Apostle to the Apostles

Apostle to the Apostles

Sermon for Easter
Romans 6:3-11 and Luke 24:1-12

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! That’s a word we’ve not used at all over the season of Lent; neither in our liturgical texts, nor in our songs and hymns. A seasonal fast from a Hebrew word that means “praise ye YAH” or “praise the Lord,” which now comes to an end with the arrival of Eastertide. Tonight and all the way through this fifty day festal season, we’re going to be singing and saying and proclaiming that word a whole lot!

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The truth we proclaim tonight really does cry out for a whole lot of alleluias, for as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” We too; that’s what Paul doesn’t want us to miss. This is not a story about what happened to one man 2000 years ago, but is instead a proclamation that “death no longer has dominion”. It is an unfolding, ongoing proclamation of a promise and a hope that is at once a flash of brilliant light cast across a world that knows a great deal about death—their world, certainly, but ours as well—and something that can at times seem almost impossible to comprehend: “we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

As the reading from the Gospel according to Luke was read, I suspect that one of the lines that popped for many people was, “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” The women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and unnamed others as well—had gone to the tomb with spices they wanted to place on the dead body of their teacher. They probably wondered how they were going to roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb, but they still needed to go. It didn’t matter that the disciples themselves remained in hiding; as women they were less likely to be much noticed by the Roman soldiers patrolling the streets.

When they arrived, whatever questions they’d had about moving that stone evaporated. It had been rolled away, no broken body in sight. Then two figures appear, in dazzling clothes—angels, messengers—“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember…” Remember what he kept trying to teach you about his death? N.T. Wright suggests that perhaps Jesus’ followers “had thought Jesus’ language about his own dying and rising again to be a dark metaphor, indicating perhaps a great struggle against paganism or Israel’s current leaders, followed by a great victory. They had not reckoned with it being literal, or with the battle being waged against the last enemy, death itself.”

In that instant, the women do begin to remember, and to see it all with clear eyes. They race to tell the disciples, who just can’t hear their words as being anything but an “idle tale.” That’s partly because the voices of women simply were suspect and second rate in that world, and in spite of the fact that Jesus himself had consistently received women as valued members of his circle, the disciples themselves were still hard-wired with their old assumptions. Women’s voices and women’s experiences didn’t count; not in the same way that those of men did. It is a piece of poetic justice, then, that from the 3rd Century the tradition has named Mary Magdalene the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

The other thing, though, is that the news they brought back seemed impossible. Jesus was dead, no question about it. When it came to matters like executions, the Romans didn’t make mistakes. There was just no way that there was any life left in him when they pulled him off that cross and allowed Joseph of Arimathea to take that body for burial. No way. And crucified bodies are beyond resuscitation; they are just too broken for that to be possible.

So what truth could there possibly be in this news the women brought? What it turned out to be—resurrection—they had no framework from which to even consider that. Oh, there was a belief among most Jews in a resurrection, but it was to happen as a great culmination of all things, when the dead would be raised to share in the prophetic promise of a new heaven and a new earth. But it wouldn’t have occurred to them to think resurrection in the here and now of their world. No, the women are dreaming.

“But Peter got up and ran to the tomb,” Luke tells us. God bless Peter, the one who was always quickest to leap, often before he really even looked. Peter, who was surely crippled with the shame of having denied even knowing Jesus that night of the arrest, is still the one whose heart started thumping as the women told their “idle tale,” and who would dare one more time to see if maybe—maybe—it wasn’t all over. “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.”

That’s where the story ends for tonight; an empty tomb and a look amazement. The story will continue to unfold over the coming Sundays of Eastertide, and they’ll begin to understand that their Jewish belief in a general resurrection at the end of time was, in Jesus Christ, being brought to a whole new place.

“The resurrection had already happened,” N.T. Wright comments, “[and] had come forward to meet them, God’s future rushing like an express train into the present, into the middle of history, the middle of the world’s pain, of Israel’s broken kingdom-dreams… They were going to have to get used to living in a present which was shot through with God’s future…”

And oh, how that would change them. From a rag-tag group who seemed to have an incredible knack for missing the point—who ran like scared rabbits on the night of his arrest, hiding away in fear that the soldiers would do to them what they’d done to Jesus—to a bold, light and life-filled community prepared to preach resurrection to anyone who would listen, no matter the cost.

And you know, though we die—we are all of us dying, moving each day closer and closer to our own deaths—we are liberated to do that with a bold, light and life-filled confidence that says death no longer has dominion; death is no longer the trump card, the last word, the unbeatable foe. Because what they saw in him—embodied resurrection life so alive that this old world could hardly contain him—is now our promise, our future, our hope, our truth.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In his glory and by God’s grace, so shall we.

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