Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1344
April 1, 2018 EASTER Luke 24:1-12
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
“He is Not Here, But Has Risen”
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.
I used to wonder how the women got up at early dawn, maybe the rooster crowed, but I suspect they may not have slept after the horrible events of Jesus’ suffering and death. No matter how, they were on their way to the tomb at early dawn, sunrise. I would imagine they were devastated in heart and mind. Their spirits were crushed by the weight of the crucifixion and to a lesser degree the lack of time to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Death touches our lives in different ways, but it must have been confusing for the women and disciples to see Christ crucified and all the hopes and dreams once thought possible for a savior to come to an apparent end.
It is difficult for us to see on that side of Easter, early dawn, before finding the empty tomb. We are already read in to the good news of the risen One. In some ways we are living in a similar circumstance, because we also know the end of the larger story. We know that the world will not crush the gospel. We know that evil will not win the day. We know that Christ will come again. This early dawn part of the story does not linger very long because what they find at the tomb is yet another disturbing event.
Early dawn might be considered a first sign. Light is dawning on a dark situation. Light shines to show something amazing.
The Empty Tomb
2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
They came to the tomb, the stone rolled away, Jesus’ body gone. Perhaps they wondered if someone had taken him. Who could have rolled away the stone? The empty tomb is the greatest of testimonies. The crucified One is no longer there. Where could he be? They come expecting death, expecting to properly prepare his body. Confusion, more pain, questions. Is it not enough that they crucified the Lord that now his body has gone missing?
Perhaps this is a second sign of something wonderful, two signs even, the stone rolled back, the body not there. If they had remembered what Jesus told them multiple times, perhaps they would have been excited rather than perplexed.
Remember What He Said
4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.
But they were perplexed. It made no sense to them that the body would be missing. Behold! Two men stood by. They are angels, we assume, not just finely dressed. Dazzling, bright, enough so that the women are afraid and bow their heads. They know they are in the presence of something beyond them. The comes the question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Living? I imagine the women with their heads still bowed looking toward one another and mouthing the question, living? Did he say living?
This might be a third sign of life, a question that hints of something miraculous, unbelievable, and more marvelous than they could imagine. The question is quickly answered almost like it was a rhetorical question, “He is not here, but has risen.” There is a reason why the stone is rolled away and his body is not here! He lives!
Then the angels tell, suggest, ask them to remember what Jesus had said. In Luke 9.22 we have one of those times when he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Maybe they looked at one another again and gave a bit of a smile mouthing, I do remember!
We do that a lot. Someone will tell us something that happened or something said long ago and they remind us about it and our response when our minds click in, “Oh, yeah, I remember now!” They remembered. This is a huge part of the story of Jesus, and really the story of God throughout the Bible. We are called on constantly to remember what God has done, what God has said, and what God has promised to do. Israel gets in trouble time and time again because they forgot God, or forgot His commands, or something else they forgot to think about or practice.
Here at the tomb, the women remember Jesus’ words like a light bulb coming on and it transforms their demeanor. This changes everything. Yes, the tomb is empty, the body gone, the living not among the dead, because he is risen!
This is the inverse of what we experience and what the women were used to experiencing. Our normal experience is life to death. Someone is alive and then they are dead. But here it is reversed – death to life. That is why this was so perplexing. Death to life does not happen. But life has come after dead and it will be a major theme in the birth of a people who know and follow the living One.
In the gospel there is life after death, physically, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically...life is always possible in our lives because of Jesus. He has completely transformed the paradigm we normally experience.
Everything has the new possibility of resurrection because He is risen. Hope, expectations, dreams, all resurrected. That is our story. Any hint of death is overcome and we have resurrection life, resurrection hope, resurrection expectations and resurrection dreams.
9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.
Welcome the first evangelists, the women who returned from the empty tomb. They told their tale perhaps just as we read it here in Luke. “We went to the tomb at early dawn and the stone was rolled away and Jesus was not there! Two men were there and asked us why we sought the living among the dead. We did not know what to think of it at first until they told us to remember what Jesus had said. He would rise again! And He has! He is rise!” They told this to the eleven disciples and Luke says they told it to all the rest. Who are all the rest? Everyone they could tell, I imagine! They told everyone who would listen, everyone who walked with Jesus and followed him and knew him and loved him. We don’t exactly from Luke’s account how many women there were. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, James’ mom, Mary, and the other women. Too many to name perhaps. I imagine they spread out after telling the eleven and spread the word.
They gave testimony – this is the first sign for the disciples – the testimony of the risen Christ.
Not An Idle Tale
11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
But their testimony fell on disbelieving ears. Perhaps that is not unusual, the disciples are very slow to catch on to things all through the gospels. Maybe they thought it was the first case of fake news! But it may have also been that the men just didn’t believe because it was women who told the story. Isn’t it sad that the first good news of life was rejected by the men who were closest to Jesus? It seemed like an idle tale. It was an unfounded story. They did not believe them. But it is not an idle tale, it is the good news of resurrection!
The Marvel of Resurrection
12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
One disciple, in Luke's version, only one runs to the tomb. Something must have stirred in Peter's heart while the women were speaking. Something caused Peter to go see for himself. If he really did not believe them he would not have bothered to go to the tomb. “...they did not believe them, but Peter rose and ran...” The “but” injected in the story signals that Peter may have thought twice about what the women were saying. Maybe that same light bulb clicked on in Peter’s memory and he remembered Jesus’ words.
When he gets there, he looks and sees nothing but the burial cloth. I wonder what his thoughts were at that moment. Did he remember Jesus' words? Did he wonder, like the women probably did, where have they taken the body? Luke reveals that Peter marveled – astonishment, wonder, and surprise. But Luke does not add anything more at this point. Peter goes home marveling.
Today we hear the story again, a familiar story, not an idle tale, but truth. We hear the conclusion of the gospel narrative of life. These are the events Jesus foretold, and the words of resurrection the women told the disciples, and the church has told the world, and we cling to these words because we trust that in them is the life promised beyond and in spite of death. These are the only words that will take us through our lives in victory and in hope, no matter what happens in our lives, no matter what circumstances we face, these are the words of life. In the stark reality of death, the women find life in an empty tomb. We marvel at these words as Peter marveled at the empty tomb.
Like the women when they were transformed by remembering Jesus’ words, we are transformed by the resurrection. In essence every Sunday is a memory of today. It is why we worship Sunday and not Saturday. It is why we display a cross rather than a crucifix, because he is not on the cross and he is not in the tomb.
The message is this, “He is not here; but has risen!” This is all we need to say. This is our testimony. This is all we need to hear. He has risen and from time to time we can say, he is right here, revealed in the Word, by the Holy Spirit at the table and the sacrament of communion, here with us as we worship, in us - present in Spirit and Truth, for he has risen! Christ is risen and Christ calls us to believe the good news, to sing his praise, to give thanks, for Christ is Lord of our lives as we journey between life and death, and from death to life. Christ is risen! Go tell it on the mountain. Go tell it to all the rest. Jesus is alive and because he lives, we live! Alleluia and amen.