But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look 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.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what happened.
Here we are for the strange and bewildering day we call Easter. All of the Bible, all of the church, all of Christianity hinges on this day: Easter, resurrection, out of death into life. If this story were not in scripture, we would’ve thrown our Bibles away a long time ago.
If the Bible does not tell us this story, it tells us nothing.
Easter is the one day when all the hopes of the past are made manifest in the present. Some of you are here because you can’t imagine being anywhere else. Some of you are here because you desperately want and need to hear Good News amidst a world drowning in bad news. Some of you were dragged here against your will.
So, no matter who you are or even why you’re here, hear the Good News: He is risen! Hallelujah!
No one saw the resurrection of Jesus.
There’s plenty of art and films and even songs that attempt to describe the event that we are here to celebrate, but the strange new world of the Bible tells us, in all four gospels, that no one saw it. Not Peter, not Mary Magdalene, not anyone.
Jesus was already gone from the tomb when the stone was rolled away.
And perhaps, oddly enough, that’s a good thing. For the resurrection is beyond our ability to understand or comprehend – it comes to us from an entirely different sphere of reality.
It breaks all the rules.
The women wake up on the third day knowing full and well what to expect. They travel to the tomb with spices to anoint Jesus’ body for burial. They’ve run out of tears since Friday, perhaps they even travel in silence, the real and terrible sound of grief. But when they arrive the stone is moved and the body is gone.
And behold two men in dazzling clothes appear and the women fall to the ground in fear and reverence. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” They say, “He is not here, he is risen!”
Their rebuke reverberates through the centuries. To this day we still look for new life in all the wrong places, hoping to gain control over something that is fundamentally out of our control.
We still set our minds on earthly things, we seek the living among the dead, but we rarely notice it. We cling to various things in life because life is so uncertain – tomorrow is never promised. So we hold desperately to those things we think give us life. Our jobs, spouses, children, on and on. But things largely stay the same.
So we flip through the never-ending abyss of Netflix searching for a momentary reprieve in a life of monotony, we listen to podcasts at 1.5x speed because we don’t feel like we have enough time between all of our timely events, all while we go from day to day knowing not what we are doing or why we are evening doing it.
We know longer no what it means to be surprised.
And then BAM Easter!
Easter is the great disruption, the exodus for the rest of us, the beginning of a strange new world.
Kurt Vonnegut said that most good stories occur when a character gets unstuck in time. Our lives, therefore, only really become interesting when the time of our lives is disrupted and unstuck from its normalcy.
The women in Luke’s gospel travel to the tomb with predictable expectations – the dead stay dead. They knew that everything was out of their control, until they heard the announcement that Christians have been shouting throughout the centuries: He’s not here, he’s risen!
No wonder the story ends so strangely – the women just go home, amazed. Easter sets them, and us, on a course from which we leave provoked, unsettled, disoriented. Life will not, and cannot, be the same. But how can we possibly respond to the most unexpected thing in the world?
The tomb was empty, the body was gone. He is risen.
This is the proclamation of Easter and yet, proclaiming the resurrection is so difficult and so challenging because the resurrection cannot be made into a metaphor; it cannot be reduced into a charming story.
Easter is not the celebration of spring, it is not new life shooting up from the soil. It is not a quaint little tale of how love is stronger than death. It is, instead, something completely unlooked for, something without any precedent, and something that leaves us truly amazed.
Easter proclaims that God is the Lord of disruption. It is among the roads of life, the traveling among the dead while looking for the dead, that Jesus shows up, becomes time itself for us, takes our time, and transforms the cosmos.
All these centuries later, with our sanctuaries and our lilies and our songs and our sermons, it can all feel like Easter is just one more thing that happens to Jesus. But that’s not right. Easter is the happening of Jesus to all things. Jesus doesn’t change on Easter – everything is changed because of him.
Any attempt, therefore, to find a way to make Easter relevant or new or relatable is a fool’s errand because Easter is unlike anything else and the best we can ever hope to do is point toward it.
The proclamation of Holy Week, the entry into the city, the meal on Thursday, the cross on Friday, the empty tomb on Sunday, they run counter to just about everything else in life – they don’t give us ways to be better human beings, they aren’t commandments about how to make the world more bearable. They are not about what we do, but are instead about what is done to us. And that what has a name: Jesus Christ.
The amazing part of Easter is that we don’t have to do anything for it to happen.
Jesus does for us what Jesus does whether we deserve it or not. God in the flesh comes to dwell among us and we return the favor by nailing Jesus to the cross. And, three days later, God gives him back to us.
You see – Jesus doesn’t wait behind the stone until his disciples have just the right amount of faith before breaking forth.
Jesus doesn’t tell them that he will be raised only when they’ve evangelized the right number of people.
Jesus doesn’t even given them a to do list to do before Easter happens.
We, the good and righteous folk that we are, we’re in church on Easter after all, we might’ve thought the story was over – that the shadow of the cross was the final word.
But in the strange new world made possible by God, only Jesus gets the final word because he, himself, is the Word incarnate.
On Easter God took the cross, a sign of death to the world, and made it the means of life.
The promise of the resurrection is that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love, not even death. Jesus’ pronouncement from the cross, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they’re doing” frees us from all of our sins, past, present, and future. Easter means that one day we too will rise to join in the feast at the supper of the Lamb.
Can you imagine anything more wonderful than this?
The first disciples were amazed by what they saw and heard that first Easter morning.
We still are.
The promise of the resurrection for people like you and me is wild beyond all imagining. It is the gift of life in the midst of death, it is a way out simply by remaining in, it is everything for nothing.
It is, to put it simply, amazing.
Nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else.
He is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah! Amen.