On this most holy day of the year we join our hearts and minds together in the spirit of prayer:
Gracious and loving God,
we have been faithful companions
as we’ve travelled together
on our journey with Jesus.
We’ve been through the wilderness
and pondered stories of faith and wisdom.
We’ve gathered with palms and acclamations
and travelled to the foot of the cross.
With followers, from an earlier time,
we’ve grieved Jesus’ suffering and death.
And here we are, gathered again,
with hope and expectation
to bear witness to the miracle of new life
and the celebration of the living Christ in our midst.
Holy One, this day and every day
may we walk in the Way of Jesus.
Anyone who has kept vigil with a loved one who is dying knows the array of emotions one feels during that experience. When the one we love takes their last breath there is both relief for the end of suffering and the peace that comes with death, and a deep and acute sadness for our own pain and loss.
The Gospel of Luke doesn’t tell us much about what the women who went to Jesus’ tomb were feeling. We know, though, from our own experiences that their emotions would have been raw and keenly felt.
On Good Friday we heard Luke tell us that when Jesus was crucified “…all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (Luke 23:49) When Jesus breathed his last breath those who had gathered to see the spectacle returned home, but the women who had travelled with Jesus and had cared for him in life, stayed with him in death. They stayed while Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to ask permission to take Jesus’ body down from the cross and carry it to a tomb. They followed Jesus in death, as they had followed him in life, and watched to see where and how his body was laid. Only then, when his body was secure and the tomb sealed with a stone, did they leave to prepare the spices and ointments they needed to prepare his body properly for burial. By the time all this had happened it was sundown on Friday and in accordance with Jewish law, the Sabbath was observed and no work was done until sundown the following night when the Sabbath ended. Women would not have gone out on their own after dark, it would not have been safe to do so in the city, so Jesus’ friends needed to wait until early Sunday morning to bring their spices and ointments to the tomb.
Early Sunday morning, in the deep twilight of early dawn, the women came to the tomb. I imagine a solemn procession of women. They would still be in a state of shock at the brutality and horror of the death of their beloved teacher and friend. Luke names Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary, the mother of James, but also mentions that other women were with them. This shocked and sorrowful group of women could not prevent Jesus’ death but they could make sure that he was lovingly and respectfully prepared for a proper burial according to their social and religious customs. It was the last offering of love and dedication they could give him – or so they thought. When they arrived at the tomb they had the shock of their lives when they discovered the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. They barely had time to process this information when they witnessed two men in dazzling clothes standing beside them. Then to their astonishment the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” (Luke24:5a-7) The women did remember and suddenly their confusion, sorrow, and terror turned to joy at the realization that Jesus had indeed risen. The power of their conviction was great and they quickly returned from the tomb and told the other apostles who dismissed their story as the wild imaginings of hysterical women. Only Peter seemed to think their story was worth investigating and he ran to the tomb and was “amazed at what had happened”. (Luke 24:12)
Luke’s account of the resurrection of Jesus is the only gospel story that doesn’t include an appearance of the risen Christ. The women are convinced of the truth of the resurrection not because they saw the risen Christ but because they remembered Jesus telling them it would be so.
Remembering is an important theme in Luke’s gospel. It is in remembering the stories, and experiences of Jesus, that his followers have a profound sense of his continuing presence with them after his crucifixion.
Whenever Jesus’ community shared a meal together after his death, they remembered and gave thanks for his life and acknowledged that he was with them still. Their remembering was not just a recollection of times spent with Jesus. It was also a re-membering; a bringing together of their members into a tighter more closely knit community of faith. Each time they shared communion together they did it in remembrance of Jesus and in recognition that his spirit of love, his passion for justice, his example of servant ministry, still inspired and empowered their actions. (Reference Luke 24:13-35, The Road to Emmaus)
Each of the gospel accounts handles the resurrection story a little differently. They all agree on the empty tomb and that at first there was confusion, doubt, and disbelief as to the authenticity of the risen Christ.
All the gospel accounts confirm that there was a renewed sense of wonder, hope, and joy at the good news of Christ’s presence with them.
Jesus’ followers who had been devastated, lost, and confused became courageous, assured, and strong in their conviction of Christ’s presence so much so that they braved adversity and persecution in order to tell the stories and live their faith in the actions of their lives. If they had not, we would not know these stories today and have the legacy of faith that we are blessed to know and share.
In their book, The Last Week, biblical scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan say that:
“Whatever we believe about the resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter morning, it is the turning point in the story of Christianity. It is why we are gathered here this morning. It is why we can say with certainty that Christ is risen and that he dwells in the heart of our community of faith, now and forever. We are Easter people who believe in new life and the power of God’s love made known to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
With this in mind I’ll close with a poem, by Peter Millar of the Iona Community, entitled, The Invitation of Easter:
And across our beautiful, evolving world
another Easter dawns,
tenderly inviting us to ponder upon wider truths
and alternative visions.
Truths of both heart and mind
that find their roots in the mystery
and practicality of God.
Basic truths illumining our often uncertain journeys –
allowing us to reconnect with the energies of Christ:
That life does come from death;
that hate is not the final word;
that the broken continue to sing with joy…
that love, with its multiple faces, remains our companion.
So Christ is risen!
Risen again in the midst of it all –
that in some amazing way
we too may be a people of hope
who walk in the light,
imbued with the Spirit.
Fire and Bread, pgs. 66-67, Wild Goose Publications, 2006
May this blessing
be our life together
as people of faith.
Thanks be to God!