Imagine it with me, this community of friends – what the text calls “disciples,” it means devoted students – imagine each of them had met this incredible person, this person with such a compelling vision, they felt inspired to completely re-orient their lies.
They had left all that they had known – their careers, their families – all to follow this “wandering teacher.” He must have been something. Jesus had taught them – and trained them – as the keepers of this new vision – heralds of a new “kingdom.” They had spent all this time with him, following him, teaching with him, telling about him and his way.
But with his death, it was all over. Done.
They must’ve been torn up, wondering – What should they do now? What did it all mean?
When I think about these sorts of people in my own life – not Jesus-level exactly -but still, those people who have caused me to re-orient my life, the sort of person who makes you switch majors or careers, or inspires you to sell your house and move to a new town, or maybe even to give away your things, someone who leads you to become a whole new person- or, sets you on the course of becoming the person you truly are.
This is who Jesus was to his disciples.And in the few days before the part of the story we have just heard, this inspiring-life-changing person had died. In fact he’d been executed, terribly, without much fanfare, as if he was a common criminal. It had to have made them wonder if the whole thing was a big lie. There would’ve been grief, of course – the loss would’ve been huge, and felt in their bones. But even more, I have to imagine, his death would’ve felt like a betrayal.
Was he not actually who he said he was?
Was he not the person they had believed him to be?
Was his message unworthy of all of their life changes?
Unworthy of their dedication and loyalty?
Was it all a bunch of — woo-woo-let’s-all-love-each-other – baLONEY?
I love this part of the story. I mean, it’s terrible – but it is so relatable.
How many times in your life have you wondered if this whole “human goodness and kindness and love above all” stuff was foolish, naive, and a recipe for lifelong heartbreak?
How many times have we all conceded to cynicism in the name of pragmatism?
How often have we felt like we might as well give in, and give up on our ideals of compassion and equality, that we need to be more realistic, and do a better job of simply looking out for number one?
Too often. Lately, much too often.
This is how I imagine the male disciples felt after Jesus died. Grief-stricken and betrayed. Lost. Their whole world was turned upside down. They could not see the way forward. It was just – over.
The female disciples – on the other hand – may or may not have been feeling the same way, but decided to take up the necessary practical details nonetheless, which is interesting.
Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them –
how many, and who exactly – we don’t know – all of these went on to the place where Jesus’s body was to be laid to rest, went on with their spices and their cloths, to tend to the body as was their custom.
And what they found there was confusing, disorienting, shocking. The stone in front of the tomb had been rolled away, and Jesus’s body was not there.
The story goes on to say that Jesus had risen – or awoken – that in fact he lived on.
We tend to get tripped up at this point on the question of if this “really happened” or is “historically accurate.”
This can be interesting scholarship – and can be liberating for those who have been oppressed by an insistence on a literal interpretation -But the more compelling question for me about this story – is more about why the Christian communities – two generations after Jesus died – which is when this story from Luke’s gospel was likely written – 50 or 60 or even 70 years after Jesus’ death – why did they tell it this way?
Why did they tell this story? What does it mean, or rather, what gift does it offer us today that these nascent Christian communities decided to tell the story this way, rather than simply letting the story end at the tomb, or with the reality of their grief, loss, and betrayal, which was also very true?
We always have a choice about how we will tell our stories – and a choice about which pieces of the story we will live from and out of – upon which truths will we be willing to stake our lives.
We can get caught in a certain version, and be unable to see the fuller story. Especially stories from our childhood. It can be so interesting to go back and ask our parents to tell us again about something we think we know exactly accurately from our growing up years –
and we do – just, only from the perspective of a kid, the perspective usually of one without a lot of control or total information, but whose life was nonetheless impacted.
So too with religious communities – whether 2,000 years ago or today, we have stories we tell – sometimes about the same time period, same basic situation – yet depending on who is telling the story, it can seem like entirely different – even contradictory narratives.
Yet each is, in some ways true. So, again we decide, which story we will choose to live out of.
What compels me about the Easter story is the way that it refuses to allow the tomb –
or the grief, loss, and betrayal – the final word.
Which is not to say that it did not matter that Jesus died. There is plenty of telling of Jesus’ death in scripture – although you might not know it if you only know the story by way of a Unitarian Universalist church.
Just out of curiosity – for those of you who have been coming to Foothills for a decade or more, how often have you been to a Good Friday service? I mean – here.
Yeah – we are pretty resilient in our engagement with the Easter story – in one way or another we tend to come back each year to the story of resiliency, transformation and new life represented in the resurrection…..
but we tend to skip over the parts of the story – and the rituals that go with them –
that lead to the reason Easter was such good news.
Again, it’s interesting, the parts of the story we lift up, and what we leave out…..
Our liberal religious orientation to hope – to affirming that everything’s gonna be fine –
has sometimes led us to skip over the rituals of loss or betrayal – these darker parts of humanity – not just when it comes to Good Friday.
But we know, that not addressing our tomb experiences – as Diana called them last week –
does not make our long nights or our piercing need for the morning light go away. In fact, usually, it’s the opposite. What we ignore, grows, overtakes us, fails to heal, gets passed on. Until we look critically at the struggles of our past, our history will continue to darken the pathways of our future. “History despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage – need not be lived again.”
And still, more than his death, in the way that the story has come to us, it is clear that it mattered to his followers that Jesus lived. More than that he died, it mattered that he lived – whether before or after his crucifixion – it mattered that he lived in a real body, a human body. In the chapters that follow the passage we read today, it goes on to describe how the resurrected Jesus had real muscle and bones, how he ate real food.
It seems to me so important that the story be not about a ghost visiting the still-living,
or a spirit that continues on, but a body, a real life.Telling it this way underscores that it was always his life, his embodied real life that mattered.
It was not that he lived in some other realm, or ruled in some other life, but that the promised land was here – in this life, on this earth.
Telling it this way says that it was not his death that mattered most – his death did not make re-orienting their lives make sense, only his life was worthy of such devotion.
It was his presence, his real-life presence, his sometimes-impatient, overly-idealistic, miraculous healing, sitting down for a meal and telling a good story sort of presence – it was this life that he truly lived that finally mattered.
By telling the story this way, the early Christian communities were themselves defying death’s power, defying the power of the empire to put Jesus to death, defying his life from being reduced in meaning to the pain of his death. They were insisting – that his life was about his life.
Much has been made of the resurrection story over these 2,000 years. Much meaning –
whole religious systems created, and revised and reformed. But as I was thinking about all of this for this year’s Easter service, I kept coming back to the simple idea that this story and the way it is told – and how that telling is a way of proclaiming – that even after the worst has happened, there is still the possibility of life. Life keeps on going.
Even when we are sure that we’ve been foolish or naive, even when we’ve lost our way,
even when everything is turned upside down, Somehow even then, joy, surprise, awe and celebration remain possible.
Beyond the doctrine or the dogma, the questions of historicity or science, beyond denominational distinctions or theological implications, this is the good news of Easter.
That the tomb isn’t the only way to tell life’s story. That in addition to grief, and loss and struggle,life persists and continues on, and the morning light still arrives as a gift.
This is what I think the women understood – in the midst of everything being turned upside down, life still goes on.
The story of Easter does not attempt to erase loss or prevent it. It does not make everything already all better. Rather, as my colleague Jake Morrill puts it, “On Easter morning, those who loved Jesus were amazed, puzzled, awe-struck. But they were still in trouble. Rome was still in charge, and they were still at least two thousand years from glory, maybe more.”
Easter does not ask us to pretend we aren’t still in trouble either, that our world isn’t still in trouble, that our hearts aren’t still struggling or grieving, that so much of this world is not broken. Easter only asks us not to be “wedded to this fear, or yoked to this brutishness,” But instead to live out of the promise of new life, still being created – again, again. Easter asks us to live – even in the face of great heartbreak – with gratitude, that we are still breathing, that we are still moving and loving and giving, that we have the strength to keep walking forward – to sing, as Judy Fjell sings “I still have joy, I still have joy, after all the things I’ve been through, I still have joy.” Easter asks us to say to one another through it all
(Let’s say that to each other – turn to your neighbor and say “good morning!” and to your other neighbor – “good morning”)
Easter says, nothing can take away my joyous, celebrating heart, my heart for life – good morning!
For all of us, who are trying to live awake
For all of us attempting with all our might to love this difficult world,
attempting to keep up with the news,
For each of us who find there too many stories of violence or tragedy
For all of us who put it all in a box and set it aside so we don’t have to take it all in
We for whom it is all too much
We whose bodies and truth are under assault in North Carolina,
and on the streets of every neighborhood across this country, including our own
We who fear for our children, for the earth,
who wrestle with depression, or debt, with addiction
We who know the edge of cynicism or despair
We all have this urgent, piercing need for this bright morning
And Easter says to us, lift up your faces
And live out of this great possibility, this great story
This day dawns for you
Alleluia, and Good Morning.