Resurrection of Our Lord 2016: “Missing, Present and Accounted For”
March 27, 2016
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Have you ever left behind your purse or wallet or backpack in a public place? And felt panic when you realized it?? I was at a rehearsal dinner in Staten Island one night, went to the ladies room, got back to the table, reached to get something out of my purse, and felt the bottom of my stomach drop out when it wasn’t there. I had left it behind in the restroom! “I’m in NY!” I thought! It’s a goner! I’m a goner! My driver’s license, my credit cards, my car keys, my house keys….. Aaaaaahhhhhh!!!!
I ran back to the ladies room. Checked the hook on the door. Nothing. Looked again. Nothing. On the way back to the table I passed the bar and, hoping against hope, asked the bartender if anyone had handed in a purse. He smiled and pulled it from under the counter. “You’re in luck.” I gratefully took it and immediately looked inside – everything was there!
An empty purse would have been a sad find, though not totally unexpected. Its emptiness would have confirmed that some crook stole its contents. The empty tomb on Easter morning was both sad and totally, overwhelmingly unexpected. When Jesus had predicted His suffering, death and resurrection, His friends didn’t know what He was talking about. If we don’t understand something, we’re less apt to remember it. If they’d had any vague memory of resurrection talk, Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial had erased it.
The women walked with leaden feet that Sunday morning at early dawn. The sorrow they carried was heavier than the spices. They were expecting to line up like beasts of burden and put all their shoulders to the stone blocking the tomb’s entrance, pushing and praying mightily for it to roll in its groove even 10 or 12 inches, enough for them to shimmy in sideways.
Usually when someone beats us to a job we were dreading anyway and saves us work, we’re relieved. Not so with these ladies, Mary and Mary and Joanna and their friends. The stone was moved when they arrived – but WHY, in heaven’s name?? Grave robbers? No…. A carpenter, not a Pharaoh, had been entombed. There was nothing to steal – but a body.
These were bold ladies. We’re talking early dawn – it was still dark, even outside – yet they braved the blackness of the tomb to investigate. In the inky shadows they saw– nothing. Because their Master’s body was gone. And then they were nearly blinded by a blaze of light emanating from two men who suddenly appeared before them. St. Luke says in terror they bowed their faces to the ground – I’m thinking they looked down not just out of fear and reverence but also because all that radiance made their eyes hurt.
Then they were asked the resurrection question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you….” Oh, yeah, that rings a bell!! These heavenly visitors don’t tell the women to go and tell others, but they do, all on their own. And the men they speak to think they’re raving, talking nonsense, hallucinating, out of their minds with exhaustion and grief and fear. (The Greek word that translates into “idle talk” is a medical term for delirium caused by a high fever!) The guys thought the ladies were “barking mad,” as they say in Harry Potter.
They thought that because an empty tomb to them was a mystery but not a miracle. An empty tomb, like an empty purse, meant that something had been taken, not given. They now had less, rather than more, of what they once had. The absence of the body didn’t mean anything apart from the presence of the risen Christ.
The absence of certain things in our lives does signal our Lord’s presence, though. The absence of fear despite very real dangers around us. The absence of anxiety despite uncertainties. The absence of bitterness despite hurts. The absence of hatred despite others’ prejudice. The absence of despair despite painful endings.
And what are signs of His positive presence among us? The presence of the peace that passes understanding despite all the things that could make us afraid or anxious. The presence of gratitude for gifts given despite losses. The presence of resurrection hope even and especially in the wake of death. The presence of love even when love makes us vulnerable – which is always. The presence of faith, deep trust that God will keep all God’s promises – despite life events that shake us to the core. The presence of joy in the midst of sorrows. One wise person has even claimed, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”
We believe God’s promise that in Word and Sacrament God is present to us in power. The Word of God, Word of life, affirms that “Christ is risen, alleluia! Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!” The Word reminds us of the promises we never heard in the first place or that grief or tragedy erased. That same Word tells us that in the Holy Supper we receive the forgiveness of sins for which our Lord died. Here we alternately bring the emptiness of our hearts to be filled, the fullness of our lives to be blessed, trusting that in this community of faith we experience the Lord’s presence. “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
The resurrection question is put not just to those women on the first Easter but to us this Easter: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” No matter who or what has left our life, Christ remains: not inert, in the place of death, but risen, alive, preceding, following, accompanying us, often incarnated in each other. “Christ is risen, alleluia! He is risen indeed, alleluia!”
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham