What God Has Done, Easter, April 21

What God Has Done

Isaiah 65:17-26; Psalm 114; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Palenville and Catskill United Methodist Churches; April 21, 2019

 

It was a quiet Sabbath in that garden.  Joseph had wrapped the body and closed the tomb late Friday afternoon. The Sabbath ended at sundown Saturday.  The women waited until the first light of the first day of the week and hurried to the garden with their ointments and spices.  It was all they could do.  They hadn’t been able to do anything but watch since Thursday night; watch and weep.  Finally, in their grief, there was something they could do.  Women prepared bodies for burial.  It was traditionally their responsibility.  It was an honor to be able to offer this one last gift to a loved one.  Today, it would be for Jesus, whom they had loved and respected, whom they had left home to follow, learning from him, caring for him, being part of his community. 

 

Oh, the tears they had cried in the last 48 hours!  Tears for him, for themselves, for the other disciples, for the hopes they’d all had.  Enough!  Today, they had spices to carry, a task to accomplish, finally something they could do.

 

And they found?  Nothing. 

 

The stone had been rolled away (Well, that was a relief.  They hadn’t known quite how they were going to handle that particular challenge.) They went inside.  And the body was gone. Gone!  Simply not there! Where had it gone?  How had it gone?

Then, there are two men, angels apparently, dazzling in their brightness, speaking absurdities.  ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, he is risen, as he said.  Remember all those times he talked about coming back, rebuilding the temple in three days?  He meant it.’  And then they, too, were gone.

 

All these spices, and no body to care for.  But now they had a new task, to tell what they’d seen, to get the word out.

 

They spoke with each other.  Yes, they did remember.  And now they had news, and whether they could make sense of it or not, the news had to be told.

 

The women ran back, away from the tomb, away from the garden, because there was nothing there anymore.  They ran to where they knew other disciples would be, to tell them what they’d seen, and hadn’t seen.  He wasn’t there. 

 

The frustration the women felt over that Sabbath was real. We know that frustration.  When things go wrong, we want to help, to stop the pain, to make it better.  Part of the pain of watching the footage of Notre Dame burning last Monday was the utter inability to do anything.  Even the people in Paris felt powerless.  They gathered to watch, to pray, to sing in order simply to name their grief. 

 

Those who could act, acted well.  Much of Notre Dame was saved.  We can do so much together that we cannot do alone – it’s a truth at the heart of civilization itself.  That’s another sermon, but I give thanks today for the work of firefighters and rescue workers.

 

Jesus’ friends could do nothing in the face of his death.  If you’ve been with someone who is hurting, you know that pain. You know that if you could you would offer relief, whatever it might take.  But you can’t end the pain.  You can be there, and despite the frustration of the limits of being there, being there is good. 

 

The good news of Easter morning is that, though we are powerless against death, God is not.  God released Jesus from death’s power and raised him triumphantly into life.  In baptism we belong to Christ, so death ultimately has no power over us either.  It just doesn’t.  In life or in death, we belong to God through Christ.  In that great battle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and fear, love wins, life wins, good wins.  That battle rages still, in our hearts, in our lives, in our world.  But we who know Christ know where the victory lies. It lies with God, with love and life.  Because God is on our side, death is defeated, once and for all.  We experience death; it separates us temporarily from those we love.  But we will be together again. 

 

That’s why that beautiful reading from Isaiah is part of our scripture witness today.  We can trust that this kingdom God proclaims to the people is what God will fulfill. Because of Easter’s triumph over death, we claim that new world as our own, where each family has their own vine and fig tree, a home where they can eat their fill and be safe; there is no servitude, no coercion.  They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.  All of that is part of the promise of Easter.  The angels’ words speak to us:  Remember what Jesus said.  Remember who Jesus is/was, and what he talked about.  Jesus' teachings challenge us, just as they challenged those who first heard them.  Love your enemies; take care of each other; I am with you in the least of these sisters and brothers – the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, the sick.  Those words are not separate from the good news that Jesus is alive.  They are the way into the life that Jesus offers us.  He said he came to bring us abundant life.  That life is resurrection life, unafraid of death, triumphant over our pettiness, our nastiness, our capacity to get things wrong.  The abundant life Jesus offers is found in living the way he calls us to live, sharing his love and grace with each other and with the world, getting over ourselves and instead looking out for the needs of others, consistently, in all we do. 

 

I’m not sure the disciples, women or men, grasped immediately all the implications of the news they heard that morning.  Their work that day is still our work today, to tell the story.   

 

I claim the story of Christ’s resurrection as my own because I can testify that love wins, that God’s wondrous power is that which makes my life whole, not anything I’ve done or might do.  The world that formed me, that still tries to hold on to me, bases its understanding of success on accomplishments.  Love comes to the worthy, to the smart, to the capable and to the beautiful, because they deserve it.  I suspect you’ve come in contact with this world as well.  In that world, there are winners and losers, which leaves us two places to be.  Either we figure we’re among the winners, and we look with contempt, disdain, or maybe only pity on those who are losers, distancing ourselves from them and thereby cutting ourselves off from our sisters and brothers.  Or we figure we don’t measure up and have missed the boat.  We’re then among the losers, not worth anyone’s time or love, including God’s. 

 

The gospel unmasks such a world as a fraud.  That’s not the world God created, nor is it how God views any of us.  We belong to God; each of us is precious to God.  The only truth in that false naming of the world is that we can’t make it better.  The word that world is missing is that God does make it better.  God’s love is offered to all. All, all all.  That which we can’t do, God can and will do, which is to bring us into life, abundant life, whole life, eternal life.  It’s that eternal life we celebrate this morning.  It’s that life that Christ opens to everyone on Easter morning. 

 

Come, to the table, to the cross, to the empty tomb.  See that death is finished, that in God, life is triumphant, and the door to that life is open to you.  Friends, in Jesus Christ, you are forgiven, loved, freed, and victorious. 

 

This is why we sing; this is why we shout: alleluia!  Christ is risen indeed!  Amen

 

Isaiah 65:17-25

17For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. 19I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. 20No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. 21They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. 24Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

 

Psalm 114 (UMH 835)

1When Israel went out from Egypt,

      the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,

2Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.

3The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back.

4The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.

5Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?

6O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?

7Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,

8who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.

 

 

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

 

Luke 24:1-12

24But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The 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. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But 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.