Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year C – Easter Sunday: Resurrection of Our Lord
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – April 21, 2019
The women go to the tomb early after resting on the Sabbath. They’ve prepared spices, but also prepared themselves for the heartbreaking work before them. They will anoint Jesus’ body for burial. Thankfully, the heavy stone is rolled away when they arrive, but where is Jesus’ body? Suddenly, they see two men with dazzling clothes – clothing that flashes like lightning before them. These women had been prepared for death and humbling, sorrowful work, but they hadn’t been prepared for this. Naturally, they’re terrified and bow down, averting their eyes.
But the men, later called angels, ask them, “‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’” They know full well that the women were looking for Jesus’ body that Joseph of Arimathea had taken off of the cross, wrapped in linen, and placed in a tomb cut out of solid rock on that dark Friday. They knew what they had seen. I can see the angels grinning with a twinkle in their eyes – “don’t you remember what he said? Do you dare hope that what he said might be true?”
So the women rush off, telling Jesus’ other disciples. And the words of the women sound like complete nonsense to them. But not Peter. These words cause him to rise up and run to the tomb. There, staring at the discarded linen cloths, he has to reconsider everything he’s heard. And he leaves the tomb amazed and wondering. But why was it just Peter who ran to see?
At the Last Supper, Jesus had told Peter he would deny him, but that when he had “turned back” he would strengthen his brothers. Peter, ever the eager beaver, protests: “‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’” Jesus knows Peter will deny him and yet Peter is not willing to believe it. So he sets out to follow Jesus. Three times, he denies him. And in one of the most gut wrenching parts of the story we hear the fateful rooster sound and: “The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered [how] the Lord… had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.”
In that moment when Jesus looked at him, Peter’s heart was broken open in a way it seems the other disciples hadn’t experienced. He came face to face with his denial, yes, but also the depth of his own sin and shortcomings. He came to the full realization of his need for grace and forgiveness. It was his own crucifixion moment. It was a death blow to his ego – to the self that thought he was incapable of denying his beloved Lord, of hurting someone that deeply through his words and actions.
These women, too, had been healed of many ailments by Jesus. They had been set free from sicknesses and suffering by Jesus’ healing touch. Interestingly, the ones who believe the resurrection are those well acquainted with pain, suffering and grief. At some point or another, their hearts had been broken.
We all have moments that crack us open. We know it too well. But as painful as these moments are, they are also entries that allow God’s transformative grace and healing to flow in and through us. The early church fathers and mothers understood this in a way that we might not. They knew this phenomenon as the “gift of tears” or, to use the fancy word: “compunction.” As Christine Valters Paintner writes, “Compunction is … grace-filled and humble self-knowledge, recognizing that you are always on the journey and have never arrived. … The gift of tears brings with it discomfort and pain that comes when we finally allow ourselves to have a direct experience of reality. Tears are agents of resurrection, ushering us into new life — life lived awake and fully present.” For a more recent example, Pixar’s movie “Inside Out” deals with the need to embrace both Joy and Sadness in our lives to experience the fullness of life. Encountering our own pain, worry, doubt, grief, fear, sinfulness, and the hurts of the world, we can truly hear the good news that Christ freely gives unending forgiveness, grace and love. We can begin to grasp that God makes us new creations.
Unfortunately, we want to skip all of this and go straight to the happy, bouncy, good stuff. Douglas John Hall says we want to avoid suffering: “…to have light without darkness, vision without trust and risk, hope without an ongoing dialog with despair – in short, Easter without Good Friday.” But we cannot avoid it. We cannot look away. We cannot disregard the suffering of our sisters and brothers. We cannot ignore the woundedness in ourselves without it spilling over into other areas of our life. Because when we do, the resurrection is just more idle talk. Empty nonsense that has no impact on us.
Instead we have to go through our own journeys of death, waiting, and new life. Confronting the wounds of the world and of ourselves, we see the crucified and risen Christ in them. And we catch glimpses of the mysterious new life he is bringing. When we look honestly and openly, we, too, can be amazed, perplexed, mystified, and dazzled by this story of resurrection. Yes, Peter felt the full depth of sorrow, but it also allowed him to be open to the depths of the good news – news of an open and empty tomb. To grasp hope again. Sometimes I wonder if we are so bombarded with stories and news that we have become numb. That we’ve lost our capacity for awe and wonder. This story invites us back into that joy-filled way of life. Like the women and Peter, we can be surprised at what God is up to. We can laugh with the angels because we know that the living are not among the dead. That Christ is risen and is doing a new thing! In us! In the world! Can I get an “Alleluia?!” It might look profoundly different than what we imagine or hope for, but it is there.
Like the disciples, we may think that the resurrection is just idle chitchat or a lovely wish. But when we encounter and experience it in light of our pain and sorrow, there is no doubt of what it is. It’s reconciliation and the mending of relationships we thought impossible. It’s learning trust and compassion instead of worry, control, and judgment. It’s breakthroughs and healing from addictions. It’s welcoming people in need. It’s forgiveness that offers healing and wholeness. It’s second, third, and fourth chances. It’s an extremely generous gift from a non-member who passed away to our Building Up campaign so we can keep doing important ministry in this place. It’s ancient windows and a cross emerging from the ashes of Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s people pledging to rebuild and therefore drawing attention to three historic African American churches destroyed by arson.
Hilary of Poitiers put it this way, “God will repair what has been shattered, but not by mending it with something else. Rather, out of the old and very same material of its origin, God will impart to it an appearance of beauty pleasing to Himself.” It’s not that we rise without brokenness. Rather that God makes all things new through our grief, wounds, and scars. That is the beauty of Easter.
Peter went away from the tomb amazed. He understood the joy of the resurrection because he understood the depths of despair. Jesus was right about his denial, but he was also right about him being empowered to strengthen and help his brothers believe. Later, people would be amazed at the acts of healing he performed in Jesus’ name. They were amazed at his boldness in preaching in the face of persecution, torture, and death. As for Mary Magdalene, Eastern Orthodox tradition calls her Equal to the Apostles, and says she went on to preach. She even went before Roman Emperor Tiberias and used a red egg to explain the resurrection, boldly and bravely proclaiming, “Christ is risen!” Not bad for someone from whom Jesus had exorcised seven demons.
If Peter denied Jesus and was forgiven and redeemed, why should you be any different? If Mary Magdalene was freed from her demons, what makes you think your struggles cannot be conquered through Christ’s love? We, too, rise with Christ. We, too, are transformed. That’s the good news today and every day. Sin, death, and all that is evil in this world – do not have the final word. God does. And God’s word is life for God’s people and the entire universe.
Can we with the women and Peter be amazed and astonished at what God has done? Will we open our eyes, ears, and hearts to revel in awe and wonder at the new life Christ is bringing? In doing so, Jesus’ resurrection and ours, too, will not be idle talk, but the hope that grounds us and gives us courage to face our wounds and scars without fear. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.