Easter Year C
The women wasted no time doing the business death requires.
I know these women, don’t you? In every congregation I’ve served, as soon as I learned of the death of a church member, I picked up the phone and called the president of the Presbyterian Women group. She in turn called up other women who would then get busy making pimento cheese sandwiches, purchasing mixed nuts and making sure the punch bowl and cups were cleaned and ready for the reception that would follow the memorial service or funeral. In some churches there were women who lined up ushers for the service, typed and copied the bulletin and played the organ. Others made casseroles and delivered them to the family’s home, ensuring all those coming in town would be fed for days. The women, and some men, too, took care of the details that must be tended to by the living in the wake of death. Often the one in the casket or urn was beloved by those making sure the reception was beautiful and the ushers strategically located throughout the building. Grief, no matter how profound, would not interfere with tending respectfully, lovingly, to all the necessary details.
I think about the stalwart church ladies I know when I read the Easter story. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of James and the other unnamed women do what needs to be done, regardless of their own loss and sorrow. They push through. They keep going. They care for others. They show up again and again and again. They polish the silver and put the linen cloth on the table. They take home the napkins, wash and return them, even though no one notices. They procure and prepare the spices, get up at dawn and head to the tomb. The eleven disciples are shut in and in shock as the women do the work that death, and love, requires.
I think about the persistent people of faith I know when I read the Easter story. Now, I know, this Sunday of all Sundays is about the power of God, the promises of God, the victory of God, the saving grace of God. This Sunday is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the defeat of sin and death, the glorious revelation that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, just as he said. I know today is the day we shout, “Alleluia!” Today is the day we put flowers on the barren cross and break out our finest clothes and wear outrageous hats and bring in the trumpets and ramp up the choir. Yes, to all of that and more. Hail thee festival day!
Bring on the joy, the hope, the celebration of life and a renewed belief in the power and possibility of our God. But give a small nod to Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other unnamed women who first did the work that love and faith requires. Consider the faithful who prepared the spices and got up before dawn and went to anoint the body of the One they loved and lost. Remember for a moment the people of faith who tend to the details of death only to be overwhelmed with the reality of resurrection life. Believe them when they tell you their testimony, describe what they’ve seen. Or at least let their seemingly idle tales propel you to go and find out for yourself what God has done.
That’s part of what this Easter Sunday is about: listening to those who know what it is like to dutifully do what love demands, no matter their own burdens and loss, and who in so doing encounter angels and experience evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They become witnesses. Easter points us to those people of faith who have been perplexed and terrified, and yet remembered what Jesus taught and told it to others.
Every week, or at least most weeks, I stand and say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” I am not sure, not exactly, what that means. Nonetheless, I affirm my belief in its truth, trusting the goodness of God to bring it about in ways somehow synonymous with this Easter story. I trust the grace of God. I remember the promise of Jesus that he goes to prepare a place for us. I know that because of Jesus’ resurrection nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God. But here and now, in this world of deep sorrow and painful loss, a lot of death and far too much fear, I need the witness of those who tend to the details that love requires.
These people of faith show up, quietly, persistently, their actions an extension of their prayer. They prepare the spices and the chicken salad. They go to the tomb and attend the funeral, too. They visit the shut-in who will not remember that they came. They make sure there is a pitcher of water and some cups and a box of tissues in the parlor for the grieving family. They turn on the lights and check the sound system in the sanctuary. They sweep the front steps and mark parking spots for the visitors. They do the work love requires, regardless of the circumstances that make that work necessary, despite their own fatigue or pain or sorrow.
I need to be reminded of all Jesus taught by those who’ve remembered his words of solace and hope through tears of sadness and joy. I need to hear from those who’ve got such extraordinary stories of angels and new life that their tales may at first seem idle, but even so compel me to go see for myself if what they say might be true. I need to spend time with stalwart, faithful people who get up before dawn and prepare spices and cut the crusts off small sandwiches and write notes of encouragement and visit the imprisoned and tend the sick and know by heart the teaching of Jesus. I need to be with those who live Jesus’ commandments and remind me to do likewise, no matter the present circumstances.
This Easter Sunday I want to shout: Christ is risen! And hear the robust refrain: He is risen indeed! I can’t wait to unearth the “alleluias!” I look forward to the overwhelming smell of the lilies and the choir’s glorious descants. I hope there will be a trumpet and some extra musicians on the chancel and no room in the pews and outrageous hats and little kids with baskets who’ve had far too much sugar to sit still. I want to hear a sermon that proclaims the mighty power of our God, the one who loves us so much that Jesus became incarnate, healed and preached and taught, was crucified dead and buried only to be raised from the dead in order that we might be forgiven, freed and reconciled. But I’d like a small mention of the stalwart people of faith who tended to the details that love demands, no matter the circumstances. I want to hear a word from those followers of Jesus who discovered in all their perplexity and terror, that all our Savior taught was, is and forever will be trustworthy and true. I hope to be inspired to emulate the women who had the courage to tell the tale of resurrection, regardless of who believed them so that others might be compelled to run to the tomb, find it empty this Easter Sunday, and be amazed.
- When you read these verses from Luke what stands out to you? Notice the verbs: perplexed, terrified, remembered, returning, told, amazed. What do those words communicate about a life of faith?
- When you recite the Apostles’ Creed, what does it mean to you to say you believe in the resurrection of the body?
- Who are those we don’t believe or think are telling idle tales? Why don’t we believe them?
- Where else in Luke/Acts do we find angels or “men in dazzling clothes” or “white robes”?
- When have you tended to details required of love? What were they? What compelled you to do them?
- Who are the dedicated people of faith who have taught you about Jesus and his teachings?
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