Year C, Easter Luke 24:1-12
When I was in the hospital, I hated the night. Visitors had to leave at 8pm and could not return until 8am. At 8pm I would start to panic because I knew I had 12 hours ahead of me. And it’s the hospital, so it’s not like you can sleep at night. Because I had an infectious disease, I couldn’t leave the room or open the door. It felt like I was in a tomb. Even when I came home, I dreaded the night. Never in my life have I been so desperate for the morning. As I look back on it, I am reminded of Psalm 130. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.” I would like to tell you that the Psalm came to me in the darkness of the night when I most needed it, but it didn’t. Sometimes you have to wait. Some nights last more than 12 hours.
I have preached on this text from Luke several times. Every time I read it, something different strikes me. This year, it was the time of day that caught my attention. “On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb…” Early dawn. There are 4 Gospels that tell the story of the resurrection and they are all a little different in the way they tell the story. One of the things they have in common is that the women come either right before dawn or at dawn.
There could be a ritualistic reason they came early in the morning. Typically bodies were anointed before burial. However, because Jesus’ death and burial was unusual for a variety of reasons, the women had not been able to anoint him when they normally would have—right after death. That must have been upsetting to them. The act of anointing was a way these women could mourn someone who was dear to them. It was their last opportunity to minister to him. So it’s possible they were simply eager to move forward with this important ritual that they had been denied.
Because of COVID, most of us have had experiences of not being able to mourn people as we were once able. It could have been being denied a timely funeral or even not being able to gather friends and family to share stories. Some who died of COVID or were in nursing homes or hospitals with strict policies had to say goodbye through a computer or phone screen. I said final prayers for someone through and open window while huddled with the family under an umbrella. The traumas of the past two years have been compounded by our inability to mourn and process. Thus I think many of us can understand why it was so important for these followers of Jesus to anoint him as soon as they could.
Yet I also could not help but wonder what their nights must have been like after Jesus was crucified. It has been two nights and two days. Jesus rose on the third day. The women who came to anoint him were the very same women who had been with him while he shared his parables, when he performed miracles, when he raised Lazarus from the dead. They were the same women who had been with him when he was crucified. After witnessing the crucifixion of not just a dear friend, but a man you believed was God in the flesh…how well do you think you would sleep? Trauma can do some crazy things to your sleep.
The psalm I opened with mentions someone watching for the morning. I bet these women did more than watch. I would think they were desperate for the morning—desperate for a time that they could be with their friends who had shared this experience, friends they could weep openly with. Desperate for some sense of closure.
They arrived at early dawn, which means they started their journey when it was still dark. Can you see it? These heart-broken women trudging through the darkness to a tomb. They must have been carrying more than just broken hearts and spices. Because a broken heart will not propel you forward. There must have been an ember of hope buried inside them—a memory dancing on the edges of their consciousness. He said he would rise again. It didn’t make sense when he said it, but what if?? It was desperation, but it was also hope that drove them into the night. Desperation and hope are often tangled together.
I have traditional book commentaries that I consult when I am preparing a sermon and a few online commentaries. When things get desperate (as they did this week), I occasionally just google random thoughts and words. When I did that this week, I kept seeing websites and articles with titles like, “Evidence for the resurrection.” Those were not links I pursued. We don’t believe in the resurrection because of evidence. There is no body of evidence that can prove that the resurrection happened. Despite that lack of evidence, we are still telling this story thousands of years after the event. That in and of itself is amazing. A religion that started with a man born in a backwater town, who collected a small band of followers and then died a gruesome death currently has 2.4 billion followers. And that doesn’t include all of those Christians who have lived over the last 2000 years. How could any movement survive that long without proof?
When the women went and told the other disciples that Jesus had risen, they had not yet see the risen Lord. They had just seen the empty tomb and been told that he was risen by two men in white. They had no real evidence. But they remembered who he was in life. They remembered the hope he had given them, the hope they still carried even after he was crucified—when there was absolutely no good reason to hope. Who holds on to hope after someone has been brutally murdered? Christians. We do. And that my friends, is what gets us through the darkest of nights and the haziest of dawns. It’s not the light that we currently see, it’s a light that we are promised. A light that seems heart wrenchingly dim at times, a light we can best see when we have experienced total darkness.
|Photo by Daniel Joshua on Unsplash|
Just like those desperately hopeful women, we too have to start in the night if we want to make it to the dawn. Every single person in this church has suffered in some way over the past several years, some more than others. I would do anything to be able to take some of that pain away. I can’t. I can’t give you proof of the resurrection. But I can promise you this—that ember of hope that propelled those women through the darkness to an empty tomb burns in each one of us. If it were not so, you would not be here. Something brought you here. It might seem to be a family obligation, or a tradition—some perfectly ordinary reason. But God’s works miracles in the ordinary.
Today we receive communion at the altar for the first time in 25 months. Communion is about a lot of things and one of those things is remembering Jesus’ words. It’s a weekly reminder that despite the lack of proof, we still gather with hopeful expectation. We still believe that we have a God who works miracles out of the ordinary—a God who promises that no darkness last forever. The morning always comes.