Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
April 21, 2019 –Easter
Things don’t always work out the way we think they should. The long periods without seeing the sun is grimmest part of winter to someone like me who has spent so much of my life on the east side of the mountains.
I learned that first year that if there is going to be sunshine at all during the day, it is most likely to come at about 4:00 in the afternoon. So go out about 4:00 and face the sun for a few minutes. A friend told me the animals know this and they do it. It sounds a little off, but it has turned out to be true and it seems to help.
We had an unusually large amount of sunshine this winter, especially in February, whole days of it. It was wonderful and it made winter days look spring like.
You would think it would be warmer, too. But because the skies were so clear, and there was no cloud blanket to hold in the heat, the lake froze over for the first winter, I am told, since 1996-97. More sun meant more cold. It shouldn’t be that way, but there you have it. It happened.
Last week Notre Dame de Paris was engulfed in flames, the great spire was consumed and the roof fell in. It looked like a total loss of an 850-year-old cathedral, one of the great treasures of the world. France should have been in deep mourning.
But the walls, the buttresses, and the great stone arches survived the fire. The great rose windows at the north and south ends of the nave were saved and the great relic of the cathedral, the crown of thorns Christ wore, was rescued.
Then something happened that reminded me of a day almost 18 years ago now. People saw that there were things in this world that were more important than they were. Resilience began to blossom.
Enough appears to have survived now to make a rebuilding possible. Already one billion dollars have been pledged to the reconstruction of the structure. This response was almost as unforeseen as the fire. It shouldn’t be that way, but there you have it. It happened.
So let’s go back a couple thousand years. The week that began so well ended badly. Triumph collapsed. Hope ended. The Promised One was betrayed by one of his own followers.
The one who probably profited as much – in worldly terms – from Jesus’ ministry …the keeper of the purse…betrayed him in the unkindest of ways: with a kiss.
He was arrested at night, which was against the law. He was accused by liars. His fate was finally sealed by the truth he told, the most amazing truth that ever occurred to anyone: that he was indeed the son of God.
Those who had always been faithful to him…had sacrificed through the three years he was with him… denied they ever knew him. When all was said and done, it turned out there was nothing more dear to them than their own lives.
The disciples go into hiding because now that their leader has been crucified, the authorities are looking for them. On the morning of the third day, some of the women go to the tomb to perform the sad ritual that any of their dead – much less this man – are entitled to receive. They bring spices to dress the body for the eternity that now opens before it.
None of the disciples dare take part in this mission. Their faces are known to too many people, and as men they constitute a threat to the good order of society if they are permitted to continue to be free.
But women were without power or status in the world back then. They derived their identities only from their families so that their great calling was to be sensitive to what was going on around them and to respond to the unspoken needs of all those…there were so many… more important than themselves.
So when Jesus came to the home of her brother Lazarus as he approached Jerusalem, Mary took a pint of pure nard and rubbed it on his feet.
Her sister complained that she should be helping with the meal, but Jesus rebuked Martha, saying that Mary had done right thing…she has chosen the better portion.
Judas Iscariot complained that the perfume could have been put to better use, but Jesus rebuked him, too. She is preparing my body for burial, he told those who were present, as if it were about to happen soon…
So the least important people… from the world’s point of view…are those who can see most clearly. It is when the most important is about to be taken from us that they are the first to understand his value.
And it is the least important of Jesus’ followers, then, the expendable members of the group, who can walk freely in the streets of Jerusalem, in the early morning hours after the Sabbath, after Passover, to his tomb.
It should not be a surprise to us then, when we learn that they are terrified when they find themselves confronted two men in dazzling clothes. By showing up there, they have identified themselves as followers of Jesus…who was condemned and crucified on Friday.
They could be swept away without the ceremony that a man would expect. Their spices, the fact that they are coming to do a service to him…their love for this Jesus…has become the evidence against them.
But the men in dazzling clothes do not speak harshly to them. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
He has risen? But he was dead. We saw him die. They are amazed at what they are told now has happened.
I have shared this with you before, but it is Easter and Easter is not just an old story about something that happened long, long ago. It happens again and again as we walk through life toward that tomb.
When my mother was at the Rainbow hospice house in Billings, I took our dogs over to see her. One of the dogs was so excited when we got into the room that I tried to close the door.
“Don’t close that door!” my mother said. “A man is coming and that door has to be open!” On the way out I asked one of the caregivers about this strange comment.
She had been saying that all day, she told me, and they had been wondering, too. “We thought that maybe it was you, but I guess not, huh?”
You may be amazed by the account, which appears in all of the gospel accounts, of men at the tomb, but I believe them…in an odd sort of way. It is still a mystery to me, but it is a mystery that my mother shared that day with everyone.
The men in white remind the women what Jesus had told them and all the pieces start to fall into place. They run back to the hideout and tell everyone what has just happened.
All of them think this is “an idle tale”, but there is one in the group who is impulsive enough to forget his fear and why he is in hiding. Peter gets up and runs to the tomb.
He looks in and sees that it is empty, corroborating a crucial part of the unbelievable story that the women have told. He does not have conclusive proof…yet…that Jesus has in fact risen, but (a) the tomb is empty, and (b) he, too, can remember that Jesus had told them this would happen.
Could it be? Is it possible…for God…that such a thing could happen? Ask my mother about that. I don’t know what she would say, but she had some understanding that no one else could fathom that night I took Roy – which means ‘king’ - and Zoe – which means life – to see her.
With Peter, I, too, am amazed at what happened. Do I believe it all? I can’t say that with the conviction you probably deserve from your pastor, but I can tell you that I do not disbelieve.
I do not know. I am as amazed as Peter, as terrified as Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary as I stand here before a mystery as great as the one waiting for Peter that morning when he ran to the tomb, bent down, and looked in.
Now I wait to see what happens next. Meanwhile, I watch and listen to what goes on around me, day by day, and I wonder. I am filled with wonder.
So I offer you a couple of pictures as we look forward to the rest of this Great Day in the Life of Faith. The first one is from my backyard on March 24th of this year.
The snow was so deep this winter and every couple of years the great old maple tree casts off thousands of seed pods. As the cold ebbs away, these seed pods are darker than the snow that has covered them, layer by layer, and this part of my yard is warmer than the rest and melts first.
There is a circle under the tree that is the first part of the yard to be barren of snow. The seed pods all lie flat, apparently lifeless, unable to move. But then, as spring continues to take the upper hand, look what happens.
The seed pods find a way to stand on end and burrow into the soil. Each one of these seeds becomes the beginning of new life. And they find a way to scatter themselves all around our yard at the parsonage.
The scriptures tell us that the midst of life we are in death, but all nature rebukes us and tells us that in the midst of death we are in life. It is just waiting for you to look away while it begins to stand up.
Just one more picture now.
Here is your bulletin cover, taken as fall begins on the East Front at the far edge of Glacier Park. We know that all this color will soon be as faded as those seed pods in the back yard of our parsonage. They will be buried in snow and by the time the thaw comes in spring, the color will be gone.
But new colors will appear then. New life will come back into the world, into the universe, into all of God’s creation.
If we listen closely and watch attentively, with open minds and open hearts, we will be amazed at what happens…to nature…to the world…and to us.
Be willing to be amazed. Be open to what the one true God who is beyond all understanding of mortals can do in the world…and in you.
Enjoy the ride, my friends. It is amazing…a free gift from God your creator…through Christ your redeemer…you know is true by the Holy Spirit that sustains you.
Share this, your story, with all you meet. Share your hope with family and friends and strangers.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us…through me…this day. Amen