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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter 4/4

          Jesus was dead; dead as a door nail to steal a line from Charles Dickens.  No one thought otherwise.  His enemies and his friends had watched him die, they had seen his body wrapped in a linen cloth and then placed in a rock hewn tomb.  Jesus was dead and that was that.  What do you do when someone you love has died?  You remember them, you honor them and the prescribed rites and rituals of religion and culture are part of that, part of remembering and honoring and respecting the dead.

          That’s what the women were doing that morning.  It was right and proper to anoint a dead body with spices.  They would have done it sooner, but they had to wait until the Sabbath was over.  So in the shadows of the early morning they went to the tomb.  But of course there was no body to anoint.  The tomb was empty!  “Alleluia!  He is Risen!” they shouted.  No, that’s not what they said.  That’s what we say, today.  But on that first Easter morning none of us would have shouted “Alleluia!  He is Risen!” either.

          The empty tomb didn’t lead to an immediate change in the perspective of the women and how they understood what had happened.  It wasn’t a source of joy for them; it was a source of confusion because as far as they knew, the dead remained dead.  Imagine visiting the grave site of a loved one and finding it dug up, the casket open and empty.  You wouldn’t say, “Alleluia, he is risen!” more likely, you’d be horrified. “Who did this, and why?”  The women that morning were ready to respect and honor a dead Jesus, to enshrine him in a tomb of memory because that made sense.  They weren’t prepared to imagine him alive, raised from the dead, because that didn’t make sense.  It didn’t fit in with any categories of possibility that they knew about.

          We’re not very good at imagining new categories of possibility but that’s what this day is all about.  In the resurrection of Jesus, God announces a new order where all the cycles of death and deathliness are broken.  Easter is about not being blinded by those cycles of death, those realities that make us think that there is no hope when God is announcing and has been announcing a new reality in which there is always hope because this God that we worship refuses to leave us hope-less. 

          But the women didn’t see that, not at first anyway.  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen,” they were told by angelic messengers, but as impressive as those messengers may have been, the message didn’t make sense in the face of what they knew to be true, and that brings their experience awfully close to ours.  They had a message, but they didn’t have proof.  They had an empty tomb and a word, but no Jesus, and that’s pretty much where we find ourselves this morning.

          The Easter message is that Jesus is alive after the death of Friday.  Experience however tells us that dead is dead.  Faced with conflicting claims, the logical response is to affirm what experience tells you is true.  That makes more sense.  It would make more sense for Jesus to still be dead and for the women to properly remember Jesus as they planned to do when they set out that morning.  It would make more sense to remember a great teacher, a prophet, a healer. 

Give these women credit though.  The text doesn’t say that they believed, but as the morning sun began to make its way over the horizon, reminded by the angels of what Jesus had said, reminding themselves of the promises, promises of resurrection and new life, there was a glimmer of hope; so they went and told the other disciples what had happened…and the disciples said, “Alleluia, he is risen!”  No; that’s not what they said either.  They too responded logically.  “Bah, humbug!” they said (really; that’s pretty much what the words mean that get translated “an idle tale”).  Humbug; and who could blame them for thinking that a bunch of women might be a little off?  They did not believe them.

          They did not believe them, but…but for them too, there was a glimmer of hope.  The witness of the women put hope back in the equation and so Peter was at least curious enough to check things out for himself.  He went to the tomb and found things as the women had said; the tomb was empty and he was amazed, and then he shouted, “Alleluia, he is risen!”  Nope; he just went home. 

          That’s all we get today; an empty tomb and a message, confused women and bewildered disciples; no resurrection appearances, no encounter between Jesus and the women or Jesus and the disciples; just an empty tomb and a message and….unbelief….except the door to hope and belief has at least been cracked open. 

          Unbelief though doesn’t mean that one believes nothing; everyone believes something; but there are always different truth claims competing for belief.  The message of Easter presents a challenge to other claims of truth.  That’s what it did for the women; that’s what it did for Peter; that’s still what it does.  The message of Easter challenges our certainties.  It invites us to imagine and live in a world where there is no fear of death or of guilt because God is at work creating a reality where those things are not final.  They’re real, but they’re not final, because in Jesus, the final word is always about life.

          On Easter Sunday, maybe you are kind of like Peter.  You’ve been told that the tomb is empty, that Jesus is alive and so you come to church to check it out for yourself.  You come knowing that Jesus himself is probably not going to come walking through that door in the middle of the service, but you want the Easter claim to be true so what you hope to find is a community for whom the door of hope has been opened wide, a community who dares to believe that this idle tale, this humbug is true.  You hope to find a community that believes that Jesus is truly present and that we encounter him in a physical way as we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion.

          We are that community!  We believe that Jesus is alive and that he is at work creating a new reality, a hope filled reality.  We believe that things are not simply the way they seem where dead is dead and that’s it.  We believe that in Jesus the grip of death has been broken forever and that new life is possible.

          That’s what we believe; that’s what we proclaim; that’s why you’re here.  Otherwise, we’re no different than the women who went to the tomb that morning.  If we don’t believe that “He is Risen!” and that despite evidence to the contrary that things really are different because of that, then we’re just on a mission of honoring and remembering the dead this morning. 

          But Jesus is alive, and our vision of the world is different.  Where others see cycles of death and despair unbroken, we see and proclaim hope and new possibility.  We become agents of hope and new possibility. 

          Why?  Because the tomb is empty and we know that “He is Risen!”  The power of the resurrection is forever set loose and at work in our world.  The door of hope is wide open!  “He is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!”

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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