The Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs
At the Heart of Our Belief
Psalm 46, Luke 24:1-12
Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016
Last Monday, when I read our lectionary text for today, and then began to think about the Holy Week that was ahead for us, I found myself wondering what the Sabbath might have been like for Jesus’ followers, once they had to leave Jesus in that tomb and go and prepare for the Sabbath. The Gospels say that the disciples scattered after his death for fear of being arrested because they were his followers. And yet, they met up somewhere, since our reading tells us that the women ran back to tell the disciples what had happened when they went to the tomb. Perhaps they found themselves back in the Upper Room, where they had shared their last meal with Jesus, the last place where they had all been with him. Naturally, when someone we love dies, we often find ourselves revisiting the places that had the most meaning for us, as the emptiness and reality of the loss sets in.
As they prepared for the Sabbath, they must have had so many emotions to deal with. Not only had their Rabbi, their beloved Jesus been killed, but their friend and fellow disciple, Judas, had been the one who betrayed Jesus. I wonder, did they remember that Jesus had told them at their Passover Seder just the night before his death, that one of them at the table would betray him? Do you think they wondered why Judas did what he did? Was it really for the money? He had pushed Jesus to be more radical, to confront the powers that be more directly, which Jesus had declined to do. Was that why he did what he did? Did he think that Jesus would save himself? Did Judas think that since he had seen Jesus raise Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter from death, that he could save himself too?
They all thought that…they all thought that Jesus, who had done so many miracles and helped so many others, would help himself. They kept waiting for him to do that. As they looked back on the events prior to his death, there were so many chances he had to stop what was happening. He could have done it when Pilate challenged him. He could have done it when he was being mocked by the guards. He could have done it as he was carrying his cross out to Golgotha. They kept waiting for him to do something, to save himself. But, he didn’t. They surely must have wondered, why Jesus didn’t save himself?
Perhaps they also started second-guessing their own actions and inactions. We do that when something devastating happens to one of our loved ones. We begin to question our decisions, so maybe the disciples did the same thing.
Then there was Peter, who had denied Jesus 3 times, just as Jesus told him he would. Peter was devastated. He too had betrayed Jesus in his own way. The other disciples had fled for the most part as well. But the women, the women remained. They watched in horror and with hearts that were breaking that the one that they loved and who loved them unconditionally and treated them as equals and welcomed them to his table, died on that cross. They were probably relieved that at least his body had been taken down from that cross and placed in a safe place. Joseph of Arimathea had been so brave and so kind when asking Pilate for Jesus’ body so that it could at least be taken off of the cross before the Sabbath. There was some solace for them because his body was now safely in that tomb.
The women had so wanted to perform the ritual of anointing his body with the spices, myrrh and aloes, which was the custom. It was an honor to fulfill that custom. But, they didn’t have time to do it prior to the Sabbath. And, they could not prepare the spices during the Sabbath, since no work could be done. So, they had to wait until after sundown to properly prepare the spices. It probably felt like it was taking forever for them to mix together properly. Like it feels to us when we are anxious to get someplace that we really want to go to and yet, have anxiety about what will happen when we get there.
And, so, finally, the spices were ready and they set out for the tomb. It must have been a bit disconcerting when they saw that the stone was rolled away. I wonder what they were feeling as they approached and saw that the tomb was open. Were they worried? Were they fearful? Crazy things had been happening to them in their time with Jesus, so perhaps they approached hesitantly. Or, maybe they were alarmed and so walked more quickly once they saw that the stone had been moved.
Imagine their shock when they didn’t see a body there, and on top of that suddenly two strange beings appear before them! But, what they say to these women makes them strangely calm. They told the women the very things that Jesus had told them. With all that had been happening over the past several days, watching Jesus die, Judas betraying them and, their fear for their own lives, they had forgotten what Jesus had told them. They had forgotten that he told them that he would die but would return. These strangers helped them to remember his words. So they took off to tell the other disciples that Jesus wasn’t dead. That he had returned from death, just as he had told them he would.
But the male disciples didn’t believe them. Luke’s Gospel actually says that those who heard what the women told them, regarded their message as “an idle tale.” The Greek word that is used is leros, which is the root of our word delirious. So, they thought what the women said was crazy, utter nonsense, which isn’t hard to understand.
Resurrection is hard to understand. It defies all of the rules that we know. So, no one expects resurrection and no one believes it, at least not at first.
The thought of Jesus being resurrected throws us off balance and turns our neat and orderly lives into question. It is not really surprising that the disciples didn’t believe the women and thought that they were a bit delirious! Wouldn’t you? God’s promise to us is almost unimaginable. The implications of God raising Jesus from the dead, that God was creating a new reality, overthrowing death, sin and all that would oppress us, and declaring once and for all that life is more powerful than death and love more enduring that tragedy, is so hard to believe.
But, doubts and questions are an important part of faith. If we take faith at face-value, then we will not grow from it. As Dr. David Lose, president of Luther Seminary reminds us, doubts, questions and skepticism are not the opposite of faith, but rather they are an essential ingredient of faith because faith isn’t knowledge. As the author of the Book of Hebrews reminds us, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Easter Sunday is a day that we can give thanks to God for the gift of our faith, and for the gift of doubt, and the ability to not understand the mystery of the resurrection but to be inspired to hope and believe that it is true. That is at the very heart of our belief, to be inspired to hope and believe that the resurrection is true and to know deep within us that Jesus didn’t save himself because of God’s love for us. A love that goes beyond our understanding and leads us to doubt because we can’t imagine a love that amazing and all-encompassing.
Resurrection faith came slow to most of the disciples, but when it did come, it changed everything. It didn’t mean that they didn’t suffer hardships, because they did, as do we. It did not do away with suffering; that too is part of being human. However, what it does mean is that we as Christians are called on to create and continue communities of love, kindness and forgiveness, and support for those who are in need, both near and far. That is what the followers of Jesus did and that is what we have done here at FCC for more than 100 years and that is what we will continue to do for as long as we are in existence.
The resurrection is a new creation. It is a new beginning. It will hold us and it will keep us wondering, and awed and amazed, until the time when God creates a new heaven and a new earth and renews and redeems all things.