"Idle Talk or Gospel Truth?"
During Holy Week, we heard the powerful story of how Jesus offered his life in the ultimate act of sacrificial love and was crucified on the cross. The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem had watched as the body of Jesus was taken down from the cross. They watched as Joseph of Arimithea took the body, wrapped it in linen, and placed it in a nearby tomb… and sealed in with a big stone that was rolled against the opening. They went home to prepare spices that would be needed to complete the proper burial of the body.
There wasn’t time to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial before the Sabbath began, so in the darkness, just before sunrise on the day after the Sabbath, the women head back to the tomb, bringing the spices and ointments they need to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial.
As the grieving women approach the tomb, they’re focused on completing the burial of Jesus’ body. But when they get to the tomb, they find that the stone has been rolled away, and the tomb is empty! The women stand there, perplexed, not knowing what to make of what they see, when suddenly two men in dazzling white clothes are standing beside them. They’re terrified! They bow down in awe. But the men say to them, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? 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?”
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The women came to the tomb expecting to find the dead. But this tomb is now empty, transformed by the resurrection.
Apparently, then, the women do remember. They run back to tell the rest of the disciples what they have seen and heard. But the other disciples don’t believe them. The news seems to them an “idle tale.” Actually, as David Lose points out, that’s a fairly generous translation of the Greek word leros, which is the root of the word “delirious.” So, it seems they thought what the women were saying was crazy—utter nonsense.
And, if we’re to be honest, who can blame them? Dead men don’t just get up and walk out of their tombs. Resurrection breaks all the old, familiar rules that help us to understand how things work in the world. Then-- as now-- we often don’t know how to respond to the unexpected… things that don’t fall neatly into our preconceived ways of thinking. So, Peter gets up and runs to the tomb to check things out for himself. He stoops down and looks in, and he sees the linen grave cloths lying there empty. Then he heads for home, amazed at what had happened.
The first disciples were reeling with grief. Their beloved friend, their leader-- the one person on whom they had staked everything, had just been tortured and killed. Now his body had disappeared. Everything that was happening that first Easter was new… unfamiliar…strange. It was hard to take it all in.
Each of the gospels makes it clear that the disciples didn’t come quickly to believe in the resurrection. They respond with a mixture of emotions: fear…great joy…amazement…and doubt. It takes more than an empty tomb for the disciples to understand and to become believers. And yet the disciples do follow Jesus after the resurrection. Some even follow him to their own deaths.
The tomb is empty, and Christ is risen. Death does not have the final word. Love and life are stronger than fear and death. Everything is new. Anything is possible with God.
This was a perplexing new reality. But they follow in faith--without fully grasping the meaning of it all.
Isn’t that what a lot of us do? You and I may not fully understand what happened on that first Easter Sunday long ago. That’s why we call it a mystery! Yet every now and then, if only for a fleeting moment, Jesus is especially alive and real to us.
In the coming weeks we’ll hear some of the stories about how the Risen Christ appeared to his disciples. They recognize him as the Risen Christ. Then he vanishes from their sight. It’s a pattern that’s common in the resurrection stories. Jesus is there. Then he’s gone. Though they experience his presence, they can’t grab on to him and keep him there. But they come to know the Risen Christ in powerful ways in their daily lives and work.
It was not at the empty tomb that these people came to know the Risen Christ. It was as they sought to follow him--as they experienced his power and love in their lives and among the community of faith-- that they knew his presence. As they followed the Risen Christ, they were transformed into Easter people!
In the days following Jesus’ crucifixion, the first disciples were huddled behind locked doors, trembling in fear. But over time, they were transformed and empowered to witness to the Gospel.
In the early days of the church growing numbers of people came together for prayer and to study the scriptures and became more and more generous and loving in their relationship with others. People looked at Christians and exclaimed, “See how they love one another! See how joyful they are!” And they wanted to be a part of that movement. Even though, in the earliest centuries of the church, following Christ could bring persecution, the church grew like wildfire and transformed the world.
Easter is perplexing. But Easter isn’t just about saying we believe in the resurrection. Easter is about saying “no” to the power of death and destruction that surrounds us. It’s about trusting in the sustaining power of God, who brings life out of death…and reconciliation out of conflict, as the scriptures tell us. It’s about committing ourselves to the gospel claim that opens the door to new life—for ourselves and for acts of love and reconciliation in the world.
Our Holy Week journey moves us from pain and suffering of Jesus and the pain and suffering in the world-- to hope. We see the continuing open wounds of structural racism, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression and injustice. We see Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Nativism, and other forms of hatred practiced more virulently and openly than at any time in recent memory. Every day we get more scientific information that shows us that we’re running out of time to avoid the most catastrophic levels of climate change. We also see crowd-funding campaigns for people trying to pay for medical procedures or even basic maintenance medications like insulin and hear stories of people who died because they couldn’t afford the treatment they needed.
This week, we observed the twentieth anniversary of the Columbine School massacre and mourn that the United States now averages nearly one mass shooting a day. In one of the richest countries of the world, we don’t seem to have the political will to address the unjust policies that support growing income inequity and cruel immigration policies.
Easter is a reminder every year that pain and loss and death don’t have the final word. The resurrection of Jesus Christ teaches us that there always is and always will be hope.
The first disciples went to the tomb that first Easter looking for a dead Messiah. But what they found was an empty tomb. They were confused and fearful. But within a few days, the followers of Jesus were telling the world that Christ, the King of Love, was alive and making all things new.
We have come to the tomb and found it empty. Like those first disciples, we have been given a mission and a message to tell the others. We, too, need to look beyond the empty tomb... and trust God to show us the risen and living Savior and the new life to which we are called. Like those first disciples, we are witnesses of amazing things.
So-- what do we do about that? Tune in-- same time, same place-- next Sunday and the following Sundays, as we discover together more about what it means to be God's Easter people in this new time. Easter isn't over at the end of Easter Sunday. This is the beginning of Easter-tide, the season when we are led further into God's truth for God's Easter people…further into God’s new creation.
In this broken and fearful world, “the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.”
Every act of love, every deed done in the name of Christ, by the power of the Spirit… every work of true creativity—healing families, doing justice, making peace, seeking and winning true freedom—is an earthly event in a long history of things that carry the resurrection out into the world and anticipate the final new creation.
The good news for us today is that when we gather in Christ's name, Christ will be with us, calling us into to hope and wholeness and freedom.
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
April 21, 2019
 David Lose, “If It’s Not Hard to Believe, You’re Probably Not Paying Attention,” at Working Preacher. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2498
 Jim Wallis, “Moving from Pain to Hope this Holy Week,” from Sojourners. https://sojo.net/articles/moving-pain-hope-holy-week
 German Lopez, “20 Years after Columbine, America sees roughly one mass shooting a day.” https://www.vox.com/2019/4/19/18412650/columbine-mass-shootings-gun-violence-map-charts-data
 “A Brief Statement of Faith.” Presbyterian Church (USA), 1990.