Easter, March 27, 2016
On our recent trip to the Holy Land, I learned something interesting about the tomb of Jesus. There are two possible locations. One is the more traditional and likely location: there in the church of the Holy Sepulcher… where you also find the rock where Jesus died on the cross. Not far from there pilgrims climb down to the tomb. We didn’t go there because the line was 1.5 hours long… and we made other choices. As he explained our choices, He said if we went down there, we’d see a tomb… and a sign that said, “He is not here…”
A couple of days later we visited the other possible site for the death and resurrection of Jesus… called the Garden Tomb… It felt more like the place we imagine in our minds… gardens… a rock on a hill with a face of a skull… and then the tomb… carved out of rock. As we were heading from the place of the cross to the place of the tomb (just a stone’s throw away)… I whispered to my friend Ed… “I bet the sign over the tomb here says, “He is not here either!” And he wasn’t.
He wasn’t there the first Easter either. The women discovered this to their dismay. They had come to the tomb expecting to find a dead body, they had come to give their friend a proper burial.
Arriving, the last thing they expected was to find an empty tomb. So I am not surprised at all that Mark says they were alarmed… (in Greek the word is distraught)
Wouldn’t you be if you went to the cemetery two days after a funeral to place flowers on the grave, only to find the an open and empty casket?—
So shocking this was for the women, that even the voice of the young man saying, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified (over there), He has been raised. He is not here”—that was not enough to inspire belief…to chase away their fears.
Words were not enough. They needed more… maybe some of you feel that way this morning.
Of course, maybe it would have been helpful if that angelic heavenly host that showed up for the birth of Jesus (remember singing Glory to God)… It would have been nice if the old band of angels had gotten together for a reunion to sing one of our Easter songs… “Jesus Christ is Risen today!” That would have helped.
But that’s not what happens. What happens is distraught women running away from the tomb in fear and terror… not faith and joy. But you can hardly blame them.
Easter has not dawned on them yet.
It’s a surprising ending… As one person wrote: “We always assume that the reaction of the disciples on Easter morning was, “Oh boy!” when in reality it was probably a bit more like, “Oh no!” [The mood of Easter morning is fear, not faith…]Just read the resurrection accounts in the gospels and it is not difficult to detect. The disciples had gone into hiding for fear of the temple authorities, for fear of the Romans, for fear that what happened to Jesus might happen to them. They were ready to go back to fishing, because to go on without Jesus to guide and teach them, life was a scary proposition.” (Jon Walton, Practicing Resurrection)
And now the women who came in fear… run in fear… they needed more than an empty tomb and the words of a young man sitting in the tomb to calm their fears and reignite their faith.
That would come later. Belief does not come in the morning… but later…
Hans Kung a Catholic theologian said,
“We celebrate Easter at sunrise, and well we should, but truthfully belief did not come for the disciples at dawn. It came at dusk—later. Belief came not at the tomb, but at the table and along the road to Emmaus (among confused and grieving disciples) and only as they returned to Galilee…”
Which, as you may remember, is what that young man told them would happen… at least as I read it… He told them, You will find him… but not here… “Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee…there you will see him, just as he told you!”
So if you want to know where to find Jesus, Mark is trying to tell you:
He’s not in the tomb… but already out ahead of us… He’s going to Galilee. Go there and you will find him.
And what is Galilee for Mark? It’s home. Simply put, Jesus is going home… It’s where they live, have families, work and play. It’s the daily routine. It’s where they first met Jesus… and called them to be disciples. It’s back to the beginning. Where they first met him and learned from him…and followed him…That’s Galilee.
That’s where the risen Lord promises to meet them… and where he promises to meet us… So don’t go reaching for your travel guide… don’t go booking a trip to the Holy Land… because Galilee today is now a metaphor… that Jesus is ready to meet us where we live… now. Especially as we follow him.
I wonder if we understand that. I mean really understand that. Or do we think of Easter as a point in time… an event that happened a long, long time ago in 33AD… I wonder if we really understand that Easter is also a present reality… we can still meet Jesus… who through the power of the Holy Spirit is very much alive and very much with us… ready to meet us in our Galilees… today.
A few weeks ago, there was a presenter, Sarah, at our Presbytery meeting who made quite an impression. She was there to offer a presentation on conflict resolution. What we got was a testimony of faith leading us to the source of our hope. Her main point was this: Jesus is with us… now today…and yet we fail to grasp that reality…
In American culture we tend to talk about Jesus being in our hearts… but the reality is this: Jesus is in the room with us… right now. In places of conflict, Jesus is already there… working and praying for peace and reconciliation, that’s why we can hope… We have an opportunity to participate in his work if we choose… but let’s be clear… Jesus is here… now.
He tried to tell us as much. So when you ask, “Where is he?” Remember what that young man told the women: you’ll find him in Galilee.
Next time you wonder, “Where is he?” Remember he told us again and again where we would find him… it’s not a secret- he is with us- at home, at school, at work, in the hospital at the birth of a baby and in hospice at the end of life… sharing our joys and bearing our sorrows…
I don’t know why we are surprised… that’s where he said he would be!
Do you remember how he told his disciples: “wherever two or three are gathered, there am I in their midst?” So if I want to find Jesus, I seek out Christian community as imperfect as we are… Christian faith has never been a private affair. Show me anywhere in Scripture where faith is private… even Jesus didn’t go it alone.. so why do so many Christians think they can make it alone? Jesus promises to be present wherever the Christian community is present… loving God, loving one another, praying, serving, caring… Which means he is in every worship service and small group and gathering… he is even in every committee meeting… every Session meeting… every gathering of people over a hospital bed… every prayer group… He is there… already there… whether or not you sense him…
“Where is he? Do you remember his last words in Matthew’s gospel to the disciples were these: “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them…Remember, I am with you until the end of time” He will never leave us. He is with us as we go in his name.
Where is he? He told us where he would be! In John’s gospel, as Jesus was saying goodbye, he told them this:“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live”… and he said he would be with us through the presence of the Spirit.
Where is Jesus? Do you know what I believe… and I believe this with my whole heart, soul, mind and strength: He is right here… right now… doing what he always did comforting those who grieve, healing body and if not body, then spirit… Jesus is here… trying to be a peacemaker… forgiving us for the many ways we all fail him… forgiving his church for making a mess of things so often… asking us to forgive one another as he has forgiven us… welcoming sinners… sending us to reach out in his name…
Last Sunday I saw Jesus… on Palm Sunday… neighborhood kids singing with Kirk kids… latino friends joining us for worship and fellowship… I saw Jesus there… I think I saw him smile!
Where is Jesus? I have found him often in the transformed lives of disciples then and now… whose lives have made the long trip from fear to faith… from asking what God can do for us… and beginning to ask what we can do for God… When I look for Jesus, I find him there… I find him here at the Kirk… in the lives of you who commit yourselves to a life of prayer, Bible study, worship and service… who seek first God’s kingdom and not our own… Who give up ego and pride for a life of humility and service… I meet Jesus in disciples who show in their lives that their first loyalty is to Jesus Christ above other loyalties.
I see it in the lives of those who were once fearful… but for whom the resurrection of Jesus Christ has transformed their lives.William Sloan Coffin said that when we come to the actual Easter event, it is important to emphasize that Easter is more than the story of one person’s escape from the grave.He says, “Too often Easter comes across very sentimentally, like a dessert wafer- airy and sweet. But there’s nothing sentimental about Easter. Easter represents a demand as well as a promise, a demand not that we sympathize with the crucified Christ, but that we pledge our loyalty to the risen one. That means an end to all loyalties, to all people, and all institutions that crucify. (He said) I don’t see how you can proclaim allegiance to the Risen Lord and then allow life once again to lull you to sleep, to smother you in convention, to choke you with success… True loyalty to the Risen Lord is surely that displayed by Peter, (who at first failed Jesus’ miserably… and went only so far in following Jesus before he died)… Peter who … (after resurrection); who became 10 times the person he was before Jesus’ death…“
Folks, over the years people have been transformed by their experience and faith that Jesus Christ is Risen… alive and well… among them then as he is among us even now… ready to resurrect us from our fears and whatever we are facing…
That must have been what happened to Stuart… who was a member of a friend’s church… She had been active in her church for 48 years… loved the people…the music… the worship… She was diagnosed with cancer and her husband Bill was caring for her. Towards the end, when she couldn’t attend church, she asked Bill to go to coffee hour and get the scoop on everyone… pick up a copy of the sermon… then, last Palm Sunday in 2015, she, as her pastor said, “slipped out of our arms into the everlasting arms of the one who first breathed in her the breath of life” It was her obituary (she wrote herself) that revealed how faith had sustained her… revealing that Jesus was with her to the end… a companion in life and in death. It was in the first line, that revealed this, where Stuart had chosen the phrase about the cause of her death, the words, “after a seven year journey with cancer,” not “fight” or “battle” or “struggle” but “journey” she said of those past seven years. Only someone who knows that they come from God and are going to God could describe their life with cancer as a “journey”… only those who believe that (Jesus who said he was the resurrection and the life) the living Christ is with them now… can face death in such a way. (illustration from Jon Walton)
How courageously, how faithfully she lived each day of this journey, this life, in the presence of the living Christ who sustained her. Not only in her living but in her dying she revealed the presence of the one who longs to be known to us all… ready to conquer our fears and offer us faith so we can face whatever life brings.
I don’t know about you… that’s the way I would like to go through life, so that when the terror and fear seize me… I can trust in the God… who raised Jesus from the dead… who conquered death for all of us… I can trust that Christ is with us here and now… ready to believe the witness of the angel at the tomb on Easter morning long ago: “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, he has been raised. He is not here. (Where is he?) … go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him. Just as he told you”
Receive this good news as a gift of God to you this day… Christ is here… now… That the Lord is Risen! He is risen indeed! Here now… waiting, just waiting for you to join him. Amen.