Sermon Text: Luke 24: 1-12
A few of my former congregations had cemeteries right across the road from the church buildings. Generations of members were buried in these graveyards, names of the headstones were common, their descendants were still active in the ministry of the church. Every once in a while, I would stroll through those cemeteries, reading the markers, and eventually I would see names I was familiar with, people I knew personally, people I had buried and commended into God’s eternal care.
When I made these visits, the graves of the people I did not know would make me ponder. I’d ask questions about who they were, what they did, what type of personality they had. But when I came to the people I knew, something different would happen; I would remember. I remembered their funeral services. I remembered my time with them. I remembered the circumstances of their deaths. I remembered the favorite stories I had of them. That’s one of the fascinating aspects about visiting a tomb—they make you remember.
Once, when gathering with a family around their father’s grave, months after he had died, the family brought out a bottle of his favorite cheap table wine—he was famous for having a glass of this stuff every night—and everyone stood around his grave and shared a glass of that swill and recollected their favorites stories. Time stood still as they laughed, cried, and recounted old legends and close-guarded personal stories.
At the tomb we remember.
On Easter morning the women are going to Jesus’ tomb, and they’re going for multiple reasons. First, they’re going to play the role of undertaker or funeral director. They have spices and ointments to anoint and prepare Jesus’ dead body. They’re fulfilling their cultural obligations.
But I also think that they are going to the tomb to remember. These women had experienced a colossal amount of loss and trauma in the past few days, how could they not remember as they do their duty and spend time with Jesus’ body in the tomb? How could they not think of how they met him, what he did for them and others, the miracles, the times they shared, the teachings, and the horrific events that led to his untimely death? I imagine their minds were flooded with memories as they tried to process.
However, as they near their destination something is not right, something that undoubtedly raised an alarm and chased away the memories they were harboring. The stone at the tomb’s entrance had been rolled aside. The scene had been disturbed. Jesus’ body is not there.
In the midst of this new trauma and confusion another inexplicable event occurs: two men dressed in dazzling white clothes appear out of nowhere. They ask, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” And then the two men lead the women in a different type of remembering.
“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.”
The women came that Easter morning with spices and memories, but at the tomb God gives them more than memories. God will give them new life.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
From now on our memories of the dead are not the only thing to which we can cling. Death could not contain Christ. On Easter morning he shattered the power of the grave. And now we can live in trust and hope that our memories will be accompanied by the promise of new and eternal life. We remember and we live into the resurrection.
Where do we long to see the living among the dead? Where do we long for more than memories? Where do we long for Gospel hope and resurrection?
Is it personally: at the graves of our loved ones or the loss of independence or the addition of a new diagnosis on a medical chart or relationship that has fallen apart? Where do we long to see the living among the dead?
Is it in community: at the loss of life as we knew it, or the loss of opportunities, or the death of common decency and civil conduct in this country? Where do we long to see the living among the dead?
Is it internationally: at the unspeakable war crimes and destruction wrought by a cold-hearted tyrant, or the millions of people fleeing for their lives, or the scourge preventable diseases and living conditions that claim the lives of the vulnerable? Where do we long to see the living among the dead?
We have losses. We have trauma. We have tombs with stones rolled shut over the entrance. But they do not have the final say. Death could not contain Jesus and it will not contain us. New life can spring forth from the tragedies of the world just as new life will one day spring forth from our graves.
Where do we long to see the living? Where can God overcome our many experiences of loss and death? What stones of ours need to be rolled away?
The good news is that Jesus lives. The tomb is empty. And one day God will transform our losses into life through the power of the resurrection.
We won’t simply have our memories. We will have the gift of new, eternal life.
Happy Easter. AMEN