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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
April 21, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Central Passage
Luke 24:1-12
Subject
Easter Sunday C
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: April 21, 2019 – Easter Sunday C

Luke 24:1-12

Nonsense!

 

              In a 1789 letter to French scientist Jean-Baptiste LeRoy, Benjamin Franklin, borrowing a phrase from authors Daniel Defoe and Christopher Bullock, wrote, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”[1]

 

              Franklin didn’t originate the phrase, but he popularized it. It’s trotted out with a weary smile or disgusted scowl around April 15th every year. And it’s self-evident. Everyone dies. Everyone (well, except for some very special people, perhaps) pays taxes. There’s no escape from these two certainties of the human condition and our civilization.

 

              Except with Jesus, the finality of death becomes a lot less certain.

 

              Let’s not make the mistake of assuming the people in Jesus’ day were any more superstitious, or any more prone to fantastical belief than any of us. While literacy and scientific knowledge were restricted to very few, most people understood cause and effect. If you pay your taxes, it’s less likely that your friendly neighborhood tax collector will break your door down. If you sow a crop or plant a vineyard carefully, keeping a close eye on moisture, weed, and pest control, it is more likely you’ll harvest something. And if you die, you will most certainly stay dead. The disciples knew that. The women at the tomb knew that. Everyone in Jesus’ day knew that, just as we know that. Sure, we have ghost stories. Some people have dreams of the dead, or experiences of things they can’t explain. And from time to time, there’s an undead craze in books, movies, and television, such as the Twilight series or World War Z. But nobody has ever seen someone dead and buried one day; and then alive, in-the-flesh, walking, talking and eating.

 

              Except for one time.

 

              To be clear, many Jews in Jesus’ day expected a general bodily resurrection. There are hints of this in the bodily resuscitations that happen in the Old Testament. Elijah and Elisha both raise lads from the dead.[2] There is also the strange case where a dead man is thrown into Elisha’s tomb; upon touching Elisha’s bones, the dead man resuscitates.[3] And there is the end of the Book of Daniel, which explicitly prophesies the resurrection at the end time.[4] But in following these texts, these folks expected it to (a) apply to everyone and (b) occur at the Messianic Age. Nobody expected it to happen to one man during a  period of foreign oppression. Nobody expected it to happen under cover of darkness. And nobody expected resurrection to happen to this Galilean; this teacher, healer, and provacateur executed as an enemy of the state.

 

              So when the women report what they saw, is it any wonder that the disciples thought their words were nonsense?

 

              Of course that’s what they thought! Their words had to be nonsense! If the women’s accounts were true, that would undermine one of the core certainties of existence! If death is no longer a certainty, then what can be counted on? What happens to your worldview if something you thought was permanent is not? It’s frightening. Look what’s happened in our country in reaction to social changes. The decentralization of the church in America, the acceptance and constitutional protection of same-gender marriage, the explosion of technology, the economic and political rise of non-Western nations, the entrenched politics, the “me too” movement, the highlighting of systemic racism – all these things and more can be frightening. Unsettling. Signs of an unmoored world. Events like this can terrify people like us, in settled churches like this one who desperately want things to remain the same. Or at least want something, anything, to remain the same. That desperation for something to remain constant is powerful. It can easily disregard any facts that would lead to a conclusion that would upend how we see the world. The disciples were certainly despondent by Jesus’ death. In the next story, as two disciples walk to Emmaus, they tell a hidden Jesus, “We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.”[5] They had lost hope.

 

              But imagine the emotional labor of having hope again after it had been lost. Imagine the strength that must take! Jesus was taken violently. He was killed. He was buried. Nobody came back from that. The disciples must still have been in shock. It all happened so fast. Jesus ate with them. He was arrested. The next day he was dead. No one can even begin to grieve in fewer than two full days! Much less can one grieve God’s Messiah. Their worldview had already been upended once. And now these women – THESE WOMEN – are asking them to upend it again? Nonsense! Humbug! BS! They are having none of it.

 

              Except, their story does something. Something happens to them. Peter, at least, is curious. He doesn’t believe them, but he runs out to the tomb. And he sees only two things. An open tomb. A linen cloth. No sign of Jesus.

 

              That’s where the Gospel leaves us on this Easter morning. The risen Christ does not appear yet. But the resurrection has happened. Two men in radiant white clothing have told the women to “Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Human One must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”[6] Sight unseen, the resurrection has been proclaimed. Jesus is raised from the dead. Reality is changed forever.

 

              Sisters and brothers, we are in a similar place today – but there is a key difference. This “nonsense” story has persisted for two thousand years. This “nonsense” story persisted among Jesus’ followers, through torture, imprisonment, and death. This “nonsense” story was experienced, believed, and lived out by the least likely people. The arch-reactionary Paul. The worldly Augustine. The bandit St. Moses of Ethiopia. The fabulously wealthy Sts. Anthony and Francis. The internally tortured Luther. The lustful Thomas Merton. The Machiavellian Charles Colson. Even though we’ve not seen it, Jesus has risen from the dead, and because of that, death is no longer the end for us. Death no longer has the certainty, the finality that it once did. Even in the middle of our earthly lives, we can experience resurrection. Even though we have not seen Jesus plainly, we have heard his words. We have been united with him in our baptism. We have received him at this table or others like it. And we see him every day in the people around us. This nonsense that the women tell turns out to be the very thing that re-defines reality for us. That gives us the courage to live into the unknown days ahead. That gives us the power to weather change when it comes. That gives us courage to live the resurrection today. The two certainties of life, it turns out, are not death and taxes. They are Jesus and his victory over death. Those realities will never change.

 

© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.

 

[1] Albert Henry Smyth, The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. X (1789-1790). (New York: Macmillan, 1907), 69.

[2] 1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:32-37.

[3] 2 Kings 13:21

[4] Daniel 12:2

[5] Luke 24:21, CEB.

[6] Luke 24:6b-7, CEB.