Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter Sunrise Sermon: "An Idle Tale"

The Rev. Maureen Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
April 5, 2015 – Easter Sunrise
Luke 24:1-12

“An Idle Tale”

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who were with them. 
According to the gospel of Luke, these are the first witnesses to the miracle of the Resurrection.  Luke tells us that these five or six or possibly seven or more women were the first to see the empty tomb on that first Easter morning.

Not all the gospel writers agree about this.
As many of you may know we have four different gospel accounts of this miraculous story.

The gospel of Mark tells us that there were just three women who saw the empty tomb on Easter Morning - Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and a woman named Salome.

The gospel of Matthew tells us that there were just two women at the tomb – Mary Magdalene and a woman only identified as the other Mary.

Finally, the gospel of John tells us that there was only one woman present there that first Easter morning – Mary Magdalene – she came to the tomb alone to anoint Jesus’ body and discovered that the stone had been rolled away.

What is amazing about these four different gospel accounts of that first Easter morning is not that there were seven women, or three, or two, or only one.

The amazing thing is that in every one of these accounts, the most miraculous and faith-inspiring event in all of Christian history – the Resurrection of Jesus Christ – hinges on the testimony, the eyewitness accounts, of women.

In our time, we may not think that this detail is significant,
but in the time that these particular women lived it was very significant.

In a culture and age where women often could not testify in court because their testimony was considered unreliable,
in a religious tradition that recognized the authority of only its male members,
in sacred scriptures that tell the story of the people of God by mentioning 956 men by name, and only 188 women….
here, in the Easter story, women have been trusted to carry the greatest news of all time – the tomb is empty – Christ has risen indeed.

Men do make an appearance in the story in all four gospels.
They peer into the tomb, they scratch their head in amazement, they accuse the women of telling idle tales, and they return to their homes not believing and not understanding what they have seen.

But it is the women who are told to run to Galilee, to run to tell the disciples, to run and tell everyone what they have seen.
In a post-Jesus world, these women become the first Christian evangelists.
The first preachers of the gospel.
The first to tell the world the GOOD NEWS,
that Jesus has risen from the grave - and Death has not won.

Standing here in 21st century New England, we may shrug our shoulders and say, “So what?”
It may not matter to us who was the first to find the empty tomb.
Dwelling on this detail of the story may not make it any less true - or any more true - for any of us.

Wrapping our head around this ancient story of a resurrected Christ – and believing it to be TRUE – with a capital T - may be difficult enough without nitpicking over who was the first to find Jesus’ tomb empty.

But this detail does make a difference.

These women, who had little power and little status in their communities.
These women, who were often overlooked and lived their lives in the background.
These women, who were rarely given a voice in the public forum and who were thought to be telling “idle tales” when they did speak.

These women represented those whom Christ had come to set free.
The marginalized, the powerless, the voiceless – of all genders, of all nationalities, of all races, languages, and religions.

In his life, and in his teachings, Jesus talked a lot about this NEW kingdom – this NEW world – that God was creating through him.
He talked about pulling down the mighty and lifting up the lowly. 
Not to liberate just those on the bottom of the pile in an imbalanced system, but to liberate those on top as well. 
Because those of us who are ruled by a desire for more power, more money, more resources, are not free.
Fear is our master.
Fear of not having enough. Fear of losing all that we have.
Fear that causes us to question whether everyone is as deserving or worthy of receiving what God has given to us all. 

When Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor and the meek" for they shall inherit this NEW kingdom of God, he was not saying that the rich and the powerful are evil, rather he was saying that we all are equally as likely to be entrapped by the fear that causes us to build these systems of power in the first place.

The empty tomb – the first sign of Jesus’ resurrection – was evidence that God was doing something NEW in the world.

Death did not win.  
Those with the most power, resources, and might, did not win.
Those who were threatened by Jesus’ teachings about God’s unconditional love and unlimited mercy did not win.
The tomb was empty.
Jesus did not die.  
Love conquered fear.
And those set free would be the first to tell the world.

The fact that these eyewitness accounts of women even made it into the Bible – in all four gospels no less – is often lifted up as evidence that these stories of the Resurrection are true.

Because if you lived in 1st century Palestine and were going to make up a story about a resurrected Messiah that you wanted others to believe to be true wouldn’t you make your first eyewitness someone worthy of trust in your time – someone with power, and authority, and influence?

Who would believe the idle tales of women?

And yet here we stand on this Easter morning, some 2000 years later.
None of us was there to see the empty tomb ourselves.
We did not encounter the risen Christ in the garden.
And it’s likely that few of us put much faith in relics like the Shroud of Turin or an ancient nail in a piece of wood that has been offered as proof of Jesus’ execution and resurrection.
But something about this story has brought each of here this morning.

We pulled ourselves out of bed before the sun came up, and came out here to stand on this still frozen green….because there is something about this story that resonates with us.

Perhaps it’s the hope of finding the unexpected. The hope of the resurrection.
Because something inside of is dying or has died…and we’re desperate to hear that something new will grow in its place.

Perhaps we’re here because we’re grieving. Because we’ve lost someone we love…someone we can’t replace…. and before our heart breaks wide open we need to hear a story about grief bursting into joy.

Perhaps we’re here because we’ve had enough of death in general.
Because we’ve stood next to too many tombs and lost too many people to cancer, to illness, to addiction, to heartbreakingly random accidents that defy all explanation… but since Jesus lived again, maybe, just maybe death is not the absolute ending that we fear it to be.

Or perhaps we’re just weighed down with the heaviness of this world.
We’ve grown weary of hearing about children dying in wars, students being shot on college campuses, people killing each other over money, power, resources, race, and religion.
Yet if Jesus found the strength in his dying breath to say, “Father forgive them,” maybe we can find that strength as well.

Perhaps we’re here because we’re looking for hope.
The hope that God has something new planned for this world.
The hope that God has something new planned for us.  

The women who gathered at Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter morning experienced firsthand the new thing that God was doing in the world.
And now these women have become an integral part of the Easter story.
People the world over, throughout the ages have heard their testimony and believed.

Every Easter, we become these women.
Peering into the tomb.
Looking for a reason to go on.
And finding something surprising and new to give us hope.

Christ has risen, indeed.
Alleluia, and Amen!

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