Festival of the Resurrection (21 April 2019)
JoAnn A. Post
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
We waited anxiously for the report, wondering what the investigation would uncover. Collusion? Obstruction? Witness Tampering? Bribery? Any one of those conclusions could be cause for conviction. Or worse. Finally, on Thursday, the waiting was over. The truth was told. And it was worse than anyone had imagined.
Oh, you thought I was talking about the Mueller Report? Oh, no. The findings of that commission were sadly, not surprising. Nothing compared to what we’ve uncovered about what was done to Jesus.
Collusion? Without doubt. Religious officials and political appointees who ordinarily would have had no contact at all, secretly conspired to have Jesus killed. Crucifixion makes for strange bed fellows.
Obstruction? Certainly. Neither Pilate nor Caiaphas wanted to take the rap for what they were about to do, so they pointed fingers, buried evidence, and falsified reports. “You do it!” “No, you do it!”
Witness tampering? Consistently. From the earliest days of Jesus’ ministry until the moment they nailed him to the cross, witnesses were paid to lie.
Bribery? Yes. And it didn’t take much. Just 30 silver coins pressed in Judas’ hand dropped the curtain on the whole Jesus Show.
Corruption in the halls of power is nothing new. But this time that corruption was leveled not at a political opponent or religious rival, but at God. Both priests and politicians tried to stop God’s work in the world—God’s work, in Jesus, of forgiving sinners and loving enemies and beating death into submission. And their efforts seemed, at first, to have worked.
The Festival of the Resurrection is a liturgical field day: marvelous musicians and sneeze-inducing flowers and bright vestments. It’s also a boon for candy makers and restaurants serving Easter brunch. The Festival of the Resurrection is loud and bright and happy. “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!”
I love all that—the music and fragrance and joy and dessert. But it has nothing to do with what actually happened. It’s not exactly fake news, but it’s certainly not central.
Let’s take a look at the report. Unredacted. And distressing.
On the first day of the week at early dawn, women went to the tomb taking spices they had prepared. After all, Jesus was dead and his body needed aromatic attention.
But when they arrived at the tomb, the stone that sealed it had been shoved aside. Hearts in their throats, the women snuck up to the gaping mouth of the cave in which Jesus’ body had been so hastily stuffed.
Remember, they are at the tomb in the early morning—stumbling through that silent-as-death darkness that had yet to be interrupted by light. At that hour, shapes are indistinct and edges are fuzzy. All cats are gray in that dark. The inside of the tomb was darker than the sky behind them, more humid than the dew on the ground under their feet. They would have had to strain to see inside. They peered. And leaned. And leaned a little closer.
And then they saw it. That thing that defies the laws of physics and logic, that thing that changed the whole world forever. That thing that has bolstered both believer and skeptic. They saw it.
They saw . . . nothing. There was nothing there. No body. No burial linens. Not even a ransom note.
Angels, elegant as RuPaul on the runway, appeared confused. “What are you doing here? He isn’t here. He told you he wouldn’t be here. He has been raised. Remember?”
And then we receive the great Easter acclamation of faith. The women high-fived each other, jumped up and down. Oops, never mind. Wrong story.
No, the women looked at each other. They remembered Jesus saying something about being raised. Then they shrugged and went home. This is the fact of the resurrection, according to Luke. The women remembered. The women returned.
It seems they did stop by to report Jesus’ absence to the disciples, but they were deemed hysterical, disoriented, unreliable. (Though Peter did sneak off to check it out, and was similarly underwhelmed.)
So, what is the conclusion of the Resurrection Report?
We speak erroneously when we name the women: “witnesses to the resurrection.” There were no witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection; no one saw him escape the tomb. Instead, the women witnessed an empty hole, a dark dank cave. And a stranger’s scolding voice, “Don’t you remember?”
Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School. For days, we have been hearing from survivors of the attack, most of them only teenagers when gunfire erupted. They have spent the last two decades making sense of that senseless day.
One survivor reported having fled the area and her memories for ten years, descending into depression and isolation, traumatized on a cellular level. But when the 10th anniversary approached, she and her sister decided to return to the scene of the crime, to face, together, the site of the events that had ruined their lives.
The woman described clinging to her sister, braced for flashbacks. “I was really scared. I thought I would be a wreck.” But, instead when she peered into that dark, empty building, there was nothing there. No body. No blood. No evidence of the tragedy. It was only a building. A building that held a painful past, but that had nothing to do with her future.*
As they say in the investment business, “past performance is no prediction of future results.”
It is true for survivors of trauma.
It is the heart of the Easter story.
The world had done its worst to both Jesus and those who loved him. Though no shots were fired as at Columbine, blood flowed and friends betrayed and witnesses hid and some simply ran away. The horrible events of Jesus’ last days traumatized his followers. They thought their lives were over—dreams shattered, hopes dashed, future closed.
But then the women peered inside those dark fears, that empty pit in their stomachs. And they discovered there was nothing there.
Life lay, not in a dark traumatic past, but in a sunlit, unexpected future. A future in which life was possible. A future into which light shown. A future into which Jesus had already marched.
Peering into the dark past is as futile as the dog who hopefully sniffs the spot on the kitchen floor where, two Thanksgivings ago, you spilled some gravy. The memory is there, but nothing more.
Death lies behind us. There is nothing there to see.
But life lies before us.
If only we have the courage to remember. Not the trauma or the disappointment or the fear. But the words.
Jesus’ words: “I will suffer. I will die. And I will be raised.”
The angels’ words, “He is not here. He has been raised.”
My friends, the tomb is empty.
The silence has been broken.
Death has no power over us.
But life? The resurrected life lies before us. And Jesus is already there.