Easter C: Courage & Faith

Readings:

Sermon:

At the end of the day, Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, King of the Jews, Saviour of the world, was crucified, died, and was laid in a tomb.

And I found myself thinking about grief and the many and various ways people go about grieving and coming to term with the loss of a loved one. This year, I find myself particularly curious about what all the disciples did after Jesus dies.

I am often inquisitive, respectfully – mind you, at what people do after their loved one dies. Most people are sad and cry at first, and then other patterns of behaviour emerge. Some people sit silently in one place, numbly processing, trying to make sense of it all. Some people immediately get to work on all the things that need doing, cleaning, sorting, organizing – busying hands processing the loss. Some people want to talk about the person and keep their life and vitality present by sharing stories – words that help soothe and process. Still others weep for only a little while then look for solace and comfort in the usual daily routines.

There are a number of activities associated with coming to terms with the grief and loss of a loved one. All of them seem to help us move through grief.

This Easter it was especially curious to me that we don’t really know what the disciples do immediately after Jesus dies.

Chapter 19 of the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus died and was entombed on the Preparation Day. This is the day before the Sabbath. It was important to the Jewish leaders that Jesus’ body not remain on the cross into the next day because it was the Sabbath and no one would be working.

The first full day of mourning was the Sabbath.

The 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Luke tells us specifically that “They rested on the Sabbath, in keeping with the commandment.” (Luke 23:56b)

I like this. Because it means, quite simply, that the disciples of Jesus, worshipped God. “Although it may have seemed as though God was absent … or silent … or didn’t care about what had just happened, they still turned to God in worship, perhaps with the hope and anticipation that God was not absent but very present, as Jesus himself claimed while on the cross.”[1] They kept their eyes on God, maybe even hoping for some sign to help them make sense of it all.

Early in the morning, on the first day of the week, the day immediately after the Sabbath time, Mary comes to the garden alone and discovers the empty tomb. Her immediate reaction is to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple.

One of the things I love the most about the resurrection story is that no one expects it. Even though Jesus tells them that he must die and rise again, multiple times, no one expects it to actually happen.

And so, Mary tells the disciples that some unknown “they” have taken the Lord, and she doesn’t know where he is. They looked into the tomb and saw the linen clothes, even went in and get a greater look at the neatly folded and placed linen.

They saw. And believed – but did not understand. And they went back to the place where they were staying.

No one happens upon this empty tomb and breaks out into praise of God, shouting Hallelujah, or dancing with glee, exclaiming “he did it!” – Jesus actually did the unthinkable and overcame death. “To believe in the resurrection of Jesus takes a lot of faith and courage.”[2]

The disciples returned to the place where they were staying. Not understanding, with a number of questions and maybe even doubts perhaps, but I would say full of faith, a rather essential ingredient to hoping and believing in the resurrection as truth.

And then our attention is brought back to Mary as she stood by the tomb and cried. When she took a peek into the tomb she sees two angels in white, sitting where she knows Jesus body ought to be.

I don’t know about you, but I would begin to question my sanity. You note that Jesus is not there, you tell the disciples, who come and look for themselves, and then leave. Did they say anything to Mary before they left? Did they even look at her?

Despite my questions, the story moves onward as the angels ask a question of their own. Woman, why are you crying?

Mary appears distraught as she repeats her original statement, sort of: They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.

I think that Mary’s deep grief helps make this loss more personal. When she was telling the disciples about what she had discovered, she says that the Lord has been taken from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him. This time, Mary claims her grief and confusion. The Lord has been taken away from her, and she doesn’t know where he is.

It may be a simple grammatical change, but, for some reason, it helps me understand her grieving – and connects me a little more with the story.

To believe the resurrection takes great courage and faith. And Mary shows courage in speaking about her own feelings of loss.

And immediately something makes her turn around to come face to face with Jesus. Unrecognized.

Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?

Mary’s devotion to finding Jesus and to get him is incredible. Her dedication to tracking down the lost Lord is remarkable. Mary is remarkable to me because of her dedication to Jesus’ body and because of what happens after her encounter with the at-first unrecognized Jesus.

She preaches the shortest evangelical sermon ever!

Full of faith and courage, Mary exclaims: “I have seen the Lord!”

The truth of the resurrection is not that Christ is risen. The truth of resurrection is that Christ is seen.

I don’t think that resurrection is an idea, a belief, or a concept: something quantified and rationally explained.

I believe that resurrection simply is. I believe that resurrection is experienced. I believe that resurrection is a truth that we are all called to witness to and to point to. Perhaps as Mary experienced it, perhaps in many other ways.

To believe the resurrection of Christ takes great courage and faith. But it doesn’t have to be this incredible, grandiose, experience to beat all experiences kind of thing.

In the new red hymnals we have there is a service called Morning Prayer. In that service is a prayer that reminds us that we are a people of the resurrection. Here are two parts of it that speak to the truth of resurrection:

Mighty God of mercy, we thank you for the resurrection dawn, bringing the glory of our risen Lord who makes every morning new.

Merciful God of might, renew this weary world, heal the hurts of all your children, and bring about your peace for all in Christ Jesus, the living Lord.

To proclaim that we have seen the Lord is to be evangelical: to point out resurrection in the middle of real life. To be resurrection people means pointing to hope in the midst of darkness; to speak love in the face of hatred; to celebrate signs of new life in the midst of death; to allow for the wonder of God’s action in the midst of our human lives. This is what Easter is all about.

To hope and trust that God is doing incredible things, however unrecognized and never truly understood, in bringing each of us to new life in water, word, bread and wine.

Today is the day that we celebrate the joy of resurrection at Easter, but it is also a Sunday. And, like all Sundays, it is the eighth day, a little Easter, a day of new creation where “Death does not have the final word. Love and life are stronger than fear and death. We can expect to see those we’ve loved and lost again. God has a future in store for each and all of us. Anything is possible with God.”[3]

Thanks be to God. Amen.


Sermon Inspirations

  1. Karoline Lewis. “True Resurrection.” Dear Working Preacher.  workingpreacher.org
  2. Richard Thompson. “Seeing Differently.” A Plain Account.
  3. David Lose. “If It’s Not Hard to Believe, You’re Probably Not Paying Attention!”  Dear Working Preacher. workingpreacher.org
  4. Arland J. Hultgren. “Commentary on Luke 24:1-12” Preach This Week.  workingpreacher.org

[1] Richard Thompson. “Seeing Differently.” A Plain Account.

[2] Arland J. Hultgren. “Commentary on Luke 24:1-12” Preach This Week. workingpreacher.org

[3] David Lose. “If It’s Not Hard to Believe, You’re Probably Not Paying Attention!” Dear Working Preacher. workingpreacher.org

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