Easter Sunday

S. Easter.20 “Remember?” Luke 24:1-12

Overall, I think the angels were awfully nice with the clueless disciples who visited the empty tomb Easter Sunday. They could have been mean. Some people would have been a bit sharp with them, harsh, even. I’m glad I don’t know any of those people because mean people s… uh; they are not nice.

But these guys are not only splendidly dressed clothes shining like heaven; they also have lovely manners. Lovely manners are a lovely thing. By the way: I know everyone thinks these are angels in the sense of “heavenly beings” but Luke never says “angel” a word that means “messenger” in Greek anyway). I think these were two of the saints who were raised from the dead in Jerusalem the moment Jesus died on Good Friday. Matthew tells us this, you will recall: that, at the moment Jesus died, the tombs were opened, and many of the saints were raised and went around the city that weekend chatting people up. I think these are two of them, doing that

But, either way, saints and angels like hanging out in unusual places—anywhere there’s a strong aroma of Heaven. But these two are really so very polite about the total cluelessness of the disciples. The women are understandably shaken, not stirred, by the presence of these bright, shiny men. They are afraid. I think the two men might have peered over the women’s shoulders while they were poking around the tomb, looking for Jesus’ Body: “I could have sworn Nick and Joe laid it right here. Men! Do you see him, anywhere…?” and the angels just kind of stroll up from behind, trying to help, and the women freak and fall on their faces, fearful…

But, these guys are sweet—I mean there’s no easy way to make your presence known in a tomb in such circumstances. They did the best they could. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you it would go down like this, the crucifixion, the bleeding, sighing, dying would be followed by a rising? Hey, whoa, wait… fast runners, those ladies!” Some less nice people might have let the word “stupid” slip, but these two are perfect gentlemen. I like them.

Remember? Remember what Jesus has been telling you all along? That he came to die? That for our sins he had to be delivered into the hands of sinful men, crucified and the third day rise? That this was necessary for our sins to be forgiven, our life restored, our place in heaven secured? Remember: only Jesus does dying right? Remember, he says the only way to heaven is through the grave, dying with him??!!! So, fear not!

They did remember, Luke tells us, as they went racing from the tomb like they’d seen ghosts in a cemetery. I won’t say “screaming like little girls”, but you know, I wouldn’t not not say screaming like little girls, either. And they tell the news to the Apostles who may or may not have remembered Jesus saying stuff like this, but either way: the heavenly words were, to them “an idle tale” They did not believe. Though Peter, impulsive as always, ran to the tomb (with John, who ran faster) and looking in, snatched up the Shroud of Turin going “what a weird, possibly 3D negative image that looks like Jesus. This could be valuable, someday” (OK, even the NIV doesn’t say; that but it’s implicit in Peter’s noticing the linen cloths and marveling).

I did a Peter myself; went to the tomb in Jerusalem with Bonnie a couple years ago. I’d like to say that I went with no such doubts as Peter and the others entertained, but that isn’t true. I’m like the man with the lunatic son “Lord, I believe… help my unbelief.” My faith is 9.9. But my skepticism, as an old philosophy major, remains high as well. Still; the visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre helped…

I was skeptical about whether this was really the place and all, but wow! The moment I walked into that Place, I knew. The aroma of Heaven hits you hard in that sanctuary, like a lovely lady’s beautiful perfume; lingering in the air long after her exodus. It gets to you in a good way. Kneeling in the tomb, touching the place where his Body lay, I had the most powerful sense of not-there-ness I guess you’d call it—the main message of the angels the first Easter. “He’s not here!”.That Sunday morning in old Jerusalem, two years ago, stooping and looking into the tomb, like Peter, I knew: He is definitely not there. But the utter absence of the Body is a powerful sort of Presence at the same time. It’s not like any other place I’ve ever been. As Bonnie will attest, I went back again, and again; I wanted, like Peter on the mount, to pitch a tent and stay there, until His Return…

I should not have needed to make the trip to the tomb. I should have remembered what Jesus said, what mom and Sunday School teachers told me. I should have believed their reports. They’re all true…

I have been trying really hard, I hope you notice, to be nice and upbeat for Easter Sunday and not mention the Corona thing, but my bones grow weary of holding it in. I’m very angry, indeed (probably Luther’s hearers got tired of him mentioning the Bubonic Plague and Papal Tyranny too). It’s been an emotional week—harassed by officious bureaucrats stomping all over the 1st Amendment, emptying our churches in a way unprecedented in American history! So I just have to ask: does anyone believe the News that the Crucified Jesus is Risen, Victorious over death? Really, seriously? Bueller?

It seems to me, if we believed, as the first disciples finally did, without question (I do not say without doubts, but without question, which is to say: they knew from then on the doubts were just silly) well then: we would have a full church this morning. We’d live in a world going about its business: a riskier world, more hospital admits, maybe, a heightened sense of human mortality, with compassion for our neighbors and their fears…

But we would not be hiding away, sheltering in place behind locked doors. No! If we believed JESUS IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD!, we’d also be convinced in our bones that death “ain’t nothin’ but a thing”—a thing that’s no-thing to be too worried about. Mildly concerned? Yes, for sure! But terrified? Hiding? Afraid to touch anything lest the Corona get us? No. That is not how believers deal with deadly things…

I saw a person, recently, walking a dog in a full hazmat suit. At first, I was scornful; but then, my heart went out to the poor soul. Jesus would take such fear of death away, as would I. Jesus has removed the sting of death by his dying; and a bee with no stinger’s just a cute, furry little creature.

The only thing to fear, really, is forgetting the words of Jesus, his death and resurrection, the words of forgiveness, life, and salvation. A still worse thing is that, remembering, the words would seem to us an idle tale, literally unbelievable.

Do what you have to do. The first disciples cowered and hid behind locked doors, afraid to visit the tomb, or linger there. But Jesus passed through the stone walls, the locked doors, found them, forgave them, raised them to courage and faith, to love and life with Him. May those marvelous words: “He is not here”—the sheer not-there-ness of the empty tomb—make us all remember, make us believe that… Christ is risen! Indeed; and that because He lives we too have conquered death. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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