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Death to Life

Luke 24:1-12
David A. Davis
April 12, 2020
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I remember one Easter when I was a child, I had to walk the last half mile or so to the church because our car was stuck on a hill at a stop sign and the roads were icy. That might have been the same Easter the choir mom spit in her hand and rubbed my hair in the back to calm my raging cowlick. I remember sitting in a crowded Easter service next to Cathy when we were seminarians and getting the giggles as an ant was crawling on the collar of the man in front of us and I couldn’t decide where to ignore it, tell him, or just go ahead and swat if off without warning him. I remember the Easter when our daughter Hannah was very young and Cathy made matching Easter dresses for her and Hannah and a tie for me to match. I remember just last year when we were hosting Easter dinner for 22 people and our refrigerator stopped working on Saturday only to come back to life (temporarily) on Easter morning. What do you remember?

A traditional family menu item? Gatherings with friends? Getting dressed up in all the Easter finery? All the flowers? The crowds at church? The brass? The sanctuary of the church when you were young? Our sanctuary at Nassau Church? My office at the church has the best view maybe of any office in Princeton. A window right onto Palmer Square. I usually have to keep the blinds closed at the bottom because it can be so distracting, so tempting just to look out on the world. But I remember every Easter morning I leave the blinds wide open so I can watch folks coming from every sidewalk and every corner, coming to Easter worship. People “streaming” in.

Remember. Remember. Easter has always been about remembering. This morning, how many preachers do you think are telling congregations that this Easter, that today, that this morning will be the Easter Day of our lifetime that is closest to that first resurrection morning. The Risen Christ being made known to his followers, just a few of them as they were together. As the brothers of Taizé community in France sent pilgrims from around the world home a few weeks ago, they reminded people that the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples when they were secluded, hiding, and behind locked doors. One of my colleagues told her congregation that at first she was disappointed that Holy Week could come at a time like this. But she went on to tell them she had changed her mind. We need a week , she said that helps us to remember that our Lord and Savior is acquainted with suffering, sorrow, and death. And a week that helps us to remember that suffering, sorrow, and death are not the end of the story.

Remember. Remember. “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee”  That is what the two men in dazzling clothes said to the women who had come to the tomb that morning. The women who followed him from Galilee, who stood at the foot of the cross when he died, who were there when they laid him in the tomb. The women who came to continue the ritual of death and mourning. The two told them to remember. The first thing the men said when the women  of sorrow so suddenly found the two there beside them came in the form of a question. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen…Remember” Luke doesn’t label the two men in dazzling clothes “angels”.  The “dazzling clothes” brings to mind that description of the mountaintop scene in Luke chapter 9 when Jesus’ own face changed and “his clothes became dazzling white” before Peter, James, and John.  And then Moses and Elijah, the two of them appeared there next to Jesus. Luke doesn’t refer to the men as angels. Which makes sense because what they do NOT say to the women what angels always say: “Do not be afraid.”

When the women first arrived, Luke tells that they were “perplexed” at the stone rolled away and the open tomb with no corpse. When the two men suddenly appear beside them, and before the two say anything, “the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.”  They were terrified. It seems to me that “bowing their faces to the ground” is something of an understatement. They must have planted their faces in the ground., falling down in fear. They were terrified. Some would argue that bowing the head toward the ground is a form of greeting and respect. But that doesn’t pair well with being terrified. At the empty tomb in John’s gospel, Mary wept. In Mark the women were “alarmed”. In Matthew they leave the tomb with “fear and great” joy”.  Here in Luke they are just terrified. Who could blame them? They had just witnessed Jesus’s crucifixion. They had just witnessed what Luke called “this spectacle.” This torture, this murder, this death of an innocent man before a crowd gathered to watch. They had witnessed humanity’s worst and the death of someone they loved. Of course, they were terrified.

“‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. Remember…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.” They remembered his words. They remembered. One scholar suggests that the chaos of the arrest, the trial, the torture, the spectacle of it all blocked their memory. The trauma of Jesus’ death, the terror of being confronted by humankind’s lust for darkness and suffering blotted out their memory. I would think not just their memory of handed over, crucified, and on the third day rise again. But their memory of all that Jesus said, all that Jesus taught, all that Jesus did. Their memory of the gospel of Jesus Christ and all of his promises and the very shape of salvation offered in him, their memory was ripped away by death’s magnitude.

They remembered. As they remembered, according to Luke they returned from the tomb and “told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.” They remembered and they returned without fear to tell. Remembering took their terror away. Remembering that he said that he would rise on the third day. Remembering that day in the temple when he read from the scroll of Isaiah; “good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free”. Remembering how he fed the hungry with loaves and fishes.  Remembering how when he healed those who were suffering, he took on the forces of evil. Remembering after the Parable of the Good Samaritan when he said “Go and do likewise”. Remembering that he said “The Son of Man came to seek and save the Lord.” \

They remembered and they told the eleven. I wonder what they said first. “He is Risen” or “Remember how he told us?” They told the eleven and all the rest. All the rest. Yes, all the rest of the followers of Jesus that day that surrounded the eleven. Yes, Luke foreshadowing the mission to the Gentiles charted out in the Book of Acts. All the rest. Yes, to the followers of Jesus ever since; to the church, to you and to me. The followers of Jesus now taking up the task of those foremothers of proclamation. All of us, the church, telling all the rest. Proclaiming resurrection then, now, and forever. Proclaiming resurrection for the long haul. Not just on glorious Easter mornings when the pews are packed shoulder to shoulder. But on an Easter morning when the Risen Christ comes to you and your household right there at home. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! And remember all that he told you.

I have to tell you I am not sure I can wrap my head around the notion that officials are predicting Sunday as the highest number of deaths across the country. Today. Easter Day. But I can tell you this about Easter Day, about proclaiming resurrection power and hope on Easter Day, it is a Holy Spirit inspired, grace infused, God given way to not let your memory of all Jesus said be ripped away by death’s magnitude. Remember all he said and remember Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! As Brian Blount, President of Union Presbyterian Seminary puts it “Jesus came back. And the figurative and literal power of Life came back with him. With Jesus, in Jesus, and through Jesus, Life is coming hard after death…even in the midst of literal and figurative death, Life is coming…Fight the resurrection fight”  As Dr. Blount exhorts his listeners, “Paul declares that the resurrection fight is a fight we have been given the ability and obligation to join.”

Christ is Risen! (He is Risen indeed!)  Suffering, sorrow, and death are not the end of the story. Christ is Risen! (He is Risen indeed!) Neither the reality of death nor humanity’s thirst for power and victory keep him down. Christ is Risen! (He is Risen indeed!). It is the Risen Christ who embraces those brokenhearted with grief and comforts the dying. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!) The Risen Christ, the Lamb upon the throne who promises to wipe away every tear from the eye.

It is the Risen Christ who shall lead us through these present days. It is the Risen Christ who will give us the strength. It is the Risen Christ who will take our fear and empower us to cling to hope. In Jesus Christ, God didn’t let death win then and God won’t let death win now.

Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed!