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I’m tempted this Easter morning, my friends, I’m tempted – we have already put on the special clothes, we have already sung the songs and heard the scriptures and announced, “He is risen,” several times, in fact. I’m tempted – you know this story. You know what happens. He is risen! Now let’s go beat the Baptists to Easter brunch! I mean, I’m not revealing something new – were any of you surprised when the scripture declared the tomb was empty? I heard no gasps. We knowthis story.
Do we, though? Because the news today of at least 130 dead in bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, the anniversaries of Columbine and Oklahoma City, the ways that death and mayhem cling to us like tree sap…
If we knew this story, I think that we’d see some signs of it, don’t you? I mean we know the story of Sam-I-Am, right? He won’t eat green eggs-n-ham. And we know that the moral of the story is that we should try new things – you never know what you might like. Do we know the moral of this story?
It’s really quite remarkable that we have this story at all. We don’t read my favorite version of the empty tomb every year, the earliest version of Mark. Mark, the earliest chronologically of our gospels, is so abrupt in his final chapter that he says as soon as the angel tells them that Christ is not there, the women flee the tomb with terror and amazement and say nothing to anyone, an ending so dissatisfying that it is only in our earliest manuscripts of Mark…the later ones add some verses on to reduce the shock. Can you imagine? They said nothing to anyone? Then what are we up to in here? I mean without the resurrection, Jesus is a really good person who taught some nice things about how we should live and a really handy guy to have around when you have a barrel of water at an impromptu party.
That’s why this story matters, and why I think we still don’t understand the moral of the story – resurrection matters. Now, how it happened, where it happened, whether or not it was real, like flesh-and-blood, or metaphorical, maybe even whyit happened are not the critical pieces to me, as odd as that may sound to you. What matters to me is the happening – the realization that the status quo has been upended and that love is stronger than hatred, stronger even than death – that is the moral.
Yet when faced with this realization, with the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, the women do what I think we’d all do…they get really, really nervous. They get terrified. And when the women in Luke run back to their friends and announce this and all of the guys in the room dismiss the women. I realize this is surprising to the women here today, that their suggestion or story or account would be dismissed by men, but let’s just imaginethis possibility, OK? The Greek word that is used for this dismissal is leros. It gets translated as an “idle tale,” or “nonsense.” What it means is garbage, drivel, crap, or maybe most persuasively a word that I won’t use from the pulpit. This is more than just dismissal, this is disbelief and rejection.
The men are feeling the same thing that the women are feeling – vulnerable. Something has happened, they cannot explain it. They should feel joy – this is what they wanted, right? But they feel confusion, anxiety, even fear, for they don’t have any idea what is going on. So when faced with the option that all of the things that he said to them have come to pass, that God has indeed raised him up after Rome tore him down, that divine power has more say than imperial power, they rejectit. If the moral of this story is that God’s Love and Justice are stronger than our systems of power and dominance…if the moral of this story is that when it seems like all hope is gone, God has not abandoned us…if the moral of the story is that God becomes at-one with us not through violent, wrathful sacrifice, but through non-violent, grace-filled Love, then I have to ask again – do we understand this? Or are we more like the disciples, hearing this glorious news and rejecting it outright? Are we unwilling to be vulnerable enough to know this – because the whole “good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people” is strangely comfortable…we know it’s not true, but it’s comfortable.
Peter goes to see for himself. He finds the tomb, just as they said, sees only a linen cloth and he returns…wondering what happened. That word, in Greek, translated as “wondering,” is the same word used in our passage from Acts this morning, right before Peter announces, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another.Rather, in every nation, whoever worships God and acts righteously is acceptable to God.This is the message of peace he sent to the Israelites by proclaiming the good news through Jesus Christ: He is Lord of all!” It is something akin to amazement, reverence, awe…so Peter isn’t walking back home trying to figure out what precisely happened, or attempting to rationally work out the details. He’s not worried about making things fit in a logical framework that he can use to sell this theological product, or defend in an apologetics contest. He is walking back home feeling like you do when you first step beyond the horizon of the parking lot and see the Grand Canyon, or when your child is first placed in your arms, or when you feel love for the first time. He is walking back in awe, in amazement, in wonder.
Easter is not about believing, my friends. Easter is about faithing. Now I know that’s not a word in English, but it isa word in Greek. The word pistisused throughout the New Testament is almost always translated as “faith” or “belief,” but it means faithing. The active, “living it out” kind of trust in something you cannot see, in something that is unverifiable, in something that cannot be real, but is. It is maybe even the opposite of what we think belief is, for it works on our hearts and our souls, not in our brains. The story that the disciples reject is the story that they then absorb more slowly, as the Spirit brings it to them, encounter after encounter, realization after realization that God is indeed active in our lives, not as the puppet master controlling all of reality from behind the curtain, but rather as the creative force that brings growth from pain, change from struggle, hope from hopelessness.
Yet that is not an intuitive thing, you know? It’s not something the women had at the tomb, not something the disciples possessed at first, not something that we come to naturally. We have to teachourselves Easter. Oh, we can do it with easy things…a great building full of meaning and history and symbolism burns, the spire crashing to the ground in a fiery metaphor and we rally. We pledge and give and know that rebuilding is possible and imminent and necessary. It does not come as easily for black churches in Louisiana, without the same length of history, to be sure, but with deep symbolism for an entire group of people. We don’t see it in medicaid expansion to give the possibility of life to thousands in our state, we don’t see it in a #metoo movement that isn’t exposing any new behavior, as if there’s a sudden surge of misogyny, it is simply calling out what has alwaysbeen happening to women. We don’t see it in a call for reparations for the untold and unconfessed damage done to an entire group of people whose ancestors were held in slavery for centuries in our country. Those stories where the stone is rolled away from the tomb of insurance death, the tomb of sexism death, the tomb of racism death…we reject those stories, like they are garbage, nonsense, crap.
So we go back to the women in our Easter story for today – one woman in particular. It is Mary Magdalene, who is probably lodged in our collective memories as the prostitute turned follower, the promiscuous woman redeemed by Jesus. There is nothing in the Bible that either says or even suggests this, it is a relic of a smear campaign for centuries against this woman who may indeed have been even more important to the ministry of Jesus than the tradition would care for. It is this Mary who, in other gospels, converses with the risen Christ and returns to the disciples saying, “I have seen the Lord.” And they, just like in Luke, don’t believe her. They say, “That’s a bunch of nonsense.”
Maybe the moral of this Easter story is that we are not to be believed. After all, resurrection from the dead is pretty hard to believe. For all of us, raised in a scientific world, raised to trust what we can verify, quantify and measure, it seems bizarre. Dead is dead. If the dead don’t staydead, what can you believe in? If dead thingAs David Lose says in his commentary, “Resurrection…breaks all the rules, and while most of us will admit that the old rules aren’t perfect – and sometimes are downright awful – at least weknowthem. They are predictable…resurrection upsets all of that.” The idea that Jesus is alive is scary. It means we don’t understand how life and death work anymore. That something and someone dead can become alive again? It’s a holy mystery, and it means that life (and death) are far more complicated than we might have once thought… not as comforting as we imagined…for the implications are we don’t understand a thing, and we are working far more on trust than we thought we were. The question then becomes – trust in what?
We in the church have made this false claim for centuries that faith is about what you believe – about cementing, solidifying, creating certitude around these claims about Jesus rather than learning to trust likeJesus, learning to be faithers. When Mary says, “I have seen the Lord,” she isn’t just making a claim about a miraculous appearance, she is saying utter nonsense about a new reality, laid out before her in a way she absolutely cannot believe – she can onlyfaith.
“I have seen the Lord” insists that the ways of love will always win over the ways of hate. “I have seen the Lord” confirms that the truth of kindness can be heard over the din of ruthless, callous, and vindictive rhetoric. “I have seen the Lord” gives witness to the fact that there is anotherway of being in the world — a way of being that is shaped by resurrection, that embodies anything and everything that is life-giving, a way of being that is so counter-cultural, so demonstrative of mercy, so exemplary of the truth of Easter that when we glimpse it we almost always reject it.
We sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” as a statement of belief, one of the laundry list of things that we sign-off on as Christians, as third-person confession. We may sing it loudly, but we don’t really meanit loudly. But what if we were declaring, in bold voice and astonished tone, “I have seen the Lord,” because we trust in resurrection, despite our discomfort with the hows and the whys? We trust in it because we have learned to see life from death, healing from deep wounds, transformation of broken lives, hearts changed, chains broken, and voices heard? What if we bore witness to things we cannot understand, nor explain, hoped in things that it made absolutely no sense to hope for, trusted in the resurrection power of a God who makes all things new? What if we were declaring the triumph of love in the midst of suffering? I tell you, if you report to the world like that, you will be called foolish, and told that you are spreading garbage, nonsense, crap – fake news.
But Easter is not about believing. It is about faithing.