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 had happened. --Luke 24:1-12 (NRSV)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! Alleluia, Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!
I wonder what their plans were after Jesus had died on that Passover evening - the disciples who had followed him so long on the journey to Jerusalem. Simon Peter, James, and John, from the beginning, then the remaining nine. The tax collectors and those whom Jesus had healed or raised from the dead. And, the women. Yes, the women. So many of them named in Luke’s gospel. All of the disciples, men and women alike, coming from so many different lives. What would they do now that Jesus had died? Would they simply go back to life as usual?
This was what the women were doing that early morning after the Sabbath. They’d watched from afar as Jesus died, followed Joseph of Arimathea as he’d taken down the body of Jesus, wrapped it in a rock-hewn tomb. Not the typical tomb where bodies were stacked upon each other, but one that had never been used. Perhaps, for the women, this irony was not lost on them - that Jesus’ life had begun in a virgin’s womb and ended in a virgin tomb. They hadn’t been able to prepare Jesus’ body properly for death that night, because it was the Sabbath. He’d been buried without the proper rituals and anointing, without the ability to properly mourn his death, much like so many families in our world have experienced in this past year.
But, the women were determined to keep their traditions, to do life as usual. This meant preparing the burial spices and the ointments. Then resting on the Sabbath, waiting for the next day to begin to do things the way they had always been done.
Except this wasn’t how things had always been done. It wasn’t long before they learned this. The two men at the tomb, standing there in dazzling clothes, who reminded them of what Jesus had told them, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day would rise again. The women remembered this. And, then, quickly returning from the tomb, they went to the remaining eleven disciples and all the others and shared this news.
But, it hadn’t taken long for the other disciples to revert back to the way things had always been done. The women’s voices were quickly dismissed. Nonsense, is what these disciples said to them. Dismissing their voices. All of the disciples. Well, except for Peter. Who quickly ran to the tomb to see for himself.
The truth of this story is that the resurrection of Jesus and the dawning of the new creation along with him is a threat to anyone who would rather continue living as if the cross were the end of the story. The women, going to the tomb, were planning to perform that one last act of love for Jesus and, then, return home to their former lives. Peter and the rest would have returned to their boats, their nets, their many occupations.
But the empty tomb changes everything, opening up new possibilities. There is no way back to their former lives in Galilee. And, even though Luke tells us that Peter went home after seeing the empty tomb, we soon will learn that this wasn’t the end of it: Peter would become one of the primary leaders in this new movement that would become known as “The Way.” And he, like Jesus, would eventually die on his own cross.
The resurrection is a joyous event. But it also moves - no, compels the disciples forward to bear their own cross. To go into the messiness of their world and to share this good news. To forgive. To heal. And to love.
This call by Jesus for his disciples to take up their cross and follow him is still valid for us. It would be so much simpler for us to go back, post-pandemic, to the old way of doing things. It would be so much safer if we were not compelled by the resurrection to oppose injustice, oppression, and all forms of evil. The message - the full message - of Easter is both joy and challenge. It is the announcement of unequaled and final victory over sin, death, and the devil. But, it is also the call to radical, dangerous, and even painful discipleship.
Easter is coming. What will you do?
Preached April 4, 2021, online with Grace & Glory and Third Lutheran churches, Goshen/Louisville, KY.
Readings: Luke 24:1-12, Psalm 118:17, 21-24.