Covenant Presbyterian Church – Athens, GA

“Utter Nonsense”

Utter Nonsense”              (Luke 9:18-22 and Luke 24:1-12)       Easter Sunday, Apr.21, 2019

Are you a morning person?  The most important story of the Christian faith unfolds very early in the morning.  As a pastor, a preacher, a teacher, I’ve always been a night person, up past midnight reading & studying, sorting my thoughts, preparing for the new day, when most of our gatherings begin at the decent hour of 10 or so!  But now as a 24/7 caregiver, I get it.  Now I’m always awake, through the night, listening for the one who needs me, never too deep into my dreams to keep me from rising to answer.  The dawn’s early light simply brightens the new day which has already begun – and warns me that the one I care for is probably already up and going, so I’d better too.

The women in Jesus’ life had to be this same kind of morning people, even up before dawn, for they were the ones cooking & cleaning & feeding & laundering & consoling & encouraging the twelve – and most likely some little ones in their midst as well.  I imagine it was a group of 30-40 people traveling with the Master for the Passover in Jerusalem, woven into the thousands coming from north & south & east & west, to worship God in his dwelling place, the Temple on Mt.Zion, built on the same rock Abraham and Isaac had used as an altar.  Imagine all the work to be done, daily work, in addition to the feast day!  I’m sure everyone had a job to do – whether arranging for donkeys or washing the dishes.  But Jesus’ arrest & execution changed everything.  The disciples were devastated and now fearful for their lives.  The men felt they had to hide, but for the women, it was business as usual.  Their lowly status would keep them invisible.  So on Friday, they openly followed their Lord to the foot of the cross.  They went to his tomb with Joseph of Arimathea.  They prepared the spices to anoint his body.  Only the Sabbath made them rest on Saturday, though I imagine not much sleep.  Then in the early shadows of Sunday morning, this group of women went to do their loving duty.  Nothing would stop these caregivers, faithful to the end to the One who had loved and respected them more than anyone ever had.

It’s so hard to grasp.  Why in the world did the men not believe their story?  They called it utter nonsense, an idle tale, an old wives’ tale, a figment of their imaginations.  Must women forever be labeled hysterical & melodramatic?  These were mothers & wives, partners for life with the men who had so “immediately” followed Jesus, abandoned their nets at a moment’s notice, left home & family & daily labor behind, to head on down the road on a grand adventure those three years ago.  Surely their ability to do so had depended heavily on the women – not the stereotypical flighty females it seems every generation labels, neurotic & emotional & even irrational, always exaggerating & simply seeking attention any way we can get it.  No – these women took on double duty when their men left, probably running the family business, as well as their home.  And the other women through the years who had joined the 12 too – they were just as strong – Mary of Magdala, as close to Jesus as anyone, his listener & counselor & provider, even named the first evangelist in the Gospel of John – and Joanna, the wife of Chuza who was a steward in Herod’s court, so a woman who could open doors & gather information about Rome that no one else could – and Susanna who gave so generously of her inherited wealth – and Mary the mother of James – though we don’t know which James is meant, we do know he must have been very well known by the first century church, and reared to be a leader by a mother of great persistence and dedication.  So why couldn’t the men trust the word of these pillars of their community?  To think the women could or would “utter nonsense” at such a time as this shows the feet of clay God had to work with, to build on Jesus’ ministry in the centuries to come – yet no different really than any of us, still fearful of trusting what we don’t understand.

For truly, it is hard to grasp, this story of resurrection.  In fact, most of what Jesus taught his disciples was hard to grasp – love your enemies, the last will be first, forgive 70×7, be born again.  And what happened around Jesus was hard to believe too – walking on water, shining on the mountain top, eating with outcasts, healing the sick, and especially the raising of Lazarus.  Many Jews didn’t even believe in an afterlife, much less coming back to life.

Yet the turning point for the women at the tomb had been the call to remembrance voiced by the angels.  “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive?  Remember what Jesus said to you in Galilee – the Son of Man will be arrested & crucified & 3 days later will rise to life.”  Remember, remember, the voice of the One who loves you.  That did it for them, and they ran to tell the others.  So perhaps it was the same turning point for Peter too – when the women told him that part of their story, recalling for him the day Peter had named Jesus the Messiah.  Maybe that was the hint of hope which urged him to get up & run, to see for himself, to see the tomb EMPTY, opening up a whole new world of possibility now, and then to return home completely amazed that the victory of new life could actually be won – that the very real & daily signs of fear & death which engulfed them all with disease & oppression & violence & isolation would never ever have the final word.

Amy McCullough of Grace United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, writes (Journal for Preachers, Easter 2019, p.12):  Emptiness can be a depletion, but it can also be an unused canvas awaiting the artist’s touch, or the moments of silence before the necessary words can be spoken.  Rarely does resurrection faith instantly burst forth in glory.  Often it is the slow process of sensing that the future we expect has been changed by God’s bottomless heart, God’s self-emptying gift that pulls the world forward into life.  The Resurrected Jesus is not received easily or quickly, just as we too celebrate Easter with both Alleluias and desperate prayers for the places within us still awaiting resurrection.  Yet our lives are hidden, deep within God’s life, protected by God’s everlasting presence, which is ever at work creating life for us and leading us into the future, a future defined by God’s love.  Thanks be to God.

So may we ever remember the voice of the One who loves us best, saying, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” – that where Christ is, there will we be also.  Even in the darkness, there will be the Light which can never be put out – and out of the void & chaos of every re-creation will always come the life-giving creativity of our Lord.  So we do not give in to what seems to dominate us now, for as Brian Wren sang in his hymntext (Joyful is the Dark) – darkness was the very cradle of the dawning of Easter morning.  What seems so impossible & ridiculous now, God calls us to trust & believe – the never failing promise of new life with him.  So let us share this good news today as eagerly as the women at the tomb, such utter nonsense that has the power to change everything, as we strengthen one another with God’s amazing grace & love shared.  Alleluia.  Christ is risen!  Let the whole creation rejoice!  Amen.

Beecher Mathes