Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Resurrection of Our Lord [Easter 1C] - March 27, 2016 (Luke 24:1-12)

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!”

“He is risen, indeed, Alleluia!”

Yes, that is the message of this great day, as has been repeated for centuries since that first Easter morning since the women first stumbled upon the empty tomb.

Christ is risen…unless, as it happens, you are attending worship at Acomb Parish Church in North Yorkshire, England, this year. The on-line news source The Daily Dot reports that members of that congregation ordered large banners to attract worshippers and announce the Easter message to the town without carefully proofreading the final order. Instead of having signs that proclaimed that message that was first proclaimed at the empty tomb, the news that forever changed the world, the parish ended up with large banners that say, in large red letters, “Chris is Risen.” Able to laugh at themselves, they posted the unusable signs to their Facebook page. As you can imagine, the comments they received were equally funny. One person wrote, “No need to make a song and dance about it.” A person named Chris responded, “I have risen every morning so far. I plan to continue. Thank you for your support.” And yet another commenter went with the typo theme and wrote, ‘Thank the lard.’”[1]

Chris is risen….Christ is risen…what exactly is the message of this day? What precisely did occur at that tomb outside of Jerusalem so many years ago? Are we any better about communicating and articulating what this event means, what this news involves? It’s not just Acomb Parish who has had a difficult time getting the message across. Are we surprised to learn, in fact, that the first ever Easter banner is chalked up as nothing but a verbal typo? The women—those dutiful, faithful women, discharging the dirty work of tending to the dead—show up at the tomb only to find it empty and return to tell the other disciples only to have it dismissed as nothing but an idle tale. “Surely you’ve left out a letter or something,” reply the eleven and the rest, scoffing.

"The Women at the Tomb" Il Baciccio (1685)
Women, typically treated as second-class citizens in that day and age, had actually been integral in Jesus’ ministry from the very start. Luke has told us that at least once already, earlier in his gospel. They worked alongside him and probably even served as leaders in this growing community of faith, but this bit of news is too much for anyone to grab hold of. The men do not believe their report, and you can guarantee that if there had been social media in that day and age, they would have had a heyday with what the women said. “Christ is risen? Whatever your sign is supposed to say, you’d better it re-ordered right now before people think you’re silly.”

Yes, whatever the message of today is, it’s been struggling to catch on since the start. Whether we’re drawn to its promise, intrigued, or defiantly hopeful in its gift and joy; whether we’re suspicious of it, or even downright doubtful, it’s somewhat comforting to know that people have been wondering about it since the beginning. Even Peter, fresh off his night of denying any association with his Lord, who runs right to the tomb to proofread the women’s message, does not appear to make sense of or even believe what has happened. We only hear that he is amazed.

And, to be accurate, the confusion about the resurrection’s message goes back even farther than Peter’s discovery and the women’s report. There is apparently major misunderstanding and mistaken motives right from the start, when the women first show up at the tomb. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” ask the two mysterious visitors whom the women bump into at the tomb. The original language is even a little more provocative: “Why are you seeking among the dead the one who lives? He is not here, but has risen.”

To be sure, all four gospel writers report some confusion and disorientation that first Easter morning. It’s understandable. Dead bodies are not supposed to get out and walk out of their grave. But Luke is the only one who includes this sense of “You should have known!” a sense of “Didn’t you proofread anything, women and disciples? Jesus told you it would be like this all along…that he would come to Jerusalem and suffer and be crucified at the hands of sinners and then rise on the third day?”

The news of the resurrection, then, begins with a missed up message, a misprinted banner. Christ’s followers are looking in the wrong places. And they don’t even realize what they’re looking for. Life has been promised. Suffering will be defeated. Death itself will die. This is the kind of God they believe in, the particular God who has called them into service, but they’ve continued along like none of it has ever happened or mattered.

It is God who delights in overcoming the insurmountable, the God who miraculously embraces the runaway son, who doggedly seeks out the lost sheep, who works through the compassion of a despised Samaritan. It is the God who whips up dinner for five thousand with a handful of ingredients, the God who arrives for dinner at the tax-collector’s house, the God who restores the leper, long invisible, to his community, the God who began this journey of overturning the power of death in, of all places, a manger! Such a long track record he has, ladies! And gentlemen! Things would be no different with that cross. Now tell me again, “Why do you seek among the dead the one who lives???”

And that’s right where I think all of us can jump right in this morning. My fear is not that we get the message wrong, that the words are misspelled or misplaced on the resurrection banners we wave with our lives, that we misrepresent what this day means. My fear is that we’re so surrounded by death today that we forget to look for the God who lives. There are a lot of things about culture, about world events, about the direction of things in these times in which people feel don’t have a future. We see so much decay and degeneration that it’s all we begin to look for. It’s all our eyes are trained to see, all our hearts are trained to trust. But God specializes in living! The God who has formed and made each of us has a long track record of surprising with mercy, with love, with life.

Last week an amateur metal-detectorist in Denmark got off work early and decided to go looking for treasure, as was his hobby. Lo and behold, he ended up unearthing a gold crucifix dating back to the tenth century, startling and amazing archaeologists and causing the historians to re-write the history books, all of whom had no idea that Christianity had arrived in Denmark that early. Says Dennis Holm, who made the discovery, “[Ever] since I cleared the mud and found the jewelry, I have not been able to think of anything else.”[2]

Sisters and brothers, believe it or not, some people are still looking amidst the terrorism, amidst the hospitalization, amidst the fear in their hearts, wanting to believe there is a God who can clear away the mud of this messy world and bring about the living from among the dead. It may seem like an idle tale, but it will forever change the way they think. And you, shiny treasures of gold, have gotten the message, despite the obstacles of understanding: “He is not here. He is risen. Remember how he told you?”

So…figure out a way to say it, to be amazed by it.

Make your sign and live it.

With the Spirit’s help, you can. You will.

Christ is risen! Absolutely appropriate to go ahead and make a song and dance about it. Thank the lard.

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

[1] “Easter Church Banner Declares that ‘Chris is Risen.’” The Daily Dot. Gabe Bergado.
[2] “Ancient Crucifix discovered by amateur treasure hunter” in Christianity Today. Florence Taylor, March 18, 2016

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