"Reported," Pastor Fred
The long awaited ‘report’ was released with great anticipation. Some found it to be empty. Others terrifying. Still others couldn’t be bothered, and called it an ‘idle tale.’ One changed his mind, circled back and took another look inside.
The redacted Mueller report was released this past week, and it had as many different responses and reactions, as the report of the resurrection by the followers of Jesus, on Easter morning!
But I suspect you didn’t come here this morning to hear more about the Mueller Report! ‘God knows,’ we all need a break from that!
But the many, and various responses to the empty tomb, even in this short gospel account are notable: the confusion and consternation, and then fear, that the women had – who were the first witnesses at the tomb. And then there is the ‘casual prejudice’ of the 12 male apostles, in their dismissal of the report, from Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women, as ‘an idle tale.’ And finally, the second thoughts of Peter, who ran to the tomb to see for himself, and was amazed! Such a wide range of emotions.
It is, not unusual, that any of us, then or now, should have so many, and various reactions, to what Easter means! What we understand the message, of ‘the two men in dazzling clothes,’ means for us, is normal. It’s the way it is, anytime we receive jarring news and share important events.
What we’re going through as a country, is not normal, in terms of the constant negative news and threats to our Constitutional way of life. What the women and men disciples of Jesus went through, was also, not normal. Yet it was also different, when some weeks later, as they processed this news, after the celebration of Pentecost on the 50th day, they came to understand it as, very ‘good news.’ And the Good News of the gospel message, was that God, in Jesus, had offered a rescue to us, personally and collectively. Offered an opportunity to reach for, and match, our most noble desires in life, to live in unity and equity, to realize a new way of infusing peace and justice into our lives and world – through the courageous faith of Jesus the Christ.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
When I lived in rural Upper Michigan, when I was first a pastor, one of our churches was in a small town called Amasa, a community where, ‘everybody knew everybody.’ The town was on one side of Highway 141, and on the other side was their cemetery. But that too, was a little community, and an extension of the town!
On every All Saints Day, while we were there, we started a tradition of carrying votive candles into the cemetery after dark, to place on grave stones of their loved ones. So many memories! So many stories! It was a whole village of people they knew. Aunts and uncles, mothers, fathers and grandparents, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, and even children. The cemetery was full of memories, that were sparked by the names and dates etched in the tomb stones that marked where they had been laid to rest, and filled the lives of our Amasa congregation, almost as full, as the new memories they continued to make.
The women were perplexed, the Gospel of Luke says, when they entered the rock hewn tomb, dark, save for the early morning light trickling in through the low cut door. We can imagine their confusion – what to do with all those spices they had carefully, and mournfully, prepared the day before?!
But what made them ‘terrified,’ and ‘bow their faces to the ground,’ was the sudden apparition of two men in dazzling clothes! When these angels suddenly appear, their puzzlement is interrupted, and they’re understandably fearful! Who wouldn’t be!?!
But it’s their message, that packs the punch, jarring them from their grief. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” …a question which is both, a challenge and a promise – rhetorical and a motivator.
“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.” And like a cemetery full of family headstones, that’s the moment, and the words, that trips their memories, there in the rock-hewn tomb. And just as suddenly as the messengers had intruded, the women witnesses are struggling mightily only with their memories! They remembered his words. They remember, more than once, that Jesus had predicted this. Though no one – the women or the men – could much figure it out what it meant, on that day of resurrection.
Certainly, the first part had come to pass just in the last three days. Judas handed Jesus over to sinful, corrupt, authorities. Jesus went through a mock trial, without transparency or justice and was sentenced to death, by hanging on a cross. But what did they mean by, “He is not here, but has risen?”
So they kept remembering, ‘how he had told them,’ which began to spark more and more transforming memories. There in the tomb, the incredible journey they had taken with Jesus, flashed before their eyes, no less real than the shock they felt looking out from the darkness into the light, from death to life. And each memory was a new spark of hope for them. Which in turn, began their new journey, as they returned from the tomb to tell the perplexing Good News to “the eleven and to all the rest.”
Jesus’ tomb on Golgotha, a rocky hill just outside of Jerusalem’s wall, still sparks memories for the many pilgrims on their own journey’s, to this day. Whether in Jerusalem, or any worship place, we bring candles in honor of – not just in memory of – the risen one.
Here in our neighborhood in Chicago, in this, and many other parishes and congregations, we continue to hold out hope for the world, for our lives, and for our future, because of this Easter Good News. We know the analysis of the reports and daily cyber-news, aimed at us like daggers, don’t feel life-giving – which is why we always turn back to the Good News from messengers, like Luke and John, Matthew and Mark, the gospel writers.
There we find hope for Edgewater and Uptown, for Hyde Park and Englewood, for Pilsen and Humbolt Park. Chicago neighborhoods and block clubs, are much like small towns, where we have a chance to know our neighbors and share our memories and hopes.
Jesus’ strategy had always been to form new cells of believers. He created the first followers, 12 men and many women disciples. And they spread the word, the good news, to create new siblings in Christ, local cells of believers everywhere.
Jesus is living! He is not among the dead, any longer. He leads us, one neighborhood, one block, one believer at a time. And like Peter, who reconsidered, and ran to the tomb to check it out for himself – if we give it a chance, risk stepping out of our comfort zone, and check out the message of Good News, if we live life faithfully, seeking justice and peace, loving one another as Jesus loved us – who loved us to the very end – we begin to realize that God, has found us – has conquered our fears, even of the grave – and together, by courage, we also lead others into new life.
Remember how he told you, that he must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again! Remember.
Alleluia, Christ is risen!