Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women leave as the barely lights the eastern sky. Jesus was buried on Friday just before the Sabbath began, so there was no time to properly bathe and anoint his body for burial. As soon as it was light, they set off to do women’s work—to wash, and bathe and bless Jesus body and as they would do so, to grieve, to remember, tell stories. As they would bind his body, they would begin to bind their hearts, and each other’s to deal with this tragedy and loss.
But as they arrive at the tomb, there is no work for them to do. The stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty; they are expecting the stench of death, and all they smell is the dawn of a new day, and the mineral of an empty rock. Two angels dazzle them and ask them the oddest question, “why do you seek the living among the dead?” Of course, they were not looking for the living among the dead—they were the living looking for the dead. But, it’s wonderful isn’t it? That angels reinterpret their intention, as if to say that any of us who are looking for Jesus are not seeking an old dead faith but are really searching for the living risen Christ among us.
“He is not here,” they say. “He has risen. Remember how he told you that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and to be crucified and on the third day rise again.”
Remember what Jesus said. Remember what Jesus did. Remember your time with Jesus. Remember. Trust today because you remember what Jesus did for you yesterday, and last week, and last year. The whole Bible is written really to help us remember what God has done before, so we can love and seek and pray to Jesus today.
Even though they are terrified, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women begin to remember what Jesus said, and it all starts to make sense—Jesus had talked about dying and rising again! Jesus’ body is gone, dazzling men are here—it’s all happening just as Jesus said!
They returned from the empty tomb and the angel visitation excited to tell the incredible news that all was not lost! They will help the rest of the disciples remember what Jesus said—and proclaim it has come true! The resurrection is now!
But the disciples and all the other followers of Jesus do not remember, and they do not believe the women’s testimony. Don’t you find it interesting that the women, who are terrified, believe the angel visitors, but the disciples do not believe the women? (I’ll let you think about that for a minute).
Their words seemed to the disciples an idle tale. But “idle tale” is not the best translation for that word. “Idle tale” makes it sound like the women were gossiping, but the original Greek word is much harsher than that. The disciples thought the women were “delirious,” or spouting “garbage.” It’s very dismissive.
Perhaps you have had this experience at one time or another in your life—of being dismissed, like you’re crazy, treated as if you are disposable and unimportant. It must have been an awful feeling for Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women—to have this amazing, transcendent, spiritual experience, this realization of Jesus’ resurrection after death, remembering everything he had said, and this cosmic convergence of the real meaning of his ministry, this moment of everything falling into place and making sense.
And then to share it with their closest friends—their tightest community—only to be treated like garbage.
It’s heart-breaking in our day and age, when we still hear about people being treated this way. About a month ago, a man stopped by the church wanting to talk with the pastor and looking for help. He had a real family crisis on his hands and I gave him some referrals, what help I could, including a few Hunger Helper lunches, I prayed with him, and then I told him, “you can’t deal with this alone, so I would love for you to come to worship so you can be a part of a Christian community.” He started to tear up and was surprised I invited him to church. He told me when he asked to talk to the pastor at another church, he was told to leave or they would call police— he was treated like he was crazy, or a criminal for being in need.
In my first congregation, there was a mother and son who came to worship from the neighborhood. Ella was limited intellectually, and her son, Alex had down syndrome. They just loved walking to church and being part of the community. After a time, they joined the choir. Sadly, some of the choir members started to complain because they thought Ella and Alex would ruin their anthems. They didn’t ruin anything, but none-the-less, they were viewed as disposable. God bless the choir director, MaryAnn, who would have none of that, and included Alex and Ella in the choir.
Peter preaches to this very point in our Acts reading as he comes to truly understand that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.” No one is disposable. No one is garbage. It’s 2,000 years later and the entire Christian world is still working at living out the radical inclusion that Jesus embodied in his life, that his risen Spirit empowers in his resurrection, and that was preached in the earliest days of the church.
God calls us to live this Easter reality today, becoming a community that shows no partiality. There are still many people our society and the church treats as disposable, who need to experience a God who loves them and a community who welcomes them. If you have ever been dismissed or mistreated, you know how important it is to carry out the mission of sharing the unequivocal love of God in a radically inclusive community.
Who is it in your neighborhood, school, workplace, on your commute, or where you shop that society dismisses as unimportant? God calls us to embrace the discomfort of welcoming and listening to those at the margins. God calls us to give these sisters and brothers time, space and community in which to rise with Christ into the fullness of who God made them to be. In the first century, it started with listening to the testimony, wisdom, and experience of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary and the other women. Peter finally decided to check out the empty tomb himself, and the others eventually believed the women. Thank goodness Peter and the other disciples started to listen to the women, or the good news might not have made it all the way to us today!
In fact, building an Easter community that shows no partiality is what it means to be named St. Luke’s. Remember that Luke, more than the other evangelist, shows us the Jesus who was always reaching out to those at the margins—the sinners, the cheats, untouchables, the sick, the demon-possessed, the blind, and the poor—those society dismissed as delirious, outcast, and social garbage.
Of course, a resurrection community in Jesus’ name, called St. Luke’s would include every last one of God’s great diversity people—no matter who they are—amazingly, including YOU! Believing that Jesus died and rose for YOU—no matter what—is the first act of faith that enables you to welcome others, expanding our diversity and making a radically inclusive Easter community a reality.
There’s a dazzling table set by our risen Lord and your name is written a piece of bread and a cup of forgiveness. You are included, you are valued, you are loved, you are matter to God and to this community. Receive the grace of the risen Jesus for you and remember to go from here to seek out those at the margins. Show no partiality and participate with Jesus in living the Easter community. All are welcome! Alleluia!
Image: Empty Tomb by renowned Christian artist, He Qi