1 Corinthians 15: 12-22
Luke 24: 1-12
Sometimes our expectations can be thoroughly confounded. Sometimes the mismatch between what we anticipate and what we actually encounter can rock our worlds. Certainly that is what happened on that long ago early spring morning after the last Pesach, or Passover, that Jesus shared with His followers. You remember what occurred. Jesus had celebrated Passover, been betrayed, arrested, borne the mockery of a trial. Jesus had been bounced between Pilate and Herod, both of whom were not inclined to pass judgment, even as Herod in particular also mocked Him. But Pilate was where the buck stopped. He made the final decision to release Barabbas, following his custom and the cries of the crowd. Pilate ordered that Jesus be flogged, and then crucified. The Roman centurion followed orders, and so Jesus was crucified, endured more mockery, and died. Joseph of Arimathea claimed Jesus’ body, and wrapped it in a linen shroud. But there was not much time to otherwise prepare Jesus’ body, because the Sabbath was coming on. The women who had accompanied Jesus, who had provided for Him and for His followers, women like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion and death, those women paid attention to what was going on. 55The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. 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....
Perplexed is a great way to describe their feelings. They were surprised, confused. They were filled with uncertainty – they had expected to care for Jesus’ dead body as a last sign of respect and love – but there WAS no body. This is a difficult, bizarre situation. What has happened??? And 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... They have this amazing encounter with two men – who tell them that Jesus is, in fact, alive. The two men remind them of Jesus’ own words – and since their expectations have been so thoroughly uprooted, they are now open to understanding, and believing, Jesus. They are transformed from being perplexed to being messengers – the Greek word Ανγγελοσ ισ clearly embedded in it – the word we transliterate as ANGEL. They run, and they report. That is their task – and they fulfill it. But even though these men, these disciples knew these women, had been provided for by these women, their witness was scoffed at. Peter at least went and looked – but while he went home amazed, he was not transformed into a messenger – not yet.
The foundational understanding of Easter is based on this conundrum of being perplexed, and amazed. Paul summarizes this conundrum: if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. OUR faith has been in vain, if in fact that tomb was empty because someone stole Jesus’ body, hid it away somewhere in secret.
I do not even want to develop the absurdity of that argument, except to note that Jesus’ dead body would have been extremely valuable because it would have been the one thing that could have ended the rumors of His resurrection. The recent movie Risen does a great job of showing just how much the Romans and the Jewish leaders both wanted to find that Body. But there WAS no Body. Not a dead one, anyway – a resurrected Body, a resurrected Jesus, who now does indeed sit at the right hand of the Father. That fact continues to perplex and amaze us today.
The task has come down through the ages – go, report, tell, proclaim – be messengers – be ANGELS to this lost and broken world that needs this perplexing truth, this upsetting of our reality so we can be open to amazement, to being transformed by God’s reality. God’s reality is about love, about forgiveness, about redemption and salvation. It calls us to confess, to resolve to try again, to lean into God’s leaning, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to redeem others by caring for them: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison – both jails and the psychological prisons that restrain people. As we live into God’s grace with gratitude and love, we too will be transformed, just as those women, and later, the rest of Jesus’ followers, into Ανγγελοσ. The kingdom of God will continue its inbreaking, until at last Jesus comes again in glory. And even so, come soon, Lord Jesus. Remember – He IS risen! He is risen indeed!! Amen.