What are you doing here?
This is my paraphrase for the first words the women, who have waited 2 long days to embalm Christ’s body, hear as they come to the tomb. Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Don’t you remember how he told you about all this back in Galilee, that he has to suffer and die and rise again on the third day? What are you doing here?
Now these words are spoken by two men in dazzling white clothes, we like to identify them as angels, for who else would look or appear like that? Luke, the evangelist, whose account of the Easter story we heard this morning, likes to talk a lot about angels, much more so than any other of the evangelists. But something is a little odd about the angels on Easter morning. For usually, the angels appear with a reassuring message, ‘Do not be afraid’.
But here, in the Easter story, the angels are actually quite insensitive and rude. Just imagine, those poor women, grieving the death of their master and friend – they just want to render their last act of love and mercy. And then those angels appear, out of the blue, obviously terrifying they women, and cut right to the chase, ‘What in the world are you doing here? You should know better than that!’
It sounds to me almost like those angels have had it, they are exasperated: Jesus told you all about it, repeatedly, and you still don’t get it?
And isn’t the resurrection story just too fantastic, too mind blowing, too good to be true?
But it seems that the message of the men in dazzling white without any niceties and politeness has the desired effect on the women.
What are you doing here?
This is like a wake-up call for the women. They remember, the English translation says here. Now the Greek word that we have here ‘mneo’, is a little stronger than that. ‘Mneo’ means to think back in order to move forward. In that sense, remembrance is not just looking back at something and being nostalgic about it and to long for the good old days; remembrance doesn’t mean to be stuck in the past, but to use what we experienced as we go into the future. Another translation would be ‘living memory’. This kind of memory is consequential.
And so the women at the tomb don’t just respond as they remember ‘O yeah, now that you say it – why, isn’t that nice?’ No, their remembering has consequences: the women go and tell – and again, the English word here is a little blah, the Greek here says ‘they proclaim it loudly’, like heralds in a marketplace, or like prophets, or like angels – so they proclaim it loudly to the disciples. Who think it’s an idle tale and don’t get it until later, but once they do, once they remember, they get it, they are overjoyed, and they live this memory in word and deed. And if they hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be here today.
For us, the Easter story is not a surprise as it quite obviously was to the women and the disciples. We get it – somewhat, at least. We know that somehow and mysteriously, Christ rose from the dead and promises us and all of creation new life. Maybe some here today may think that this is too good to be true, and maybe should be understood in a more symbolic or metaphysical way, that it’s a nice tale, but an idle tale.
But in any case, we remember the story as we hear it each Easter morn, that’s why we are gathered here today, celebrating and singing at the top of our lungs. Alleluia, Christ is risen!
But how do we remember? What are you – what are we doing here?
Much has been written after Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral burned this past week. There were – and are – many who grieve the loss of irreplaceable works of art, like the priceless stain glass windows. There are those who are deeply affected by the damage to this architectural masterpiece that has been the heart of Paris for the past 800 years. I can’t tell you how many folks on Facebook posted pictures from their past visits to Notre Dame, when it was still intact, and want to remember this cathedral just like that, before the fire.
Fundraisers to restore this church to its former glory are already underway. And I wonder: will Notre Dame be restored just as it was? Will it continue to be a monument to the past, to the good old days, when Christianity had such a stronghold on European culture, a spiritual museum of sorts?
During WW II, many churches were bombed and burned down in Europe. It’s interesting that the majority of these churches were not restored to be exactly like they were before their destruction. Some were left as is, as memorials, like the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche in Berlin. Some were rebuilt, but changes were made to the interior – they were modernized. Many of the churches damaged or destroyed in the war have some memorial to the destruction, to remind us of the horrible costs of war. This is where living memory happened. We look back as we move forward.
This past week, LEST WE FORGET, a Holocaust remembrance project designed by German-Italian artist Luigi Toscano, was opened right here in San Francisco, in Civic Center Plaza; this exhibit is presented by the German Consulate General and the Goethe Institute and can be seen through May 19th. I know there are many who want to let the past be the past, who don’t want to remember, haven’t we had enough of this, isn’t it time to let all that rest after so many years?
But remembering, mneo, is about so much more than just looking back at what was. It also gives us guidance for today and for the future. Something like the Holocaust, with the callous dehumanization and destruction of people, must never happen again. Too many have already forgotten – the rise of right wing forces here in this country and in Europe are proof of that.
And the women remembered – and they went and loudly proclaimed the news to the disciples, who consequently proclaimed it loudly through words and the way they lived – full of love for the neighbor, grace, and forgiveness – to all the world. Remembering has consequences.
And it has consequences for us as well. It is one thing to be here this morning, to be reminded of the good news that Christ is risen, and to think, ‘Why, isn’t that nice?’
It is another thing to remember in the sense that we look back and move forward, to let this be a living memory that is consequential and turns us into Easter people, people who are really and truly and deeply affected by this story, the people of God who see that life in this world is preserved, fostered, and protected – all life God created, from the trees and plants who replenish the air we breathe to the animals to our human siblings here on earth – and that includes those who may not look or live or believe like us.
We are here this morning to remember that we are members of Christ’s church, a living, breathing, loving, forgiving, life-giving and life-fostering church. That’s what you and I are doing here this morning. Remember – Christ is risen!
Picture by Bruno van der Kraan on unsplash.com