Easter Sermon

Given April 17, 2022

Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared.

It was early in the morning. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women finally had their opportunity to bring the fragrant spices and perfumed oils they had prepared the night of his burial to Jesus in the tomb. I wonder what their sabbath day, the day of rest they had observed in keeping with God’s commandments had felt like for them. 

We rarely talk about that fallow day in the church. It’s a breath mark, a pause in the story, the time when the Messiah was dead.  Not even priests and pastors really get to observe this time, this is a week of rush, of moving towards this day, this moment, when we all gather to celebrate the miracle of the empty tomb, the joy of Easter. But there was a time when that tomb was occupied. The women prepared to anoint Jesus’ body, then waited. They did as much resting as they could, but I can only imagine what it was like for them to wait, to have that forced time of stillness in the midst of such grief. 

Once that time was over, that pause was lifted, they gathered all that they had prepared and went to anoint Jesus’ body. They were the ones who had been there at his death. They had followed Joseph of Armiathea to his new tomb, so they could be sure they knew exactly where Jesus was. They were the faithful disciples who stayed through it all. They were ready to give Jesus a proper burial, not that of the crucified, but that of a beloved teacher, mentor, and friend. They sought to do all they could to honor this dead man who had given them so much life. 

Imagine the utter horror of seeing the body gone. When they first came in there wasn’t an angel or any messenger. There was only a linen cloth. Suddenly two men appear in dazzlingly bright clothes. I had never really paid attention to this detail before. Two men. Why two? They are Moses and Elijah, who had come to Jesus on a mountaintop at his transfiguration. If you remember my transfiguration sermon over a month ago, I said there was no reason to believe the transfiguration was the first and only time Moses and Elijah had come and counseled Jesus. That was just the only time a few of Jesus’ disciples were with Jesus. Moses and Elijah could very well have been prayer companions of Jesus, spiritual companions who helped him as he prepared himself to take the road to Jerusalem, to condemnation and crucifixion. They are here, the spiritual companions, sharing with the faithful remnant of Jesus’ followers the best news in the world. “He isn’t here, but has been raised.” I can only imagine the deep awe and wonder, how the Spirit filled that place and engulfed the women’s hearts so they were aflame with the light of Christ. 

They were given all they needed to share with the apostles, Jesus’ chosen twelve, who were now eleven, what had happened. They had seen the tomb empty, just a simple linen cloth remained. They had seen two men in a dazzling array. Peter, James and John should have remembered their experience with Moses and Elijah. They should have recognized the men who had shown them that Jesus was the Messiah, who had spent a long time on the mountaintop with Jesus talking with him about his upcoming death. They should have recognized them, but they did not.  The women were also filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. I pray we’ve all been in moments where we feel the Holy Spirit radiating through the room. There is something different, something special about that moment when you recognize the Spirit in the place, where you feel it radiating off people around you. There have been moments in my life where I have looked at another and seen the Spirit in their eyes, where I have known in my heart that God is speaking through them and I best pay attention. The apostles who had such a wealth of experience with this Spirit, had spent years with Jesus as it radiated through him, could not recognize it in the women. 

They would not believe the news, even when the news came from one of their own mothers. It’s unclear whether Mary the mother of James was Jesus’ mother or the mother of either one of two apostles named James. If she’s the mother of James the son of Zebedee, she had two sons in the group of apostles. Two sons that would not believe, both of whom had been at the transfiguration. If she’s Jesus’ mother, who wouldn’t pay attention to Jesus’ mom? But the apostles could not imagine that the truth could be real. The apostles called it fantasy, idle tales. 

I can only imagine what their fallow days had been like. Most of them had last seen Jesus when he was praying in the garden of Gethsemane, where he was arrested and brought before Pilate. They had scattered at that moment, not wanting to be crucified as well. They had stayed back, stayed away. Most likely the same women who were now telling them about the resurrection had been the ones telling the apostles about all that had happened since the arrest. The apostles had relied on them, but now they called their reports make believe.  

Why were the apostles so reluctant? Why were their hearts so hardened?  I imagine the biggest block to them, the reason they could not handle the news, was shame. They knew they had abandoned Jesus in his moment of need. They had not been there. They felt like horrible people, people Jesus would not want to come back to life for, even if he could.  And in their minds that was still a big if. And if Jesus had risen, what did that mean for them? Would Jesus still love them or were they rejected? There was no guarantee that their encounter with the risen Messiah would be a happy one. They could be denied just like Peter denied Jesus. The shame enveloped them and told them lies, that they were unworthy, unacceptable, unlovable. 

How often do we find ourselves wrapped in shame? As an anxious person, I’ve been through dark times when shame enveloped me so tightly I could barely breathe. I replayed over and over again in my head everything I’d done wrong, every time I hurt someone, every time I said or did the wrong thing. It all surrounded me and seemed to swallow me up. It still comes, mostly when I’m tired, this sense of shame and dread. It says that something I’ve messed up makes me a bad person. Now amplify that to the level of abandoning the messiah in his time of need. Their shame must have felt like drowning. They had no capacity to hear the message Jesus was sending them. 

My favorite part of the Easter story is not just that Jesus rose, but that Jesus rose and then spread love. He could have rejected all his disciples.  If he had been a militaristic messiah, he might have rose and brought together an army, ready to defeat the powers of this world. There is no saying that the risen Jesus had to act as he did. But Jesus came back and stripped the apostles and disciples of their shame. He still loved them, still believed in them. They were still chosen to spread the good news of God throughout the entire world. 

Jesus rose and called their shame a liar. They were beloved, forever and always. The power of God, the power of love, is greater than that which holds any of us down. God does not despise us. Even the worst offenders, even those who abandon God, are not rejected. This resurrection, the power of salvation, is available to all. It’s freely given, as open to us as the empty tomb. 

This salvation doesn’t require that we try to conform to a certain image, a certain ideal. We don’t have to try to be who we are not. We are only asked to release ourselves to God and be allowed to live fully into the people we are. God shows no partiality.

Some of us are like the women, able to witness the pain of the world and recognize the truth. Their eyes are open and they can almost touch God’s kingdom within our very midst. Some of us are like Peter, wanting to believe, but skeptical, perhaps worn down by the grief and pain of the world around us. They come to the tomb, look in, but are unsure of what they see. Some of us are like the rest of the apostles, refusing to go there. They aren’t blind to what is happening in the world, they just can’t face it. There is a block, a deeply held fear holding them back. All of them, all of us, are redeemed. All are loved. All are called beloved children of God. All of us have the power of the resurrection, the ability to feel the Holy Spirit enveloping  us and changing our lives. 

The resurrection is for all of us, the faithful and the faithless. Those who have little and those who have much. The resurrection is for those enveloped in shame and those without it. The resurrection is for every person in every corner of the world. 

When we are in the fallow times, times of grief, shame, illness, whatever may come our way, when we are forced into pauses, of waiting, of uncomfortable stillness, may we too take up our spice jars. May we walk boldly into the tomb, into the space of unknowing and find in there the Spirit of Life. If we cannot make that journey, may we find those who have been coming back to help us. Even if we never make it to the tomb, may we find the power of resurrection love coming to us, seeking us out, finding us wherever we may be. 

The risen Christ is with us. Christ is still alive. Christ has never left and Christ will never leave. Christ loves us, no exceptions. Amen.