Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! At this the heavenly choirs of angels rejoice, the earth exults, and the church is glad!
But that’s not where we begin today, is it?
We begin in verse 1 of Luke 24 with the conjunction “but” which is used, of course, to connect us to what came before. And what came before was the horrible reality of death, torture, injustice, political manipulation and gamesmanship, false accusations, the betrayal of our Lord by one of his closest and most trusted friends.
Jesus is dead. Nothing is more certain than that as Luke pens that little word: But. His death was witnessed and attested to by a Roman centurion. His burial was hastily handled by a member of the Jewish council
Who had not agreed with their unjust decision to torture and kill this innocent man, Jesus.
The women watched.
- They watched him die
- They watched how his body was laid
- They knew where the tomb was
And the women prepared spices and ointments, but they couldn’t fully attend to the corpse of their beloved Jesus, because that would be work and it was Sabbath. And so they couldn’t do it. They had to rest according to the commandment.
Spices and ointments. When you heard that today, did you flash back as I did to that reading from a couple weeks ago? To Mary, Lazarus’ sister, anointing Jesus’ feet with her costly perfume made of pure nard? To the possibility that she was trying to overcome the stench of death – a stench she knew too well from the death of her own brother just weeks before when Jesus had left him in the tomb for 4 days before coming to raise him from the dead?
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians: If we’ve only hoped in Christ for this life alone, we are to be pitied most of all
- Because this life is short
- This life is fragile
- This life is fleeting
- This life ends in death for everyone. There’s no escaping that most harsh reality.
That’s where the women are at the start of our Gospel text on this Easter morning. They are most to be pitied. They are coming to do their best to cover and to mask the stench of death with the spices and ointments they prepared. They are coming to a place of death, and sorrow, and loss, and pity, and disappointment, and confusion, and uncertainty about the future and about everything they had come to believe about this Jesus…
“But on the first day of the week…” There’s that powerful little word – “But”
“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied, but in fact…” Paul writes. And there’s that powerful little word again! Who knew that there could be such power in such a little word? “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died!” “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb!”
Oh Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! At this the heavenly choirs of angels rejoice, the earth exults, and the church is glad!
The women had their expectations of what they were about to see, what they were about to experience, but God had something else in the works!…
At first the women are perplexed, uncertain. They don’t know what’s happened to Jesus’ body, when suddenly they’re not alone. Two men in dazzling white clothing are there with them, and the women are terrified! “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they ask. Well, but they weren’t looking for the living. They were looking for the dead and buried body of their friend who they watched die! “He’s not here, but has risen.” the men continue, “Remember how he told you all this while he was still in Galilee.” I love that that isn’t a question. The men aren’t asking: “Don’t you remember?” No. They tell the women: “Remember!” and the next thing Luke writes is: “Then they remembered his words…” And once they remember, they do the only thing that makes sense. They go and tell the others, the eleven and all the rest who are with them. Only, the others don’t believe them. They think it’s all an idle tale…
Well, there’s no surprise there. Women were not trusted in those days, and why would anyone believe such a tale? Dead people don’t get up. We all know it! Only, they had seen Jesus raise Lazarus, and the widow’s son, and Jairus’ daughter. Peter’s intrigued enough to run to the tomb and to check it out for himself, but he just returns home amazed, or as the Greek actually says, “wondering about what had happened.” They had seen the evidence of Jesus’ power over life and death. They had heard his predictions about his impending death and resurrection, but they couldn’t get past the reality and finality of death, and no story from a small group of women was going to change that. Women, after all, were not considered reliable witnesses.
But then, God had already shown, at the birth of Jesus, that God doesn’t care so much about our opinion of who makes a good witness or a bad witness. After all, God called shepherds to be the first witnesses to the birth of Jesus, and shepherds were so mistrusted that they couldn’t even testify legally in a court of law. But God’s not concerned with that, and it’s a good thing too.
- God calls shepherds to be witnesses at the birth of Jesus
- God calls women to be witnesses at the resurrection of Jesus
- And, guess what? God calls us to be witnesses here and now, even as Peter says in our first reading today: “He commanded us to preach to the people, to testify that Jesus is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.”
And that call comes down to us as God’s people today!
God calls us to tell the story, to remember what he told us, to believe and to proclaim, whether people receive our witness or think it’s all just an idle tale simply doesn’t matter.
- God calls us to proclaim the great good news, the best news of all, the news that changes everything forever!
- God calls us to announce to all the world that Christ Jesus who was dead and buried is alive, raised up from death by God’s love and power as the first fruits of those who have died!
- God calls us to announce to all the world that by his dying and rising Jesus has conquered death once and for all!
- God calls us to announce to all the world that he is the first fruits of those who have died, meaning, we, and all of our beloved dead as well, will also be raised to new and everlasting life in him!
This is the great good news of Easter, the great good news that we announce together as we shout out the Easter proclamation: Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!