Our experience tells us that death is the end, and though we proclaim the resurrection of Christ, we too often live in fear as if it was not true; our risen Lord comes to us, alive, and tells us we need never be afraid, for he has come to bring life to the whole world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, The Resurrection of Our Lord C; texts: Luke 24:1-12; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Isaiah 65:17-25
Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It’s time we gave these disciples a little slack. The men, anyway, since they’re the ones who are struggling to believe here, and since we sometimes can be a little hard on the male disciples, when compared to the faith and actions of their female companions. The women go to Jesus’ tomb early Sunday morning, to finish the burial rites. And they find the tomb open, and glowing beings dressed in white tell them that Jesus is alive, just as he said he would be. But when they run back to tell the other disciples, they run into disbelief. Or at least skepticism. Luke says, “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Now Luke and John both record that Peter (and another, according to John), think enough of it to run to the tomb and see for themselves. But their first reaction is clear: this can’t be true.
From our perspective, we can tend to be critical of the disciples throughout this week. How could they betray Jesus? Run away from Jesus? And why didn’t they remember that when he predicted he would die, he also told them he would rise again after three days?
But we’re no different from these folks. We live and operate in life on the basis of our experience. We interpret the actions and understand the words of others based on how we think and how we are, what we have experienced, how we feel. We tend to doubt things that we haven’t seen or heard ourselves, or have been told by someone we trust that they saw or heard it. And if there’s anything our experience tells us about death, it is that death is the end. It’s permanent. And everything changes.
We’ve all experienced this. We know this. When people we love die, they’re no longer with us, at our table, in our living room, walking in the sun, having conversations. We don’t see them again. This we know. And so did those disciples. Of course they thought it was an idle tale, imagination, wishful thinking. And of course they didn’t hear it when Jesus said he would rise again: once he told them he was going to suffer and be killed, that’s all they could hear. The rest just slid past their ears. That’s how we are.
So for us, like those disciples, it really is the same. We know reality. We know that death is the end. And then we gather here today and are told something completely different. We’re told that there is one, the One whom we call Lord and Master, Jesus, who has broken through the end wall, who has broken the power of death.
And the question for us is also the same as for those who first heard the women: do we think this is an idle tale, wishful speculation? Or do we believe that everything is changed, and live our lives accordingly?
You see, either way, however we believe it will affect how we live our lives.
If we live with the understanding, the belief, the certainty, that death is the end, we will live in fear. And that’s exactly our problem. Whatever we proclaim about Easter, whatever we say we believe about the resurrection, too often we act as if we don’t believe it. We act and live as if death is the end. As if the worst thing that can happen to us is death.
And so we live in fear.
We make our personal decisions too often out of fear: fear we won’t have enough money. Fear we haven’t planned enough for our future, fear we don’t have enough insurance. Fear we might lose our jobs. Fear our families won’t be safe. Fear we are going to get sick.
We make our decisions as the Church too often out of fear: fear of the other, the one different from us. Fear that there won’t be enough money, enough resources. Fear of the culture, fear of other faiths.
We make political decisions too often out of fear: fear of terrorists. Fear of other enemies. Fear of the other, those different from us. Fear of an election. Fear of the future, fear of the unknown.
It’s hard to find an area of our lives where fear of death, fear of loss, doesn’t shape our decisions and our actions. Even in personal relationships, we can hold back from others out of fear of being vulnerable with them.
And that’s what we want to avoid above all, being vulnerable, that is, being “able to be wounded.” We know we are vulnerable. We can be wounded in so many ways by so many things. And death always stands at the back of everything.
And when someone speaks out of hope, speaks without fear, speaks of the possibilities of trusting in God and stepping out in life, there’s a part of us that hesitates. A part of us that wants to be “realistic,” which often comes off as cynical. Isn’t it cute that this person actually believes that God is working life in a world of death?
Because we think it isn’t true to “reality,” to the world as it is, the world as we’ve made it, the world that has the ability to wound us, and eventually kill us, we tend either to discount such faith as naïve or idealistic, or build walls around our hearts so that we don’t dare hope in God and then be disappointed. Because, we say to ourselves, we know how the real world works. We understand reality.
But this is what we cannot escape today: the idea of “reality” for these disciples was completely taken apart by the risen Jesus.
Whatever we say about the early Church, its core reality was forever altered on this day. Everything they thought true about how the world is was shattered by the real presence of their beloved Lord Jesus in their midst.
Not an hallucination. Not a wish-fulfillment. Not even some non-specific sense that he “lived on in their hearts.” He was there: physically tangible (“able to be touched”), able to eat, able to embrace.
He was alive. And just as the reality is that death changes everything for us, this reality, that Jesus who had died was now alive before them, changed everything once again. This is now a new creation, they realized, a new heaven and a new earth: the prophet Isaiah was right about this (in those words we also heard today). This is now a world where death is no longer the end reality, they realized.
What we face this Easter morning because of this is a complete redefinition of “reality.” Because it’s not what we thought. Reality is that we are no longer faced with death as the end. It has no ultimate power over us.
Reality is that being wounded, being vulnerable, is not a bad thing. It’s a way to life because our God is vulnerable and was wounded for us and now lives and heals. And only by being open to being wounded can we be open to being loved.
Reality is that there is nothing that can ultimately harm us. So we can begin to live without fear.
There is an ancient prayer for peace which we pray at every Vespers liturgy. And one of the things we pray for is that we “might be defended from the fear of our enemies.”
That’s the wisdom of God’s reality, the only reality that matters, as it turns out. That we might still have enemies, and we might not always be defended from them. They might even kill us.
But that we can and will be defended from our fear of them. Our fear of others. Our fear of the unknown. Our fear of loss. Our fear of death. Which Paul promises us is the last enemy to be destroyed. That is the way to peace, this prayer understands for us.
So the first thing the risen Jesus will do when he appears in the Upper Room to these very disciples on that first Sunday night – our story next week – is to give them the gift of peace.
This, then, is our peace: there is no need to be afraid.
Paul says today that if we hope in Christ only for this life we are to be pitied.
The challenge we have today is to live as if we believe what this day is all about. As if the hope in Jesus’ resurrection isn’t an idle tale. But that it is hope in a new reality, God’s reality, where the wounded and crucified Lord of Life now lives, and nothing will ever be the same. A reality where we need not be afraid. Ever.
From this moment, this day, this experience of the new reality God had made in Jesus, all the disciples went out without fear and changed the world through the power of God’s Spirit. Believing changed the way they saw the world, saw reality, and changed how they went out into it as disciples and what they believed and expected God could do with it.
Somehow, I think Jesus is hoping we do the same.
In the name of Jesus. Amen