Acting Out Easter
Easter Sunday Sermon at New Life (posted by request). This coming Sunday, we'll act out the Easter story by serving our neighbors at our Community Service Sunday!
Sunday, Apr. 21 – Resurrection of Our Lord - Luke 24:1-12 - New Life Lutheran Church of Dripping Springs, Texas - Sermon: act out the story
Luke 24:1-12 (NRSV) The Resurrection of Jesus 24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But 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.
It is true in a way that, for preachers, Easter preaches itself. It is such a good story, this story of Jesus being killed by the powers that be and coming back to life to eat and drink with his amazed friends - it can’t really be improved upon, or added to, by any words. Here is the part that comes before the story of the women finding the empty tomb in the gospel of Luke. The Good Friday part:
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. 50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
There is a lot of slowness and waiting and silence in Luke’s account. In other versions there is running, and conversation with Jesus himself. But here, the friends stand silently away a little distance from the cross when the crowd is beating their breasts. The women of Galilee follow and see where the body is laid. They go home, prepare their spices, and rest on the long Sabbath day. Sunday morning, they go to prepare the body. And they find an empty tomb. The see two men in dazzling clothes who tell them “Why do you look for the dead among the living?”
There is not running in Luke’s story. There is a lot of perplexed-ness. And when they tell the male disciples, the men don’t really react strongly, they just think it is an “idle tale.” Some people use this story, the story of the women telling the rest about the empty tomb, as a reminder that if we didn’t have women preaching the gospel, we wouldn’t have the gospel. They are not wrong…
The gospel means the good news. And the good news is that the tomb, the place of death, is empty. There is no corpse. He is not there. Death is defeated. Maybe since we can’t really improve on that story with words, we do it with actions. Like baptism, and communion. We will have communion later this morning. And Easter is a traditional time for baptisms. We don’t have any here this Easter, but we sometimes do, and we do them year round. If you have not been baptized and want to be, you are welcome to this font anytime - even today.
Baptism is the sacrament of being named and claimed by God, and also being welcomed into the Christian community. One congregation welcomes the new person into the whole worldwide body of Christ. In the early church, the baptistry was sometimes a separate room, or even a whole separate building at front of the church. And on the night before Easter, the Easter vigil, those who had been preparing for baptism, often by studying for a year beforehand, would take off their normal clothes, put on new white robes, and be lowered into the baptismal pool. They would be cheered and welcomed and brought into the sanctuary for worship, and take communion with the community for the first time. During the baptism, they would be told that they were dying with Christ in those waters. Coming out, they would be new, symbolized by the new clothes. They would be joined to the story of Jesus’ death, so that they could die to their old selves.
In baptism, we leave behind the parts of ourselves that keep us from being close to God - our greed and selfishness, our crippling self-doubt, our meanness, our mistakes. We willingly take on this death story, willingly join the suffering man on the cross, willingly put ourselves in that role of taking the worst the world has to offer, and taking it with love. We become part of that story so that we can join ourselves to the resurrection part of the story. We can become new and whole and enter into the joy.
Dying is never easy. It is actually hard to give up those old habits of cowardice and spitefulness and blaming. It is hard to move toward love and forgiveness —of others and ourselves. That’s why Jesus did it first. That’s why this story is so wonderful, so powerful, so far from an “idle tale." This story - our central Christian story - has the power to transform us, again and again.
And so on a Spring morning, when the whole earth is telling this story without words— when dead seeds become live green shoots, when caterpillars emerge as butterflies, when bare earth starts teeming with flowers—we come together to tell this resurrection story every year at Easter. And we baptize and welcome new people into the story.
And then we come back, again and again, every week, to remember, all year. We can remember our baptism each day, with that morning face wash, as Martin Luther said he did. Remember that, like Spring, resurrection happens over and over. We get three million and one and more chances. In baptism, we grab onto Jesus coattails and ride this story through death and back, and we are claimed by him and he is not letting go, no matter what.
Many churches today have the baptism font near the entrance, like the old baptistries, so we can remember that that is our entrance, each one of us, into this story. We can dip our hands into that water, just to feel it and remember it. It is your baptismal water. There’s no new water on earth, this is the same water of creation, of the flood, of Jesus’ baptism and yours, raining and rising and raining and rising again. Watering the new plants, washing the whole earth clean. You can touch that water and remember that you are loved enough for Jesus to come to earth, and to go through death, and come back for you. You can’t really add much more to this story of the empty tomb than that.