We come this morning to the moment in the gospel we’ve all been waiting for. Since January we have been experiencing together the life of Jesus as it’s told in the gospel of Luke. There’s a lot of value to only studying one gospel at a team. They are unique, with different concerns, different emphases, and different ways of talking about who Jesus was and what he came to do. Taken all together, we get a full picture of all the possible ways to understand the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But we see that best not by mashing them up, but by experiencing them one by one. So this morning, you know what you’re going to hear. This week we have read Luke’s version of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, their argument about which one of them is the most important, their inability to stay awake and pray with him in the garden. We read his arrest, we saw the collusion between the religious and political systems, we heard Jesus mocked and condemned. We were there at the crucifixion, which in Luke’s gospel does not involve Jesus being separated from the Father. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is calm and forgiving to his last breath. He is as he has been, faithful to finish of the work he started. Because he was a good Jewish man who died on Friday afternoon, there’s a hurry to bury his body before the Sabbath starts. And then for all his followers, there’s a day of waiting. A Saturday Sabbath when all the human activity in the Jewish world comes to a halt, and his followers can do nothing but sit with their grief. That’s where we pick up the story this morning.
This is the gospel of Luke, chapter 24, verse 1 through 12.
Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women who had faithfully followed Jesus and been present at his crucifixion, they went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared to anoint his body. They found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Human One, the Son of Man, must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words. When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven men of Jesus inner circle and all Jesus’ other followers. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. Their words struck the apostles as utter nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.
This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
The resurrection is good news for the world. Not just for you as an individual, although you are included in that. It’s good news for everyone. Everyone who wants it, that is.
The question from the beginning in Luke’s gospel has been will we recognize it when God shows up among us? Are we open to the new thing that God is doing in the world? The birth of Jesus was the beginning of God’s work to reorder the world, to set people free from all that oppresses our lives and communities, both physically and spiritually. Jesus announces this reordering of the world, this salvation, and he enacts it in his own life.
Throughout the gospel of Luke, Jesus includes people who have been excluded. He heals the rich and the poor, releasing them from physical pain and social stigma. He honors women and cherishes children and eats with tax collectors. He insists that true generosity expects no repayment and no public recognition. He decimates our fear of scarcity by multiplying even the most humble gifts. He declares that who you have been is not who you have to be, that what has been done to you is not who you are. He rejects superstition and dogma and honors religious tradition and breathes new life and meaning into religious rituals. He woos us to be brave, to step out of our comfort zones, and to follow him. He announces and enacts the possibility of being released from the way the world is now.
And they killed him for it. We killed him for it. Those people in Luke’s story would could not or would not exercise their imaginations enough to see what God was doing, they dug in their heels and protected the status quo, because it’s the only world they knew. They missed what God was doing. We missed it.
BUT. But God. The good news is not just that God is reordering the world, remaking us, renewing creation — the good news, the really good news, is that God is doing that AND nothing can stop it. That’s the meaning of the resurrection. We did our best to crush the thing that scared us, that threatened the only world we know. We used all the combined might of our political systems and religious institutions to try to stamp it out, but God’s gonna do it anyway.
The significance of the resurrection is that Jesus was right. By raising Christ from the dead, God affirmed and vindicated his announcement and his actions. Jesus’ message was right and true: God is making a way out of the mess of the world. There’s room enough for everyone in this new system, this new way of doing things, this new Kingdom. There are some things that just literally can’t exist in this new Kingdom, like racism and sexism and homophobia and greed and violence and environmental destruction. So if you refuse to put down that baggage, the Christian term is repent, if you refuse to repent and put down that crap, you won’t fit through the gateway into the Kingdom. It’s hard to imagine life without those things, because our prejudices and habits make us feel safe and secure in an uncertain world. We aren’t sure we want to put them down. Putting down that baggage would feel like … well it would feel a bit like dying.
The meaning of the resurrection is that if we choose to die to the things that are killing us anyway, we will find new life on the other side. If we release our death grip on the ways of this world, another way of living is right there, just waiting for us to join in. It takes trust to do that, which is another way to translate the word “faith.” I can’t prove to you that what I’m saying is true. An empty tomb is a pretty ambiguous symbol. It’s not actually very good evidence. But it is an incredible invitation. An empty tomb is an invitation to trust that maybe, just maybe, Jesus was right and it is possible for us to live lives of freedom and wholeness, fully committed to a new world, not heaven, but God’s will done ON EARTH as it is in heaven.
The empty tomb is the first step. Its message has to be confirmed by a personal encounter with the risen Jesus, which is an awesome story I will tell you next week. If we choose to trust the empty tomb, our next step is to begin actively expecting to encounter the risen Jesus, in our own lives, here and now. One way Christians have encountered Jesus is in this Communion ritual. The real presence of Christ is with us as we eat this bread and drink this cup. I don’t know how that happens, or how it works. It is a spiritual mystery that eludes our best attempts to explain it. All I can do is testify that it happens. It happens to me.
And so beloved ones, let us encounter the risen Jesus again here at this glorious table. Because as our ancestors in the faith have insisted for hundreds of years, this is the joyful feast of the people of God, instituted by Jesus as he celebrated the Passover feast. Here, people of all ages, races, and sexes – people in every type of body – come from the north and the south, the east and the west, and are welcomed by Christ, who is the host at all our tables.