Like women thousands of years before them and even in our day, they went to the place where their beloved friend lay – a stone tomb, given by Joseph of Arimethea, where Jesus had been placed after his death, wrapped in cloths, the stone at the entrance rolled closed, before the sun set marking the start of the sabbath observance. The women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, other women hadn’t had time to properly finish preparing Jesus’s body. So as soon as even the dimmest light shone in the sky the next morning, they returned. With spices and perfumes to anoint his body, with cloths to bathe him and wipe away the blood left by the brutality of his crucifixion. I imagine this group of women would tell stories about this man Jesus, whom they had known as teacher, as healer, as friend. Crying and perhaps laughing, too, remembering and recalling. Doing what so many of us do when confronted with the death of someone we love – gathering, sharing stories, praying, singing our hearts, their hearts, pierced by sadness.
Just a few days earlier, Jesus had ridden triumphantly into Jerusalem, the crowds adoring, the sense that this is the one we’ve been waiting for. This is the one who will lead us to freedom. What on earth has happened. How did it all go so wrong. How did we end up here at the entrance to his tomb, his burial place?
And they arrived to find the stone rolled away and the body gone. And while they were perplexed, confused about the missing body, it was the appearance of two men in dazzling clothes that terrified them. They threw themselves to the ground bowing in what I only can imagine was abject terror.
“Why are you looking for the Living One among the dead,” asked these strangers. He is not here, but raised up. Remember how he told you when you were still back in Galilee that he had to be handed over to sinners, be killed on a cross, and in three days rise up?”
Remember how he told you? Remember when soon after feeding thousands of people from just a few loaves and fishes – he told you then. And right after healing the boy possessed with a demon, and on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover, he’s been telling you. And it all came flooding back to them. No one had wanted to hear Jesus talking about his death – the type of death no one should have to experience. Jesus needed to be alive – to heal, to teach, showing them how to pray, challenging them to love like he did. But now they remember. The words of these dazzling, terrifying strangers have transformed them. “We remember his words.”
And while they still weren’t sure where Jesus was, and likely didn’t fully understand what resurrection meant, they knew they had to share this news, this good news. And they left the tomb to tell the eleven and all the rest gathered. They remembered what Jesus said and in that remembrance, they found the courage, the hope to tell their story.
We’ve been telling stories tonight – stories of creation, of deliverance from oppression, of dry bones imbued with new life. We’ve remembered and renewed the promises made at our baptism. We’ve heard again that Jesus told us he would be handed over to the authorities, tortured, brutally killed AND rise again on the third day.
And as we tell these stories – stories of dashed hopes alongside new possibilities; stories of despair next to shouts of joy; stories of death from which comes new life – as we tell these stories, we tell our own story. It is so reassuring for me to know that the Easter story begins when the light is barely visible, with fear and bewilderment being the first response. Because isn’t that how we often experience what seems impossible to comprehend? Stumbling around in the dark, trying to figure out who really has appeared. And then, someone tells us the story again, the promise of new life after death, “I will rise again on the third day.” Perhaps, just perhaps, that’s the hope we can grab onto, the hope we need for our own struggles, losses, traumas, and disappointments. That’s the hope that sends the women out of the tomb, down the road to tell the others. But it is a dangerous hope.
Wheaton College New Testament professor, Esau McCauley writes, “The terrifying prospect of Easter is that God called these women to return to the same world that crucified Jesus, with a very dangerous gift: hope in the power of God, the unending reservoir of forgiveness and an abundance of love. It would make them seem like fools. Who could believe such a thing?” Who could believe? It is no surprise at all that the men with whom the women shared their good news brushed it off as an “idle tale.” We too may find ourselves among the dismissive disciples.
And during those times we find ourselves not ready to believe the story we’ve just heard, that’s ok. Because we need to know that when our doubts, questions, betrayals and fears send us turning our backs on the story, the good news of Easter will find us and claim us too.
As we embark upon the dangerous path of practicing, of living, of looking for Resurrection in the midst of death, oppression, racism, sexism, and cynicism, may we remember that the Risen Christ has promised that death never again has the final word.
New life comes. New life comes for all of us. Even at the grave, we make our song, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.