April 21, 2019 Easter

An Idol Tale?

Luke 24:1-11(12)


When I was a child, our family celebrated Easter almost every year with my grandparents in Vallejo. Grandma and Grandpa lived in a nice two-story Victorian house, built by my Great Great grandfather in the 1860's. It was a wonderful place to celebrate any holiday, and Easter was no exception. I remember waking up, running downstairs and trying to find where the Easter Bunny had hidden my Easter basket. And after breakfast, my grandmother used to give us giant sugar eggs. They were about as big as my hand, and inside them was an Easter scene - of a chick or some other sign of new life. I’m also pretty certain we got new clothes almost every year at this time to wear to church. So after breakfast, we went to the First Presbyterian church of Vallejo together in our new outfits. Although the eggs and candy were exciting to receive, I really looked forward to going to church, hearing the powerful hymns, and seeing the Easter lilies and decorations. I remember hearing phrases like “New life in Christ!”, “Alleluia!” and “He is Risen!” There was a sense of excitement in the air. After the service, we went back home and almost always had a roast leg of lamb. Later in life, I learned that the lamb symbolized Jesus, the lamb of God. One of my favorite memories was helping my grandmother put together a “Bunny cake.” We made bunnies out of marshmallows and food coloring, then put them on top of the cake on a bed of green colored coconut shavings. That, by the way, is a tradition we continued in our family for a number of years.


As I reflect back on my childhood, even though we had Easter egg hunts, new clothes, and bunny cakes for dessert, I was surrounded by the religious images and stories which helped me understand the message of Easter which was foundational to my faith- Christ is RISEN! I knew that there was more to this family gathering time than just a basket full of eggs laid by a mammalian fertility symbol. This central, foundational message of Christ’s resurrection can get lost, however amidst all the other clamor and special events at this time of year.




For example, consider the following: The Easter Bunny is trying to move in on Santa Claus' turf. Most shopping malls in large cities that hire a Santa Claus in December are now also hiring an Easter Bunny for at least two weeks before Easter, so they can sit on the Easter Bunny’s lap. There is a growing expectation among children, mainly placed there by retailers that not only will they receive the expected candy gifts on Easter morning, but that they'll also be getting toys and games. Some children even write letters to the Easter Bunny, detailing what they hope to receive. Easter has become the second largest toy and candy selling holiday. And when I searched for images for Easter for my powerpoint presentation, the first things that came up were bunnies and eggs. I actually had to type in “Image- Easter, Christian symbols” to find any pictures that reflected the true meaning of Easter. Dr. Daniel Akin, dean of theology at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, remarked, "When Easter is reduced to nothing more than a bunny, Easter eggs, and chocolate, we have reached a tragic day because that is not what Easter was about, to begin with."


As we celebrate Easter, is there still room for Jesus, room for the story of the empty tomb and his Resurrection, or has this holy day become another holiday, just another family gathering time? Has the message of Christ rising from the grave become, as it was at first to the disciples, “an idle, that is a useless or groundless tale?”(verse 11)Or does this story hold hope for the world in which we live? Let us see what meaning we can find by looking at that FIRST Easter, at this tale as recounted in Luke’s gospel.


Today’s passage tells us that the women who had seen Jesus buried by Joseph of Arimathea on the day of preparation, waited for three days to come and anoint Jesus’ body for burial. Spices and ointments were used in preparing a body for burial. The three women, who are mentioned in verse 10 are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, who is mentioned only in one other place in scripture(Luke 8:3) and is listed as “the wife of Cuza, the manager of King Herod’s household” and Mary the mother of James, also known as the third Mary, and not the mother of Jesus. These three women went early in the morning to anoint Jesus’ body. They had no expectations that he would not be there, even though they too had heard Jesus the many times he had told them all he would rise on the third day.

They had seen their messiah die and saw the stone placed in front of his tomb. Yet, when they got to the tomb, the stone had been rolled away. Then they entered the tomb, but Christ’s body was not there.


Then suddenly two men were beside them-the gospel accounts differ here- In Matthew it is one angel(Matthew28:2). In Mark, it is a young man dressed in white(Mark 16:5). Luke’s account agrees with the gospel of John and says there were two men “who gleamed like lightning.” Their message is what can keep this story from being idle tale if it is indeed true, and makes it a tale of incredible significance for people of faith. They say to the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while you were still in Galilee: the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” The women then remembered Jesus’ words from before. A spark of hope ignited in them.


The 3 women disciples left the tomb and went back to the remaining disciples, who had likely gathered in the last place they had been with Jesus- the upper room, hiding in fear for their lives, and mourning the loss of their leader. The women told them what they had found and what the 2 men said, but their words seemed to be like nonsense or foolishness, like an idol tale to the disciples. You may have noticed if you were following along with the scripture in your pew Bibles that the passage ends at verse 11. In some versions of the Bible, there is this 12th verse which Dennis read this morning about Peter running to the tomb, looking in and being amazed at what had happened. Verse 12 is omitted in the pew versions of your Bible because some theologians believe it to be a later insertion. Perhaps it was put in to agree with John’s account more, of Peter and John running to the tomb. Or, an editor wanted to insert a male’s perspective to bring some credibility to the story, since it was 3 women who began the tale. In a male-dominated first-century society, it would seem a bit more believable if a man was involved. But even if Peter did go run and see for himself the empty tomb and grave clothes lying on the floor, he didn’t believe. He went away wondering to himself what had actually happened. You see, for the disciples gathered in that dark upper room, the Resurrection was just an idle tale, at least, at first.


The disciples did not stay hunkered down in the upper room awaiting their doom. Jesus got them on the move. Scripture tells us that the resurrected Christ appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and also to Simon Peter, then to many others, according to Paul(1 Corinthians 15). (He then appeared to the disciples a number of times, even having a barbecued fish breakfast with them. Theologian Pheme Perkins said, “Ghosts, apparitions and various psychological hallucinations may do a lot of things, but they don’t fire up the charcoal grill and cook fish for breakfast.”


Some event mobilized these formerly fearful and skeptical disciples into a force of faith. Something made them journey all over the known earth to share what they believed, that Christ had risen from the dead, that the world was no longer a place of despair and darkness, but one of hope. Some common experience enabled them to preach to massive crowds, heal the sick, convert thousands to the Christian faith, and gave them the ability to stare death directly in the face with no fear, as many of the disciples were killed or crucified themselves. Something which happened to them brought about a worldwide movement which claims to have some 2.3 billion followers today. At some point these disciples who at first thought of Christ’s resurrection as nothing more than an idle tale found belief in Christ’s resurrection and room for hope. It is that message of resurrection which is the very foundation of this church, and of all churches which gather on Easter Sunday.


What does Christ’s Resurrection mean?

  1. It is an event that changes our human future- For through Christ being raised, we too shall be raised with him in heaven. This is boldly proclaimed each time we have a memorial service for someone in the church or in the broader community, just as we did this past Friday for Ilse Forney. It is boldly proclaimed by each of the plants on the steps this morning in memory of a loved one, for we believe that those who have died are given new life through Christ. Resurrection is the hope of heaven and the hope of earth. Theologian C.S. Lewis wrote, “Jesus has forced open a door that had been locked since the death of the first human. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of death. Everything is different because he has done so.” Boldly proclaimed as we release butterflies to pollinate the earth today, or tomorrow, or whenever they finally leave their chrysalis. Resurrection is the power of God over death. I know someday I will see my father and my mother and my first daughter and many who I have served as their pastor who have gone on to heaven, and what a day that will be!


2) Christ’s resurrection gives us hope for living now. If we are rightly oriented to the resurrection of Christ, we will find help and hope, even in the midst of despair and struggle. Resurrection helps us believe in the power of God to be active in the face of our personal struggles. If God raised Jesus from the dead, what will God do for us in our own lives? We all witnessed the devastation and destruction at Notre Dame last week. It was horrible to watch. And yet, in the aftermath, amid the rubble, the empty cross gleams in the background. It is a reminder that in the times when our lives seem hopeless, there is New life, for there is resurrection even in the destruction of an ancient cathedral!

3) Christ’s resurrection gives us hope to work for God in the world, bringing new life. Christ’s resurrection is an event of promise, one that opens up a new future, one that disturbs the status quo, and spurs us on to bring an end to human alienation, suffering, poverty, warfare, and injustice. Christ’s resurrection is the foundation of working for a future full of peace, of righteousness, and of new life promised by God. That is why we have hosted the winter shelter for 3 nights, list more…If we really believe in the resurrection, then we will be a people emboldened to take part in the struggle against injustice, and in the liberation and transformation of all things from the chains of sin. American Episcopal Clergyman Phillips Brooks said, “The great Easter truth is not that we are to just live newly after death, but that we are to be new here and now by the power of resurrection.” Resurrection is the power of God to work for the establishment of God’s kingdom every day.


4) Finally, Resurrection is the promise of a future of peace. For as Christ has been raised and ascended to heaven, we believe one day he will come again. One day he will come to judge the living and the dead and establish peace in this world. God’s first advent or coming was in the birth of a savior. God’s Second Advent will be in the arrival of the King of heaven and earth. Church reformer Martin Luther said, “I hope that the day is near at hand when the advent of the great God will appear, for all things everywhere are boiling, burning, moving, falling, sinking, groaning.” It was true for Luther in the 1500s and it is true for us today as we see things boiling and burning now as well. Resurrection is not the last event God has planned for us or for creation.



So as you gather later today for your family meal, go out to Easter brunch or gather for that family dinner of Ham or Lamb or perhaps lamb shaped tofu, will you be like the disciples, who at first thought the whole story was nonsense, just an idle tale? Or will you be like Peter, who according to that phantom verse 12 after seeing the empty tomb walked away, wondering what had happened? Or perhaps like the 3 women who ran to tell others, has something happened to spur you on to share the message of a Risen Christ to a broken and hurting world? Perhaps you have had an encounter with the Risen Christ as you placed flowers upon the cross, or sang a hymn?


Give thanks this day for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is much more than an idle tale. It is incredibly good news for a broken world. It is the foundation for the Christian faith- the peace and knowledge of a life yet to come, the hope and promise of new life each day, the act which spurs us on to work for God in our communities and throughout the world, and the reminder that all is not said and done yet. Christ was born. Christ died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again! Alleluia! Amen.

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