"Idle Talk or Gospel Truth?"
Those of you who were here on Palm Sunday or Maundy Thursday heard the powerful story of how Jesus offered his life in the ultimate act of sacrificial love and was crucified on the cross. The gospel story tells us how the body of Jesus was taken down from the cross and taken to a nearby tomb... and sealed in with a big stone that was rolled against the opening.
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.
When they get to the tomb, they find that the stone has been rolled away, and the tomb is empty! The women are standing there, 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?”
The women run back to tell the rest of the disciples. But they 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. The word is the root of our 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? Resurrection isn’t about a claim that Jesus’ body was resuscitated. It’s a claim that God created an entirely new reality. But it flies in the face of common sense. 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! But 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.
The Risen Christ is present in the lives and in the work of those who seek to follow him—those who, even if they don’t comprehend the meaning of the resurrection fully... even if we can’t explain exactly what happened on that first Easter. The Risen Christ is present among the living—among the faithful.
The Risen Christ has been present with the faithful throughout history. We remember some of their names: Francis of Assisi…and Hildegarde of Bingen… Dietrich Bonhoeffer…. Archbishop Romero…Margin Luther King… and Mother Theresa… and others known and unknown to us.
The Risen Christ is present among the living: among ordinary people who work tirelessly and joyfully building Habitat houses for poor people… and cleaning up and rebuilding after disasters… developing job skills at Focus Hope.
The Risen Christ is with those who prepare meals and sort clothes to serve the homeless and desperately poor people who are the guests at Fort Street Open Door.
The Risen Christ is with us when we assemble health and school kits and baby layettes for those in need…and when we share God’s love through the One Great Hour of Sharing offering.
The Risen Christ is with the faithful remnant of Palestinian Christians who witness to their faith in the Holy Land...and with those whose faith empowers them to work for God’s justice and peace.
The Risen Christ is present when congregations become communities of welcome and hope and healing and empowerment, where broken and hurting people find support and encouragement and help and healing.
The Risen Christ is present with a congregations that emerge from sadness over the losses they’ve experienced and their anxiety about survival... and make a new beginning for a new time with courage and a sense of adventure and openness to follow wherever Christ leads.
At Easter, part of what we celebrate is Jesus’ victory over death and our own hope of life beyond death through our faith in him. That’s an important dimension of Easter.
But there’s another dimension that sometimes we miss-- the present dimension. We are called to participate in it now, because Christ is alive and present with us. When we place our TRUST in the risen and living Christ, we can experience new freedom and strength and courage. We can experience new life, as God’s Easter people.
Most Sundays, as part of the act of confession, I declare to you in the declaration of forgiveness: “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone. A new life has begun.”
The good news of Easter invites us turn from the power of sin and evil … and to live a new life, as we follow the Risen Christ in the way of self-giving love and justice and peace.
In his “Parable of the Eagle,” James Aggrey tells of a man who found a young eagle in the forest. He took the orphaned eagle home and put it in his barnyard with his chickens, where it soon learned to eat chicken feed... and to act like a chicken.
One day a naturalist who was passing by asked why an eagle-- the king of all birds-- should be living in a barnyard with chickens. The owner said, “Since I’ve raised it to be a chicken, it never learned to fly. It behaves as chickens behave, so it’s no longer an eagle.”
“But it still has the heart of an eagle,” said the naturalist. “Surely it can be taught to fly.”
After talking it over, the two men agreed to find out whether this was possible. The naturalist picked the eagle up gently and said, “You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly.”
But the eagle was confused. He didn’t know who he was. He looked down at the chickens eating their food. He jumped down to each chicken feed with them again.
The next day the naturalist took the eagle up on the roof of the house and tried the same thing with the same results.
The third day he took the eagle to a high mountain where there were some other eagles. He held it up and said, “You are an eagle. You belong to the sky as well as to the earth. Stretch forth your wings now and fly.”
He lifted the great bird toward the sun. The eagle began to tremble as he slowly stretched his wings. Then, with a triumphant cry, he soared into the air.
Like the naturalist in that story, the risen Christ invites you and me to live as Easter people. Jesus invites each of us to put our trust in his power and love, and to follow him in the life of joy and peace and abundance he offers us. We are called to live more and more fully into our God-given identity as beloved children of God, and to live into 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 today. 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, freeom, 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
March 27, 2016
 David Lose, in Working Preacher ……..
 Brief Statement of Faith, Presbyterian Church (USA), 1991.