There’s one thing that, if we’re honest with ourselves, we all have. And that is a guilty pleasure. We all have something that we like or we like to do which brings us some level of shame. Maybe you like to sing Backstreet Boys songs at the top of your lungs or maybe you like to blow off work and just play with rocks and stuff all day, or, as Rob Jacob calls it, “being a geologist”.
In any case, we all have something. Now, I do have one of these. And at first it was a guilty pleasure, but I am no longer ashamed of it. And that is the phenomenal film known as “The Devil Wears Prada.” Oh my God — I love that movie. How many people have seen it? First of all, Meryl Streep is a treasure. But beyond that, it is so well acted. There’s a scene where Meryl Streep berates Anne Hathaway for wearing a cerulean sweater. It is a brilliant scene.
Anyway, it took my wife several years to convince me to see it, and for obvious reasons. The movie is about fashion and I clearly know nothing about fashion. But one of the reasons I love it so much is because it was so unexpected. I expected to hate it, but I LOVED it. And some stories are like that. Some stories take a wildly unexpected turn and end up somewhere you never thought it would and now we’re talking about the resurrection. The disciples expected to find something ordinary after Jesus’ death when they came to the tomb, but what they found was something more amazing than they could ever imagine.
Now, our text starts out by saying, “on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.” This verse presents us with a lot of questions. Why is the day of the week important? Who is coming to the tomb? What are the spices all about? And to answer these, we have to back up a little bit to the end of chapter 23. When we do that, we read in verses 54-56: “It was the Day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”
According to Jewish law, the sabbath day of rest begins on Friday at sundown and goes through Saturday at sundown. So, Friday before sundown is considered the “day of preparation” as one makes preparations so as to not have to work on the sabbath. Now, it’s worth noting that the women who came from Galilee “saw the tomb and how his body was laid” because when they come back, they know exactly what they’re looking for. They won’t expect to see anything different than what they’re looking at right now, but when they come back with the spices and ointment to perform ceremonial burial rituals for Jesus’ body, they find something extremely unexpected.
Our text says that when they got to the tomb, the stone was rolled away and the body wasn’t there. And as they’re trying to figure out just what might have happened, our text says that “suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 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, he is risen.” Now, the text says the men were in “dazzling clothes” which often connotes the fact that these are angels. And we’ve covered this before: biblical descriptions of angels are terrifying. They have 6 wings and bodies covered in eyes. It’s totally warranted that the people in our text would be terrified. But what’s really important here is not what they look like, but what they say: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen.”
And this is the crux of the Christian faith. That in some way, Jesus has defeated even death. But, before we get there, I want to look at the this first question for a minute: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” One of the primarily responsibilities of the church, and of Christian preaching, is to go around asking this exact question of people. Why do you look for the living among the dead? Because we often look for Jesus in all the wrong places. You won’t find him in your bank account or your job; you won’t find him in your stuff or your political affiliations. There are tombs everywhere around us. Maybe if Jesus was still dead, you’d find him there, but he’s not still dead, is he? All those things you try to find God in are dead-on-arrival when they come into contact with the resurrection. None of the tombs around us can contain the resurrected Jesus, just like the one in our text couldn’t contain him either. So, if we want to find the resurrected Jesus, where should we look for him?
Well, we could start in the list of places Jesus told us to look for him: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned. The risen Christ is everywhere around us, we just don’t like to look at him. Imagine how different the world might be if we treated these categories of people as if they were the resurrected Jesus. What if, going forward from this worship service, we were compelled to remind ourselves, every time we come into contact with the poor, that we’re coming into contact with the risen Christ? It’s easy to encounter this message in a church service, right? It’s easy to be told that that is where we can go to find Jesus in a church service because it’s cheap; it’s low-risk; you don’t actually have to commit to anything. But it feels quite different when we actually live this out in the world, doesn’t it? When we leave this place, and go out into the world, we’re prone to forget what we learned here. But I think we can find comfort in the fact that the characters in our story aren’t so different.
Right after the angels tell the women he’s risen, they say, “‘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…” Memory plays an important role in the bible. We see this all over the place, first and foremost, in the Old Testament. We see God moved to anger due to the faithlessness of the Israelites or the wickedness of humanity, but then suddenly he “remembers”; he remembers the covenant he made with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. But now, it’s time for us to remember. It’s time for us to remember God’s promises; it’s time for us to remember that Jesus’ words actually mean something beyond the here-and-now, that they ring out into eternity as the divine words which unsettle and displace the entire cosmos. And part of how they do that, especially in this instance, is by showing us that our hands aren’t necessarily clean of Jesus’ blood.
In the church, we like to use this language of how *we* nailed Jesus to the cross, how *we* are culpable for Jesus’ death. And I think, when we strip away the layers of theologizing and doctrines that deal with concepts of sin, maybe we’re culpable because we’re not radically different from the ones who put him to death. It wasn’t the anarchists or socialists who put Jesus to death; it wasn’t the poor or refugee or immigrant who called for his death; No, Jesus ultimately fell into the well-scrubbed hands of the religious elite — the ones who could never bring themselves to admit that God could be encountered amongst the poor and the unclean. It would behoove us to remember that — that the groups traditionally ostracized and oppressed and kept quiet are the ones who ultimately preach the gospel most powerfully to us. It’s true of us today, and it was true of the disciples way back then, and we know this because of how our passage progresses.
The women remembered the words of Jesus and “returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest…But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” This is my third year occupying the pastoral office during Easter and bringing the word of the resurrection to the parish, and this verse has never hit me so hard as it did these past couple weeks. We’re living through a time when this should hit pretty close to home. We’re living in the time of the #MeToo movement and the #BelieveWomen movement. I remember sitting right downtown, in Amami, watching the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and watching Christine Blasey Ford give her testimony. And when we think about that and the #MeToo movement and then we read this verse, we should be struck by the fact that the practice of not believing the testimonies of women goes all the way back here to the bible when a group of women preached the resurrection and weren’t taken seriously. The single hinge which separates Christianity from all other religious traditions in history rests on the preaching of women. We MUST believe women. We MUST create spaces for women to be heard. Sure, Jesus may have been a man but who brought him into the world? Who first preached the resurrection? The Christian faith would have never made it out of ancient Palestine if it weren’t for women, and we need to remember that the next time we’re tempted to let a women and her story just fall by the wayside.
Now, I’m not sure if it was the preaching of the women or the anger at the idea of Jesus’ body having been stolen or something, but Peter gets up and runs to the tomb. And when he gets there, we’re told he stoops and looks into the tomb and sees only the cloths. Now, when we think of someone “stooping”, we think of someone bending down and kind of hunching over, and the reason for that is probably because the tomb Jesus was buried in was dug down-and-into the side of a hill or something. So, there were probably stairs you had to walk down to get down into the tomb, so instead of going inside — maybe for fear of what he might find there, or not find there — Peter stays outside and just peers in. But instead of finding the body of Jesus, he just finds the cloths that were wrapped around him. And our text says he went home, amazed at what had happened.
We come together, every spring, and hear the story of the resurrection, and it can be easy to do just that: come to church, hear the story, and go about our business. But what if we actually began to believe in the resurrection? I mean, according to our story, a bunch of the disciples went to a tomb they assumed they would find undisturbed, only to be told by angels that Jesus was no longer there, but that he was risen. Now, there’s definitely some cultural and linguistic stuff happening here and I don’t really know what happened at the first Easter, but I’m assured of the fact that something happened. After all, the resurrection is the crux of the Christian faith because the resurrection means that this world isn’t the only possible world. It means that a day is coming when God will be all in all. It means that a day is coming when all will have according to their need and people can live and die well. It means buying into the idea that all this — a broken healthcare system where people are dying in the richest country in the world because they can’t afford their medication, a criminal justice system plagued by systematic racism, a military-industrial complex that puts money before lives — it means buying into the idea that this isn’t all there has to be. That we were meant to live for so much more and that God is on our side in working toward it.
So, as we leave here today, carry the resurrection with you. Take it with you to work; take it with you to your kids’ sporting events and when you’re out shopping. Open your eyes to see the risen Christ in everyone; open your eyes to see the tension between how the world is and how it could be. And open your eyes to see that God is always doing something extraordinary in the mundane. May the Lord be with you every step of the way. Lets pray.