A sermon, based on Luke 24.1-12, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on Easter Day, April 21, 2019
In today’s gospel, there is one detail, which, for me, at first glance, appears odd and out of place for Easter Day: The words (of the women) seemed to (the disciples) an idle tale, and they did not believe…Peter got up and ran to the tomb…looking in, he saw the linen cloths…(and was) amazed at what had happened.
“Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women” shared the news of Jesus’ resurrection (thus, becoming the first evangelists!). However, his disciples, the male disciples didn’t believe. Peter was amazed only that the tomb was empty. The women only had to be told, albeit supernaturally by angels. The men, later, had to see Jesus before they believed.(1)
(That the male disciples had to see to believe may say something about gender-specific spiritual acuity, but that is the subject of another sermon!)
Now, we weren’t there. We didn’t hear and see what they heard and saw. Nevertheless, our belief in this story is important.
By “belief,” I don’t mean what this story says about Jesus. That, though he was crucified, dead and buried, he was raised from the dead. That he is the Christ, the Messiah, God’s anointed one; the only Son of God by whose resurrection we have eternal life.
Yes, all this is the heart of Christianity, without which there is no Christianity, therefore, of utmost importance. Yet this is not my focus today. Rather by “belief,” I mean what this story might say to us about us.
I hear and see two things.
First, death may not be only at the end of this life when our flesh returns to dust. Death can be now. There are tombs in which the living can dwell, bound and burdened, tied up and tied down. And, here, I confess, that I am talking about my experience with and of me. Whether any of this speaks to and for you, only you can say, but I dare to believe that the following examples I offer of what I call “living death” are universal to our human existence…
Past failures over which we brood when they often unbidden come to mind…
Rote repetitions of old behaviors, which make past failures ever new…
Memories of poor, uninformed and impulsive choices…
Masks, false faces of all-sufficient, omni-competence that camouflage from the world and ourselves our ever-present neediness…
Resentments about hurt and harm done to us by others that strangle our capacity for kindness and render impotent any impulse of forgiveness.
Anything and everything that makes our daily experience of living like dying, these are the tombs, our tombs of the living dead.
Do we, dare we believe this?
If so, then, secondly, the Easter story declares to us that there can be new life. New life that begins when we, believing the women’s proclamation that there is resurrection from the dead, take a step to stand outside of our tombs. So, to do something different, to be someone different than those who dwell in the past, trapped, tied up and tied down in the tombs of yesterday.
There can be new life. Do we, dare we believe this enough to dare to do, to be different?
If so, then we understand the irony of the angelic inquiry, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
And if so, then, even more, we understand the meaning of the Easter proclamation, “Alleluia! Christ is risen” for we will know how to say, “We are risen, indeed! Alleluia!”
(1) See Luke 24.13-43