And the women rushed to the tomb of Jesus on the third day, after the Sabbath, to embalm his body, just to find the grave empty and to hear the message from those men in dazzling clothes: Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he said all these things to you. Remember. And the women remembered indeed, and were filled with joy and rushed to tell his disciples. And those thought it was an idle tale.
Has it ever occurred to you that, what we do on this morning seems like an idle thing to many in this world? That we come together, to hear this ancient story of Jesus rising from the dead, yet once more, and to celebrate hope and new life? That we believe there is good news, and that we have reason to celebrate joyfully and sing at the top of our lungs?
What is there to celebrate, one may ask, as we watch rather helplessly as innocent people get killed by terrorists, as we witnessed this past week in Brussels, but then in so many other places in the world as well: Ankara, Istanbul, Baghdad, for example, saw some horrible terrorist attacks in the past weeks as well. What is there to celebrate as we see nations torn apart over questions of immigration, be it in this country or in Germany? What is there to celebrate as people are more and more polarized over issues and even resort to violence as they express their anger and frustration? What is there to celebrate as we witness so many in leadership positions who monger the ‘us versus them’ propaganda? What is there to celebrate as there are so many things to fear and loathe in this day and age?
I don’t know about you, but I am looking at the state of the world with much trepidation these days. I am dismayed by the callous violence we witness around the world. I am dismayed that there is so much separation and polarization and scapegoating happening. God’s creation, perfect in the very beginning, harmonious and peaceful, an expression of God’s loving will and God’s joy of life, has been corrupted and feels rather dis-membered these days. We are scattered rather than united, and we feel it.
At the same time, we experience how our personal lives sometimes are ripped apart by things that happen to us: the loss of income, the loss of the place we call home, the loss of health, the loss of people we love. We all know hurt, we all know grief; we all know the feeling of being dis-membered and scrambling to put the pieces of our lives back together again.
I think Jesus knew a thing or two about dismemberment. I think those women at the tomb knew a thing or two about lives torn apart.
The dazzling men at the tomb don’t waste any time on idle words. There is no ‘Do not be afraid’, words we hear from the angel to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth. No, the angels at Jesus’ grave cut right to the chase: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember, how he told you, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
These angels have just one command: remember. Re-member. Put the pieces back together.
Then the women remembered, we read, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. The moment the women remembered, they were able to get their lives back together, in a new way. And even more: the woman knew that remembering came with a responsibility – the responsibility to share the good news, to help others remember, and to have their shattered lives re-membered.
Today, on Easter Day, we remember. We remember the promises of God made to us. We remember that there is reason for hope and reason for joy, even under dire circumstances. God put the pieces back together for us, God sought reconciliation with us through Christ and gives us new life, alleluia!
But then the command of those messengers at the empty tomb, to remember, is a command that transcends time and space and echoes into our lives today. Living as Easter people means to strive to put those pieces back together again that have been dismembered. Living as Easter people means to reach out to the other, even though they might have a different opinion on things, rather than dismissing them or even vilifying them. Living as Easter people means to promote a ‘we’re all in this together’ approach rather than support that ugly image of us versus them. Living as Easter people means to tend to hope and help foster new life. Living as Easter people means to laugh death and the devil in the face and to develop those little crinkles around our eyes rather than those deep vertical lines on our brow. Lachfalten, nicht Zornesfalten, sind ein Zeichen unserer Existenz in Christus.
Easter, in the end, is about defiance of the spirit that denies. We are Protestant in the sense that we stand up against the forces of death and dismemberment. We remember.
Not that this is always an easy thing to do. Not that the world always appreciates it. I don’t know if you heard the story about a Donald Trump town hall meeting at the Lutheran Lenoir-Rhynne University in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago. Needless to say, the decision to have Trump speak was quite controversial. In any case, Mr. Trump was delayed that morning because of bad weather. Thousands of supporters waited outside the venue. Hundreds of protesters were waiting as well.
Also waiting were more than 100 clergy, faculty members, students and church members, among them the bishop of the North Carolina Synod, Tim Smith, most of them present because they don’t agree with many of the things Mr. Trump expressed. But this is not the point of the story. The point is that, at some point, when tensions were rising as people were waiting, and it seemed a physical scuffle would break out, those 100+ people linked arms – and separated the protesters from each other. This truly became a pro-test, which comes from the Latin and means to stand FOR something – and these 100+ that day stood for Christian love and mercy and respect. Violence was avoided, much to the disappointment of those members of the press who were present that morning.
This, my friends, is an example how we remember, how we do our best to put the pieces back together. This is an example of how we live as Easter people.
May we live as Easter people, and may we be hopeful, joyful role models for Thomas, who will be baptized here today, and whose baptismal verse from 2nd Timothy is something we all should remember as we live as the body of the risen Christ: ‘For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of love and self-discipline.’ (2nd Timothy 1:7)
We are members of Christ’s church, a living, breathing, loving, forgiving, life-giving and life-fostering church. Remember – always! Amen