Here is the video I showed during the Time with the Children. I asked them, “what happens when what you expect is not what happens?”
A sermon preached on Easter morning, March 31, 2013 at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho.
The gospel writers don’t agree about every detail as they tell the story of Jesus. There are some big differences, in fact. And that doesn’t bother me too much.
Each of the gospel writers sees different things in the story of Jesus. And that’s okay. Honestly, it reminds us that we have our own stories to tell and our own experiences of God that need to be shared.
It is also a reminder not to discount other people’s viewpoints, because they might see something we miss. Just because we see things differently doesn’t mean they are wrong.
Someone shared a story this week about a young couple who moved into a new neighborhood. One morning while eating breakfast, the young woman saw her neighbor hanging the wash outside. “That laundry is not very clean; she doesn’t know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap.” Her husband looks on, remaining silent. Every time her neighbor hangs her wash to dry, the young woman makes the same comments. A month later, the woman is surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and says to her husband: “Look, she’s finally learned how to do her laundry. I wonder who taught her this? ” The husband replies, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”
Our perspective changes how we see the story.
One thing all 4 gospel writers saw, however, despite their own perspectives, is that women were the first people to the tomb on Easter morning.
The women had been there all along, of course. They followed the procession to the cross, ululating and keening as they went. They stood and watched as Jesus died. They accompanied Joseph of Arimathea as Jesus was buried, laid in the tomb.
But now they are there alone. They have gone to the tomb in the early morning hours to anoint his body, to extend the care and affection we show to our loved ones when they die.
Luke glosses over the detail about the stone being rolled away from the tomb when they arrived. But I confess it would have given me pause.
Imagine the silence of the early morning dawn. You aren’t thrilled about having to be there in the first place. Your leader has died. He spoke about bringing in a new kingdom of God. But then he died. This wasn’t supposed to be the plan. Was it?
All of those thoughts are in your mind, as you hear the birds starting to wake up, commenting on your early journey. And you arrive to find the stone is rolled away.
As if your beloved teacher dying as a convicted criminal on a roman cross wasn’t bad enough, now someone has messed with his tomb. Who knows what they did to his body. Seriously. The insult added to the injury is almost more than you can imagine.
And what if the tomb raiders are still there? It must have taken more than one person to move a stone so heavy.
But the story glosses right over those emotions. And the women enter the tomb.
We know, of course, they won’t find tomb raiders. We know the tomb is empty.
But the women haven’t heard this part of the story before. They’ve never put on their Easter bonnets and sung “Jesus Christ is Risen today” as we do every spring.
They are standing there, burial spices and ointments in hand, wondering what kind of horrible people steal a body, when two men in dazzling clothes appear in their midst.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”, they ask the terrified women. As if Jesus’ body being stolen isn’t bad enough. Now two dazzlingly attired men show up and then ask them a truly annoying question.
And this is reason 267 I wasn’t invited to the tomb on Easter morning, because I would have said, “We aren’t looking for the living. Are you daft? Maybe you did not see him die, Mr Fancy Shiny Clothes? But I did. I watched him suffer. And I couldn’t do anything about it. And then I saw his broken body put right here, in this very tomb. So, as soon as you tell me where you’ve put his body, you can take your bedazzled outfits and your ridiculous questions somewhere else.”
Truly, I want to believe one of the women said something like that. But Luke just didn’t write it down. It wasn’t his perspective.
After Marci Magdalene had her little hissy fit, the men went on to tell the women,
“He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’
They aren’t instructed to go and tell the other disciples, as recorded in Matthew and Mark. They are just told to remember.
Remember what he taught them.
Remember who he was.
Remember how he loved them.
Remember how he included them.
Remember how he changed everything.
Because he’s really changing everything now. He is not here, but has risen.
And they do remember.
The song Mary sang to them after her visit from the angel and the stories Mary told them about his birth They remember when he disappeared as a teenager and they found him teaching in the temple, as if that were perfectly normal and what was the fuss about anyway?
They remember his baptism by John at the Jordan, when the heavens opened and the Spirit descended on him while the voice from heaven called him the beloved Son.
They remember what it was like to join his band of followers, to hear him teach and be so compelled by his vision for the world that they abandoned their work to follow him.
They remember the miracles, the healings, the nets full of fish, the time he ate at the home of a tax collector.
Mary Magdalene remembers her own healing, what it was like to be free of her demons after living with their voices in her head for so many years.
They remember the stories he told, those weird parables that left them wondering about the meaning, learning to live in mystery, without clear answers.
We remember too. We weren’t there that morning. But we have our own stories.
Of the time we received grace and mercy when we were expecting judgment.
Or of the time when a near stranger sent a card, or delivered a cassarole, offering support or encouragement at the moment we needed it most.
We remember the people who taught our Sunday school classes, with their flannel board stories of Jesus.
We remember the feeling of presence in the quiet of a hospital room, giving us strength to sit vigil through the night at a loved one’s side.
Whatever our experiences may have been, we are called to remember them. And we share them with others, inviting them to listen for the divine presence in their own lives.
We are like the women at the tomb that morning, whose remembering compels them back to the disciples where they testify about what they have seen.
But the women’s testimony seemed to the men to be an “idle tale”. This word in Greek, lairos, only appears this one time in the Bible. And it isn’t a nice word. It means the men received the women’s testimony as the ramblings of delusional, incoherent, mentally unhealthy people.
If I were to tell you George Clooney called me the other day and invited me to his home on Lake Como, you would rightly, although sadly for me, cry out “lairos”.
Try it. It can be your new word when someone isn’t making sense. lairos! lairos! lairos!
The women were not, as we know, full of lairos. We know they were reporting their experience back to the disciples who hadn’t been there. They didn’t tell strangers on the street. They told the other disciples, the one group of people who might possibly have been able to believe such a crazy story. But their story wasn’t believed.
And that is a risk we take, when we testify. We share our experiences, regardless of how they will be received, because the good news refuses to remain in the tomb.
And people may tell us we are full of lairos. But that’s okay. Because our job isn’t to convince anyone. That is God’s job.
And it is okay when they tell us we are full of lairos because, in fact, it is a startling story when the dead don’t stay dead, and if it doesn’t startle us are we really paying attention?
People may tell us we are full of lairos. But that’s okay. Our job is to remember. And then to witness.
The men may have told the women they were delusional, but as soon as the women went back to the kitchen to prepare breakfast, Peter took off to see for himself. He came home amazed at what he saw. Where’s the lairos now, Peter?
The story continues. Jesus meets some of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Without knowing it is Jesus they are speaking with on the road, they tell him, “Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
So the men may have told the women they were delusional. But they remembered the story. And it helped them understand a little better when they encountered Jesus themselves. They heard the crazy news and then they had to go see for themselves.
So this morning we remember these women and their willingness to approach death and tombs to show their love.
We remember the way they encountered new life and remembered the stories of grace and mercy.
We remember how they testified to what they had experienced.
And we remember the men who accused them of telling idle tales but then went to see for themselves.
As you live into this Easter season, remember and witness. God will do the rest. Thanks be to God. Amen.