Sunday, April 8, 2012

Says Who?

Says Who?
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 8, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Luke 24: 1-12

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

The Resurrection of Jesus

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. 

               So we made it! It is Easter Sunday! The tomb is empty,  the light of the world could not be trapped inside the tomb of death; nails were not enough to drive out life permanently; even the mighty hand of the Roman Empire's power is not enough to stifle the almighty will of God. But now what? What does this mean to our lives, and our world?
Christ's resurrection seems to challenge much about what our world sells as truth. You know that might makes right, that Earthly power is what matters, that physical force is the only effective means of change, that fear is the order of the day, that hope is offered by human hands, through politics, through leaders, kings, and emperors, that human beings have no real worth except what those powerful figures can squeeze from them, that human life is limited, that hate is stronger than love. . . to all of this the empty tomb seems to scream, says who? Why should it be that way? That is not the way the world was created to be. Instead sin has created that world.
In what Ron read this morning we don't see created the Roman ethos. Instead we see a world made by God, and made to be good by God, declared Good by God. And we see human beings made in the image of God. Male and female created he them, and God put forth the first of his commandments, saying, "Be Fruitful and Multiply." This commandment seems very different from the imperial decree of the emperor of Rome: Not the life giving, "Be Fruitful and Multiply" but the oppressive and control based, "Be dominant and occupy." Human beings weren't ever made to be that way, not to control and dominate life, but to create and give life. Isn't that a picture of the image of God. Jesus on the cross shows that this idea of creation is more meaningful and lasting. Go forth and build up life, rather than be a servant of sin. The empty tomb shows the futility of the human need to dominate and control it only leads to death. The world that says I need to secure myself and hold on to my life, which is the way to save it. The Cross yells, Says who?
But we look around us, and do we see those changes? Do we see that the world is any different, or do we see the same old same old. Our world, to the empty tomb also says, says who, because it doubts the truth of it. But so too did the first witnesses. Look at this morning's Gospel reading from Luke? The first thing that struck me was all of the pronouns. There were a lot of theys and thems, rather than names.
 they came to the tomb,
taking the spices that they had prepared.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
when they went in,
they did not find the body.
they were perplexed,
two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.
The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground,
the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, but has risen.
he told you, while he was still in Galilee,
Then they remembered his words
they told all this to the eleven
It is not until after all of this that the names are given. 10 "Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles." It seems to me that it is important that the tomb's witnesses are always them/they, and not us/we. We have to depend on another's witness when dealing with the empty tomb. And that is important to distinguish, as I will get to later.
But then the what  is most striking from Luke's account is the overwhelming lack of faith. The women were going to anoint the body with spices, and they are perplexed to find the body gone, surely wouldn't  you be too? But the doubt doesn't stop there, the two men, or as is probably a better description "Angels" remind the women, that this is not out of the ordinary, that in fact if they could remember correctly, this is all a part of Jesus' plan as described, "He said this would happen, why look for the body here." The cycle of doubt doesn't end there either, when the women went to tell the eleven, they considered it an "Idle Tale" according to verse 11, and they did not believe them. Then Peter, himself, goes to the tomb to see for himself, and even he is "amazed." Yes, amazed, perplexed, confused, bewildered, these are the words that surround the empty tomb because the ramifications are overwhelming and beyond what we truly can comprehend.
Why do you believe it? Why do you think that the stone rolled away and the body was gone? That Christ was resurrected? Why do you believe it? Have you seen it? How can  you believe that which you haven't seen  yourself? Is it because your parents believed? Is it because simply that you were born in the United States, or in some other part of Christendom? Why do you believe that Christ rose from the dead?
Let's look at the witness first here of the disciples and those women closest to Jesus. They walked with Jesus, witnessed miracles, water into wine, walking on water, raising Lazarus from the dead. They saw the healings: the blind, the leprous, the demon possessed, the bleeding. They heard his teachings, the sermons, the parables, the I am statements, the prophesies about being resurrected. They saw all of this first hand and they were confused, perplexed, and amazed. Why would our faith be different from theirs? Why should we be more enlightened than them? What is different for us? The answer of just what the difference for us is the same thing that made the difference for them.
The miracle of Easter is so much more than just the empty tomb. If it was just the empty tomb then we would all just be perplexed, confused, and amazed for all of eternity. It is too much for us to take in and it will always be. It is the rest of the Easter story that brings us from confusion to faith, and that is the fact that we get to experience the Risen Christ in our very lives. They get to witness to the empty tomb, but we get to witness to the Risen Christ. And that is what makes the difference for the disciples, too. . . In the next few verses in Luke's gospel, the disciples are on the fateful road to Emmaus,
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles  from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them. 

Jesus himself came near and went with them. They get to experience the Risen Christ for themselves. That is the real miracle of Easter, not just that Jesus has risen, and that the tomb is empty, but Jesus is Risen and we get to experience the Risen Christ in this our world. It is these experiences of the Risen Christ that make faith possible for the disciples, and I believe the same is true for us today.
If encountering the Risen Christ is what makes the difference, two questions come to mind: 1. Have you had an encounter with the Risen Christ, and 2. What is the difference that it is making in your life? Let's look at these two. . .
Have you had an encounter with the Risen Christ? It seems to me if you truly believe then you must have. . . since even the eyewitnesses of, and those who walked with Jesus needed such an encounter to believe. I have, and I have been struggling all week to try to figure out a way to share them, but they all seem so trite, as if pointing to one example is not enough. I mean I could say that I encounter the Risen Christ through my relationships with people, or by seeing a sunrise, or by going through a time of struggle, or in having communion. . . and all of those are true, but there is so much more. None of those things can encapsulate the encounter and that is what makes it so hard to describe. It is a lot easier to talk about our personal encounters with Christ in conversations with each other, than it is to speak definitively, from the pulpit, so this may seem like I'm passing the buck a bit, but I challenge us all to talk to each other over the course of the next few weeks, during this Easter season, and beyond really, as to what those experiences are. Sharing in that way though difficult may help us get a grasp. I think that is one of the great purposes of the church.
But it's the second question that is crucial "What difference does the encounter with the Risen Christ make in your life?" What does walking with the Risen Christ do for us? Does it make a difference? It must. It truly must because it makes all of the teachings of Jesus true. It means that God loves us, that God provides, that God redeems and forgives, that God sustains life, that the way we do things matters, that our lives are held in the palm of the hand of such a God, that we have no need to fear, no need to worry, no need to hate, or control, no need to hoard, no need to hesitate, no need to falter, no need to look at ourselves with disgust, no need to look at others with disgust, that God heals, that God understands, that God is with us, that God is seeking to have relationship with us, that God can encounter us where ever we are and make our lives worth living.
Does knowing this make a difference? So many in our world do not see the difference. God loves us, Says who? God is with us, Says who? The Tomb was rolled away and the Risen Christ is Running free in the world, says who? I pray that our lives can begin to answer their question. . . it does make a difference, and our lives, the way we live, the way we love, the way we are can be a witness to the Risen Christ in a world that is very much in need of an encounter. When the world asks, says who, may our lives scream out, says the Risen Christ!

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Lk 24:1-12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.