Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter sermon: Missing Person Report/Found

Grace Presbyterian Church
March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday C
Luke 24:1-12

Part 1: Missing Person Report

Resurrection isn’t normal.
We have a pretty romanticized view of biblical events, sometimes, whether intentionally or not. Hollywood probably doesn’t help, with those old biblically-based movies with swelling choruses and strings when anything even remotely dramatic happens.
The current movie Risen (in theatres now) actually does one thing well; it works against this romanticizing tendency of ours when it comes to the crucifixion and resurrection. The film’s main character, a Roman military officer charged first with keeping the body of Jesus from being stolen and then with finding it once it does disappear, doesn’t have any particular reaction at the sight of Jesus on the cross except that it would be really convenient if he would go ahead and die so they could dispose of the body. The interruption of Joseph of Arimathea to claim the body actually turns out to be a convenience. Later, when the tomb turns out to be empty after a couple of days, to him it’s mostly a headache, as he knows that Governor Pilate is going to have a panic attack and make work for him.
That of course is fiction, but the biblical account that Luke gives doesn’t seem to indicate that the disciples and other followers of Jesus caught on any better. When the women showed up at the tomb and found it empty, their initial reaction was to be perplexed. No great rejoicing, no immediate epiphany of realization, just being highly confused.
The appearance of “two men in dazzling clothes” and their pointed reminder of the things that Jesus had told them does make some difference, but we don’t really get that the women have truly grasped what is going on. They do go back and report to the eleven and the others, but Luke doesn’t give us any particular indication that the women do so with any great excitement. To their eternal discredit, the disciples are even less impressed, calling the women’s story an “idle tale.” Peter, though, is at least provoked enough to go check out the tomb and verify their report.
Sure enough, he finds the tomb as the women have described it, noting the grave clothes off in a pile by themselves. But that’s all. Peter is impressed enough to be “amazed,” but all he can come up to do is go home.
It’s one thing to be perplexed or amazed. But these reactions don’t necessarily move us or change our lives. It doesn’t necessarily move you at the core of your being.
We do celebrate the empty tomb on this day. But that’s not really the main thing we celebrate.

Grace Presbyterian Church
March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday C
Luke 24: 36-49

Part 2: Found

Later on, the followers were gathered in a room, perhaps trying to make sense of what the women and then Peter had seen. Two of their number – we aren’t told who – had headed for Emmaus that day, but before too long those two came bursting into the room and telling their own story. This one was a bit different, though.
On their way they had been joined by a stranger who, though he didn’t seem to know much about what had happened, knew an awful lot about scripture and the very things Jesus had taught them many times. When they persuaded the stranger to stay and join them for a meal, the stranger took the bread and broke it – shades of that last meal a few nights before! – this was Jesus! Though the man disappeared just a moment later, the two followers had to come back to Jerusalem and share what had happened.
And then, the ultimate – Jesus himself appears before them.
And even this doesn’t seem to convince them.
Their first reaction is to be “startled and terrified.” Fair enough; their first thought was that they were seeing a ghost. Again, we somehow imagine we would recognize everything and have all those scriptures Jesus had taught would come flooding back into our minds and we would fall down and worship or something like that.
But that’s not what happens.
He challenges them to see his hands and feet, skin and bones that a ghost wouldn’t have. Here the disciples’ reaction takes a strange turn in verse 41: “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…” Puzzle that one out: joy, but also disbelieving. They were rejoicing and yet still couldn’t believe it. Even Jesus eating a piece of fish doesn’t quite seem to lift the fog.
In that movie Risen, that Roman officer was aggravated and inconvenienced when the body turned up missing. Sure enough, Pilate gave him the task of tracking it down before that two-bit rabbi’s disciples could start claiming that he was back from the dead. He interviews a number of people who had known the missing messiah, including Mary Magdalene and one of the disciples, Bartholomew. Their claims that this Jesus fellow really was alive fell on deaf ears until, during the search, he burst into a room where the disciples were gathered, and Jesus – the same man he had seen die on that cross – was with them. From there his life was turned inside-out, his promising military career not even a thought anymore, everything and everyone he had known out of his life.
The empty tomb matters. It startles us. It is a puzzle and a challenge to our logic, it disturbs and throws us off. But it isn’t the empty tomb that undoes us. The stone rolled away and the body gone is a challenge, but it doesn’t change our lives. In Luke’s story, only the risen Christ does that.
The risen Christ. That’s what – who – we encounter on this day. That is why this day matters, why it’s worth all the bother and effort. An empty tomb is not what we follow. It is the Christ, the Son of God, the one who lived so that we would see what God wanted of us, who taught how to live and how to love and how to care for the world and one another, the one who was crucified and yet did not stay dead. It is Christ, risen and living, that is our salvation and hope.
For the Christ, risen and living, Thanks be to God. Amen.

Hymns (PH ’90): “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” (113), “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” (123)

Credit: Nobody believes nuthin'

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