
clad in white
“Who…w-w-what are you doing here?” Mary stammered.“The stone,” Mary Magdalene gestured, “How? Who?”
All three women were shaking in fear and amazement and awe,
for this young man looked like no one they had ever seen before.
Who was he? And where, oh WHERE was Jesus?
Seeing their confusion, their fear, their anxiety, the youth smiled
and spoke quietly but with authority.
“You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.”
“Yes,” they breathed, “Yes…”
“He is risen- he is NOT HERE! Look- here is where they laid him.”
His hand touched the hollowed-out stone bier where,
on Friday, the body of their dear one had been laid.
Their eyes followed. Could it be? Could it really be???
“GO!” His command startled them. “Tell his disciples- and Peter-
he is going ahead of all of you to Galilee- your home and his.
You will SEE HIM THERE, just as he said you would.”
The three women backed from the tomb…and then, staring at one
another with wide eyes, trembling from head to toe, they RAN.
Where, they didn’t know or care. Something had happened
which they didn’t understand and they were overcome by fear,
by awe, by the seeming impossibility of it all. And as they ran
the same words echoed again and again in their ears-
“He is not here! He is not here! He is risen!
HE IS NOT HERE!”
* * * * * * * *
On that first day of the week, the women went to visit the tomb.
For indeed, where else should they go? When that great stone
had been rolled before the entrance of the tomb, more had been
buried there than the lifeless body of Jesus, their friend,
their teacher. Lifeless and buried were the hopes and dreams
shared by all of Jesus’ followers. And buried, too, were the
uncertain faith, the shabby quarrels about greatness in the
kingdom, the impatience for results,
the betrayal and denial all buried with him,
buried so they could be forgotten in the darkness
and despair of the tomb.
And we join those early disciples in their shame and despair.
“Don’t roll the stone away,” we cry. For we fear that the light will
expose the corpse of our sinful, shameful acts…of broken vows…
of old hates and grudges…of ungrieved sorrows…of pain and
brokenness and disbelief…“So let the darkness stay,” we say,
out of fear that our hopes and dreams will come to nothing.
“Don’t roll the stone away!”
But the mysterious wisdom of God enters the scene,
and in a huge cosmic joke turns death upside down,
rolls the stone away. The resurrection, you see,
is God’s way of getting our attention…
it is God’s way of making us “listen up”…God’s way of getting us
to look, to listen, to LIVE!
For, if you think about it, there is really nothing subtle
about Easter…nothing vague or ambiguous or vain
or clever or cute about it at all.
Easter is not a morning for subtlety…not a bit!
Easter is confrontational! You’re hit in the face by it!
And so we writhe in pain as the light…
the brilliant, dazzling Easter light, the light from the empty tomb,
exposes all we had thought was safely hidden,
showing who we really are. But in that light is also forgiveness,
for it is the light of the Risen and Living Christ.
And he goes before us, calling, “Follow! Follow me,”
over his shoulder as he moves out into the world,
broadcasting his Holy Spirit, blending into the crowd of
humanity so well that if we DO choose to go after him,
we may have to search every face we meet
on the chance that it might be him.
And that, too, is the mystery of God, the mystery revealed
both in pain and death, in resurrection and life!
For where this mystery is, there is great pain- the pain of the
darkness of the tomb, of the shadow of death.
But there is also great joy, hope, & laughter…and LIFE!
Life begins, you see, really begins,
when God gets our attention…
and for many of us, it takes an unexpected holy presence
or an empty tomb…life begins when we can hear
what God has to say-in spite of our doubts and fears-
and begin to act upon it, to live it.
Our surprising and unexpected God gets our attention through
tragedy and terror, through sickness & sadness.
In and through such times, we ask questions…
we become more responsive to revelations of truth…
from our teetering place on the edge of life,
we often see more clearly the needs of others…
our hearts reach out to those in need, in pain,
because we know what pain and sorrow and fear are like…
God does not send the terror or the tragedy-
in spite of what some say-
but rather uses these events,
as God can use ALL the events of our lives,
to reach out to us, to help us grow…to become
the people we have been created to be.
From the rising of the sun each day to the waning of the moon
the next morning, God surrounds us with a myriad of subtle-
and not-so-subtle- attention-getters…
LIFE CAN ONLY BEGIN…RESURRECTION HAPPEN…
WHEN GOD GETS OUR ATTENTION-
and we can HEAR and SEE and EXPERIENCE what God has
to say to us. And that’s what the Easter Gospel means-
life begins when fear and joy, that “odd couple” of
human existence, enable us- in spite of the one and
because of the other- to get on with the serious
glorious business of life and loving.
So it was for the men and women of that first Easter…
Life began for them when they stopped being afraid…
both of what they knew and of what they did not know…
Life began for them when they could dare to believe that
the risen Christ, the living, walking, talking Christ,
made a different in their lives…
life began for them when they believed this to be true
even if they could neither explain it nor understand it!
Life begins for Easter Christians when we realize that we do not have
to die to fully LIVE! We can begin right now, right here!
Life begins when God gets your attention and
you choose to believ the amazing, incredible,
breath-taking story of New Life
coming out of the death of the old.
“Christ is risen!” means he is present with us…here, now & always…
it means that he is present in the meal we share,
in the prayers we offer, in the scripture we hear,
in the fellowship we experience…living bread, life-giving breath,
living word…It means Christ is on the loose in our world,
calling you to hope, to let go of fear…
and Easter is not about “getting it” or explaining it…
it is about EXPERIENCING it…the disbelief
Resurrection, you see, is about a God who
creates a way when there is no way…
Dear Easter Christians, on this day of days, we have gathered
to hear again the old- and fully NEW- words of hope and promise:
“HE IS NOT HERE! HE IS RISEN!”
words which tell us that Jesus has redeemed life
so that you and I can live it FULLY in the here and now…
Because Jesus lives, we too may live, with as much time
as God gives us, free from the fear of the past,
free from the fear of the future…
In the resurrection of Jesus the Christ,
God gets our attention…and tells us that in Christ,
full & abundant life is ours…
because Christ lives, so too may we!
Amen & amen