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Luke 24: 1-12
April 17, 2022
Easter Celebration of the Resurrection
Everyone has a story. Several years ago, a trend originated to create autobiographies of just six words. There are dozens of websites and social media platforms where people share their six word memoirs. Some are humorous, like the person who said his life could be summed up in the six words, “Not quite what I was planning.” Or comedian Steven Colbert’s: “Well, I thought it was funny.”1 Others are serious or even tragic. “Only child, but never the favorite.”2 And “I still make coffee for two.”3
Writing about six word stories, Episcopal priest Catherine Caimano said that Christianity has its own six word autobiography, that of all the billions of words we use to try to explain the Christian faith, the heart of it can be distilled into just six words: “Jesus is risen from the dead.”
Caimano wrote, “These are the words that the breathless women carried from the empty tomb back to the other disciples. These are the words that have been passed from person to person, from community to community, every day since then -- in secret, in triumph, in darkness, in celebration.”
“It is these six words that have found countless individuals whose lives were already dead -- broken by pain and suffering, by sin and darkness -- and given them new life,” she said.4
“Jesus is risen from the dead.”
What we celebrate on Easter morning is the truth in those six words. Because Christ is alive, we do not live as those without hope. Because Christ is alive, we know that God is with us! When Christ was put to death on the cross and buried in the tomb, buried with him was the power of sin and death. Evil cannot conquer us. It may live in this world for a time, but the victory has already been won. When Christ was raised from death, we were raised with him---raised to a newness of life where all things are possible, where we never walk alone because he is with us. Whatever problems we face, or sorrows or grief, whatever troubles we need to overcome, we have the strength and wisdom of Christ. And at the end of our lives on this earth, we do not have a final end, but instead a new beginning: life eternal with our Lord.
Jesus is risen from the dead.
To understand this, to understand what we believe as Christians and what is at the heart of our faith, we have to start with the last of those six words: “dead.” Jesus was really dead. There was no hoax, no mistake, no misunderstanding. Jesus was not placed in the tomb still breathing. There were dozens of witnesses---a small number of Jesus’ loved ones, and many objective bystanders: the guards, the Roman soldiers, the spectators---who saw Jesus take his last breath and die.
He was placed in the tomb, wrapped in burial cloths, and the tomb was sealed.
He was dead.
When the women went out in the grey twilight that morning, they were not expecting to find life. They took spices to tend a dead body. What they found astonished them! Instead of the lifeless body they expected to see, they found the tomb empty! As they stood there in confusion, two men, identified later in Luke 24 as angels, stood dazzling before them. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they asked. “He is not here, but he is risen.”
Jesus is risen from the dead!
We start with the word, “dead,” but at the center is the word “risen.” Jesus is RISEN from the dead. That is our resurrection hope. That is the word that changes everything. He was dead, but he is risen!
The words of the angels to the women are words for us, also. When we lose hope, when we think we have come to an end, we should hear again these words, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but he is risen.”
The women had to be reminded of what Jesus had already told them. The heavenly messengers said, “Remember how he told you…..Then they remembered his words,” and they left the tomb, they left that place of death and darkness, and went out into the bright new morning.
In our lives, whenever we come to places of death and darkness, and hope is hard to find, we, too, should listen to the words Jesus has already spoken. Words of love. Words of hope. Words of forgiveness and joy.
In the past year, we have lost a number of dear, faithful members of this church, people we loved, each one unique and special. During that time, some of you also lost loved ones in your families. Whenever we lose a loved one, of course we mourn. The hurt of missing someone we love is deep and real. But we do not grieve as those without hope.
Every time I conduct a Memorial Service, I always begin with the words of our Lord: “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. “Those who believe in me, even though they die, shall live, and those who live and believe in me shall never die.” Each time I speak those words, I have hope. I have hope because of the resurrection, that those we lose are not gone from us forever. They have only stepped into the next room, so to speak. We cannot see them now, but one day we will be reunited in God’s heavenly kingdom, never to be parted again. Resurrection hope.
That is true not just of eternal life, but of the good and abundant life Christ has for us here and now. In the stories of our lives, storms come to all of us. The words of some of those six word autobiographies ring true for us: “Dinner for two: Widower and memories,” read one. Or another, “Alcohol brought us together, and apart.” “Recovery never really ends, does it?” And this one: “Ring, church, groom. Where is she?”5
Whenever our life story leads to darkness, we should remember the hope of the resurrection. If we feel weighed down by grief, if we feel imprisoned by past mistakes, if we are troubled or confused and cannot see a way forward, we have resurrection hope. Christ is risen! And because he lives, we shall live also---here and now, with the abundant life God intends for us. Christ brings us out of the tomb of darkness, freeing us from whatever would keep us captive. We are not bound to the past, by things that come from death. We are not held captive by the constraints of the world. We are freed by a resurrection power that comes from God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, freed to live fully and freely.
Writer Debie Thomas shared her experience attending a conference called, “Why Christian?” Begun in 2015 by Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Boltz Weber, the annual gathering involved speakers sharing their answers to the question, “Why, amidst all the challenges and disappointments of life... the historic and contemporary failures of the Church, the faith-shaking traumas of their own pasts, do they still have skin in the game?” In other words, why are they Christians?
Thomas wrote, “I heard the story of a priest who crossed the Mexican border in the dead of night at the age of seven, and heard Jesus’s consoling voice during her long, terrifying journey...I cried at the story of an African American artist who mourned her way to God after the sudden death of her newborn daughter.
“If I went to the conference expecting An Answer,” she said, “— a single, coherent, and conclusive answer to the question, ‘Why Christian?’ I didn’t hear it. What I heard instead are variations on a theme — the theme of hope in the midst of struggle. As in: here is what happened when the pain, trauma, loss, and disappointment of my life bumped up against the inexplicable love of God. Here’s what it felt like when mortality’s ‘no’ collided with divinity’s ‘yes.’ Let me tell you what I saw, heard, smelled, and tasted when the specific death I thought would end me — the death of a child, a relationship, a dream, a belief, an expectation — encountered resurrection. Here’s the story of what happened when I saw the Lord.”6
Everyone has a story. At the conference, Debie Thomas heard story after story from people who encountered the risen Lord and were changed!
Thomas wrote, “We come to the empty tomb as ourselves, for good or for ill. We don't shed our baggage ahead of time; it barges in with us and shapes our perceptions and conclusions. What matters, then, is encountering the risen Jesus in the particulars of our own messy lives. What matters is finding in the empty tomb the hope we need for our own struggles, losses, traumas, and disappointments. Whatever universal claims we make as Christians must begin in the rich, fertile ground of our own hearts, our own stories,” she said.7
One symbol of Easter is the butterfly. When we look at a chrysalis, it resembles the sealed tomb; from our perspective, we see no signs of life. But inside, something miraculous is happening. New life is being created! At just the right time, the seal is broken, and a new creature comes forth! What once was drab and muted is clothed in bright color! What once crawled along the ground now has wings! A butterfly has emerged, and it flies into the glorious light of morning.
The good news for us on this Easter morning is that with God, our stories always have a new beginning.
When we are in a place of darkness and we cannot imagine anything else, when we feel like we are at an end and we cannot see a way forward, when we feel imprisoned in a tomb we cannot escape, God rolls away the stone, and calls us into the light. That is the two-fold hope of the resurrection: We believe that the end of this life is not the end, but only the beginning of life eternal. And we have hope in the abundant life and love we receive from God now.
God’s vision for us is a life of wholeness and peace, of love and grace and joy.
So on this Easter day, may you see the risen Christ! May the six-word story—Jesus is risen from the dead---be part of your life story. May you experience the hope of resurrection. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Amen.
Rev. Dawn M. Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church