On the sabbath they, the women, rested according to the commandments. Luke 23:56
Christ is Risen! Risen, Indeed Alleluia!
Let’s begin by backing up a verse in today’s Gospel – “on the sabbath they, the women, rested according to the commandments.” Before we get to Easter, it’s good to remember Friday and everything the Crucified Jesus went through that day. The Apostles’ Creed puts it most succinctly: Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. While the disciples scattered, the women stood at a distance watching the whole bloody thing and then following his body to the tomb. Afterwards, they went home, prepared burial spices and as the sun set, lit two candles and prayed, “Blessed art Thou, O God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by Thy commandments and has commanded us to kindle the Sabbath Lights.” The first candle is for the Exodus commandment where God’s people are told to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy by resting, just as God rested on the seventh day of creation. The second candle is for the Deuteronomy commandment, where God’s people are told to remember the Sabbath for it frees them from slavery.
Imagine the women engaging in this holy habit – lighting the candles and praying the sabbath prayer. It reminds them of the immensity of God at work in the world and God’s presence with them. Eugene Peterson puts it this way, “The huge catastrophe and horror and disappointment of the crucifixion were settling into a larger context of God’s world-making work and soul-making salvation during those twenty-four Sabbath hours.”[i] The sacred pattern of holy habits helps them take the next breath and the one after that, and God’s knows, maybe even enables them get some sleep, so that early on the first day of the week, they could rise and go do what needs to be done. It will be the last thing they can do for Jesus, their teacher, rabbi, friend. They plan to carefully wash his broken body, wipe away the crusted blood from his head, side, hands, feet, re-wrap the burial cloth, and place spices around him – each act full of devotion and love. But when they get to the tomb, the stone has been rolled away and there’s no body to be found.
Suddenly two men dressed in dazzling clothes appear and ask them, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” “Why? Dead bodies stay dead. Stones placed in front of tombs on Friday are still there on Sunday. Why? They’re looking for Jesus’ body because they watched hm die.” “But sisters,” the men say, “your Jesus is not here. He has risen. Don’t you remember what he told you when he was with you in Galilee – that the Son of Man would be handed over, crucified and then raised? Don’t you remember his words of promise?” Of course, they don’t remember that’s why they are there with the spices. But then slowly, “Surely, it’s not true?” changes into “Could it be true?” and then in the remembering, “It is true. That’s the power of remembering. When the promise is first given, we do not understand its depth because we have not yet experienced it. To re-member is literally to put together that which was torn apart, to re – member it – in remembering promise becomes reality.
Then the women remember the signs and wonders they experienced with Jesus. Five loaves and two feeds five thousand – a miracle that persists to this day – at our communion table, St. Peter’s daily lunches and Feast Incarnate on Tuesday. Healings experienced and hope given – another persisting miracle here at St. John’s as parents whose children died due to opioid addictions meet to grieve, remember and by grace, find hope and at the Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre in Tanzania. Our Missionary Mark Jacobson wrote to me about Mama George, who helped Linda with the Widow’s Mite. “She has had a lump in her breast for two years. Like many, she had run from western medicine to try faith healing, herbal medicines, traditional healers, and sometimes even interacted with western medicine. Finally, I convinced her to come to our cancer center. With much trepidation she came. In Tanzania, cancer is believed to always be fatal. It is a terminal diagnosis. Yet finally she came. She was cared for, received a biopsy and proper diagnosis. She agreed to surgery and chemo and radiation. This week she was in my office to thank me for giving her new life. I said, ‘Mama George, it’s not me but God who has given you this gift of new life.’” Beyond miracles, the women also remembered stories he told then that are still heard now, about lost sons welcomed home, seeds planted in good soil, and a persistent widow fighting for justice. In remembering the women experienced the first day of the new creation. Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead!
As Luke tells the story, the women immediately go and tell this wonderful news to the disciples. Note, the two dazzling men do not instruct them to do this. They don’t need to. This good news is so amazing, they have to share it. Only the eleven disciples don’t believe them and say it’s just an idle tale, nonsense, trash, drivel.
What about you this morning? Maybe you’re like the women who embrace the good news and are all-ready making up a list of people you are going to share it with. Some will receive this news as the best thing they have ever heard. It will change their lives. Others will only hear it as nonsense and might need to see resurrection alive in your life before they can trust it. Or it could be that for you today resurrection sounds like an idle tale. Or maybe you once believe, but aren’t sure anymore. If so, know you’re in good company with the other 11 disciples. Peter is curious and jumps up to run to the tomb to see for himself, but he’s doesn’t know what to make of it. He’s perplexed while the other ten simply don’t believe. Trust that just as God tried again and again with them, God will do so with you too. Or it could be there simply too much sorrow, grief and down-right evil in the world for you to believe anything at all and if there is a God, why, why, why? Know that you are in good company and that such doubt is indeed part of the life of faith for it is through cross that we are brought to resurrection. But also, you to are invited to re-member, to courageously put together that which was torn apart – whether it was a broken heart, broken mind or broken spirit. New life is for you too!
This Easter as I re-membered I thought of Easter Sunday in 1961 when I was just six years old. The Sunday began like all other Sundays for our family. My Dad made pancakes while my Mom lingered in bed. Then Mom helped Beth, Amy and I put on our fancy Easter dresses, patent leather shoes, bonnets and white gloves. For Amy keeping those gloves white her major challenge of the day. Then we piled into car, but instead of going straight to Church, my Dad dropped my mother off at Allentown hospital. My six-year-old self did not realize that she was in labor, but she was. Dad took us on to church, where we sang the Easter Alleluias! Afterwards we drove home, he made us grilled cheeses for lunch and about 2 in the afternoon, we got a phone call. My sister Laurie was born! New life, new hope, a most glorious Easter Day. Christ is Risen! Risen, indeed, Alleluia! Amen.
[i] Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life, Navpress, 2006, 41.