Sermon for Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017

April 16, 2017 (Easter Sunday)
An Idle Tale
Luke 24:1-12

As news of the impending arrest of Jesus of Nazareth spread over the world this week, Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post filed this story, to help us understand the reasons why authorities wanted him in custody.

Crucified man had prior run-in with authorities[1]

The gentleman arrested Thursday and tried before Pontius Pilate had a troubled background.

Born (possibly out of wedlock?) in a stable, this jobless thirty-something of Middle Eastern origin had had previous run-ins with local authorities for disturbing the peace, and had become increasingly associated with the members of a fringe religious group.  He spent the majority of his time in the company of sex workers and criminals.

He had had prior run-ins with local authorities—most notably, an incident of vandalism in a community center when he wrecked the tables of several licensed money-lenders and bird-sellers.  He had used violent language, too, claiming that he could destroy a gathering place and rebuild it.

At the time of his arrest, he had not held a fixed residence for years.  Instead, he led an itinerant lifestyle, staying at the homes of friends and advocating the redistribution of wealth.

He had come to the attention of the authorities more than once for his unauthorized distribution of food, disruptive public behavior, and participation in farcical aquatic ceremonies.

Some say that his brutal punishment at the hands of the state was out of proportion to and unrelated to any of these incidents in his record.

But after all, he was no angel.

 

If Jesus’ arrest, trial and conviction on charges of subversion and disturbing the peace had actually taken place this week, in 2017, instead of two thousand years ago, we could expect this kind of news article about him.  No matter that the charges were manufactured out of whole cloth by an unholy alliance of religious authorities intent on maintaining their power and political leaders who valued law and order over all else.  (The religious authorities would have added “blasphemy” to the list of charges, but Rome had no particular interest in enforcing laws rooted in Jewish scripture.)

Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution were the triumph of cynicism, in which almost every person and institution is at their worst.

Religious authorities, who were supposed to be waiting for the Messiah to come, failed to recognize him and chose to silence him in the most permanent way they could think of.

Political leaders engaged in buck-passing and condemned a man to death to preserve their own positions in the imperial power structure.

Jesus’ own friends let him down:  the religious leadership paid one of them off to be an informant and deliver Jesus into their custody; one of them, when asked repeatedly, lied about even knowing Jesus; and most of the rest of them ran away.

The general public in Jerusalem, misguided by fear and anger over Roman oppression, and an increased Roman military presence during the Passover festival—a holiday that celebrated their liberation from oppression—let their religious leaders turn them into a lynch mob.

The only ones who come out looking even remotely good are one of the criminals being executed with Jesus and a group of persistent female disciples.  The women silently witnessed the injustice of Jesus’ arrest and condemnation.  They stayed with him through his long, excruciating death on the cross.  They watched Joseph of Arimathea lay him in a new tomb.  Then they went home and prepared the spices and ointments that would be necessary to give him a proper burial, rather than the necessarily hasty one Joseph had given him because the Sabbath was beginning.

 

When cynicism triumphs, despair is sort of inevitable.

That Sabbath day was a day of numbness and, yes, despair.  Jesus’ followers wandered through their houses, picking up random objects and setting them down, eating when someone said they had to but not tasting any of it, saying the prayers by rote.  After the Sabbath candles were put out, the night was long and sleepless.  In the darkness and the silence the tears finally came, hopeless tears that offered none of the catharsis that usually comes with weeping.

Each at her own house, the women all gave up their tossing and turning as the first light came up over the eastern horizon, and went to the place where they’d agreed to meet.  They walked out to Jesus’ tomb, to do the very last thing they could for him…

 

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” the angel asks them.  Why are you still captive to despair?  Why do you still believe cynicism and violence have won?  “He is not here, but has risen.”

They run back to where the disciples are hiding with their own despair, and tell them what they had seen and heard.  But the others don’t believe the women.  They think they’re speaking nonsense.  They suspect the women’s despair has driven them mad.

Peter, perhaps to humor the women, goes to the tomb to see what he could see; but no angels speak to him.

 

“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”  Well?

Why are we looking for love in the wrong places, where we find only indifference, perhaps even abuse?  Why are we seeking happiness in getting money and buying stuff?  Why are we trying to find security in a bank account?  Why do we think solace can be found in a bottle?

We are still looking for the living among the dead!

 

“He is not here, but has risen.”  You thought despair won?  You thought violence could bring certainty?  You thought cynicism was the rule of the day?  Think again.

He has risen, and with him comes hope.  With him comes love that does not hurt.  With him comes security that goes far beyond dollars and cents.  With him comes the ability, with the women, to persist in staying with him, to persist in speaking his good news into a world still wallowing in disbelief and despair.  With him comes life, and with him comes joy.

Stop looking for the living among the dead.  Instead, turn now to the Risen One, the one who has defeated evil, defeated cynicism, defeated despair.  And let him live in you, so that your every step, your every word, your every action shines brightly, bringing hope, love, and joy to dispel the shadows of fear, cynicism, and despair.

[1] This article was found at https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2017/04/12/crucified-man-had-prior-run-in-with-authorities/?tid=hybrid_mostsharedarticles_2_na&utm_term=.b84e896f1037 on April 15, 2017.

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