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Scripture Reading 1 Corinthians 15:19-26Pitcher and chalice: the resurrection of the dead has come!

Show and Tell

Our show and tell this morning is this cross. You may remember, if you know the story of this week that just passed, that we call it Holy Week. It started last Sunday, when Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and everybody praised, celebrated, and worshiped God because Jesus was there. But by the end of the week, everything had changed. By the end of the week, the religious leaders and people who were upset at Jesus’ message of love, peace, and forgiveness, had finally gotten so upset and found the right opportunity that they were able to have him arrested, put on trial, and killed. Jesus died in a terrible way, up on a cross like this. Then he was buried in a tomb, and that’s the last piece of the story we remember from Friday. That’s where we are now; Jesus has been buried in the tomb. But listen for what happens next.

Scripture Reading Luke 24:1-12


This just can’t have happened. This doesn’t make any sense. The women went to the tomb where Jesus had been laid on Friday, that all-too-serious, all-too-permanent tomb. They went to find him, to prepare his body as they hadn’t been able to before the Sabbath, and they were going to finish the duty that was required of them. But they came back telling these crazy stories about Jesus being alive again. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Stories about life that doesn’t die? That’s like stories about “age-defying moisturizer,” about sports cars that will cure your mid-life crisis, or any of the other ways we try to push back the horizon of death somehow. If we’re pushing back against death, aren’t we just acknowledging our belief in its power? We are so aware of that power. The powers of sin – fear, violence, scarcity, anger, and yes, death – dominate the news, our politics, the way we make decisions about money. Those powers try to define life, to sell us insurance and trusts and all those products to help us push back on loss, worry, and fear. In the face of that power, it’s as if nothing else matters.

I suspect many of us know this, that up against death, nothing else seems to matter. I suspect we understand just how short and tenuous life is, how easy it is for what is there one day to have disappeared the next day. And I think we have a lot of trouble imagining that something new could come out from what used to be. We’ve seen it happen too many times. We’ve seen lives we loved and cared about, taken from us. We’ve seen opportunities we were very excited for, ripped away from us. We’ve seen possibilities we counted on, lost. And pretty flowers don’t ease the pain of that death. With deep respect to funeral directors, embalming fluid and makeup don’t bring people back to life. Dressing up the past doesn’t bring it back to life. And spices and oils won’t undo the brutal death of Good Friday. Of course, the women – Mary, Joanna, and Mary – didn’t expect them to do anything to Jesus. Most of us don’t truly expect anything to change this Easter, and some of us, I suspect, actively hope that nothing will.

And yet, here we are this morning. Well, how many deaths have we suffered? How much sorrow have we experienced? How much pain have we absorbed? What are we doing here, if nothing changes? Why are we here if life doesn’t become new? We’re here because of our hope that the story doesn’t end, that there is more truth and joy to be found in life. And even the simple act of those women going to the tomb suggests something of life. It tells us that something of the dead one, this Jesus, is present in our memory and our attention to that physical form.

But then the angels ask, “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive?” As if they don’t understand what brings us here. Why are we so often looking among death for one who lives? Well, for starters, because that’s where we put him! The tomb is the only place we can imagine Jesus has been. His life arrived at this place of pain, suffering, and death, and that’s all there is to it, right? That’s all there is to that story. So we remember and mourn, and we come back to what was. But coming back that way is like digging up seeds to see if they’ve germinated. Maybe you’ll find them, but it sure won’t help the story along. And what’s more, the growing plant looks nothing like the seed it came from. Life returns in the face of death. That’s what we affirm on Easter. In fact, we find that death seems to make a way for more life. Jesus’ self-offering death opens a way to life for all of us.

It’s funny. It’s almost as if life had been in control all along. It’s almost as if life is always growing something new, even from the stuff of death. It’s as if life is there, turning this from a story about memory, into a reality in our life today. This is not just a story about the persistence of life that can’t be extinguished. This is about the resurrection of a life that can die and not stay dead, something that if it dies, it only changes and becomes something new. There’s an amazing thing about this change. Have you noticed who isn’t in our story today? Who isn’t there at the tomb? Jesus! There at the tomb, we find fear, absence, memory, and amazement – but of Jesus, we find simply a promise. Jesus turns up later, when we look for him in life. He continues to be real in the church when we pray, when we share, when we eat together. He does turn up – in tangible but mysterious forms – in the next several stories from Luke’s gospel, and he still turns up today.

Because the resurrection is not just a story. It’s not just a myth to be humored, and it’s certainly not just some historical fact that happened “back then.” This is something that happens today in our world. It happens when we gather around the all-too-real fact of death and insist that it points to life perfected for our loved one, and we create a new life in our community of love. When we reject fear, division, and mistrust, we discover a new safety and a new confidence in that vulnerability. When we live in the awesome wonder of this story, this amazing, fantastic, too-good-to-be-true story, we experience it again and we find it becoming real again in our lives. Christ is risen! Hallelujah!