by Pastor Sarah Stadler
All during Lent, small groups gathered for Daily Lenten Prayer. In the sanctuary each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at noon for 20 to 30 minutes, we shared prayer, scripture, poetry, conversation, and God’s peace. When conversing about the good news for that day, good news about God’s abundant grace or love, forgiveness or goodness, usually, one among us would say: “Really? Is that really true?” An understandable question when grace or love, forgiveness or goodness seem absent in the world.
The women who go to the tomb at dawn on Easter morning, when they find the stone rolled away from the tomb and Jesus’ body missing, they’re perplexed. Then, two men in dazzling clothes appear and ask: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen,” and they remind the women what Jesus said: that he would be crucified, but on the third day rise again. The women indeed remember, and they go tell the disciples and all who follow Jesus. Having seen the empty tomb and the stone rolled away, having heard the message of Jesus’ resurrection from angel-like men, they believe—so much that they share the news with others. But their message moves only Peter who gets up and runs to the tomb to see for himself. The rest of the disciples consider the women’s news an idle tale.
This morning, faced with Jesus’ resurrection, perhaps we are asking, like the disciples: “Really? Is that really true?” Maybe we find lilies and trumpets, praise music and high energy, an egg hunt and brunch compelling reasons to come to church this morning. Maybe church is just what we do on Sundays—or at least what we do on Easter Sunday. But maybe we struggle with the actual resurrection. Maybe our faith feels drowned in questions. Was this really a bodily resurrection—or just a spiritual one? Is it possible someone moved Jesus’ body and then told a tall tale? Is Jesus’ resurrected body the same or different than his body prior to the crucifixion? Who are these men in dazzling clothes? Since they bear the pivotal news, it’s important to ask: can they be trusted? Maybe some of us think like the disciples and consider the women’s message an idle tale. Maybe we simply wonder: Did this really happen?
For much of Christian history, we have placed great significance on people cognitively assenting to certain beliefs. For example, a Christian is one who believes that God exists, that Jesus is the Son of God, that the Holy Spirit works in us and in the world. We proclaim our beliefs in our creeds and statements of faith. Some Christians assess their own or others’ afterlife based on which ideas they accept. For many people, claiming Christianity as their religion involves a simple decision about what to believe.
If that were the litmus test required by God for favor or afterlife or identity as a child of God, all the disciples but Peter failed on Easter morning. For the disciples did not believe the good news proclaimed to them by the women.
They did later. Later that evening, Jesus walks to Emmaus with two of his followers though they fail to recognize him. When they reach Emmaus, Jesus breaks bread with them. Their eyes open, and they see Jesus who then immediately disappears. Later still, Jesus appears among the disciples, shares his peace with them, eats with them, and teaches them. But on Easter morning, the disciples don’t believe.
The disciples’ journey to a belief in the risen Christ was a journey, not a decision. Here at the end of Luke and throughout the gospel, those who follow Jesus follow because they meet Jesus, because they come face-to-face with something that awes them, because the love and grace, forgiveness and goodness they see moves them.
Christianity, Jesus’ resurrection, the whole of our creeds are not ideas to believe but experiences to have, personal encounters to which we may or may not be open. God works among us, and as we encounter the risen Christ in our lives, we too may be moved to proclaim, to run and tell others.
Quite honestly, cognitively assenting to particular beliefs has never been my strong suit. Because as I learn and grow, my beliefs keep changing. Because as I read and study, I throw away certain ideas and gain new ones. Because as much as I love the Bible, even the Bible is not consistent in what it says about God. At the times in my life when I have been ready to walk away from the church, from religion, from God, what keeps me here is how I encounter God in the world, in people who follow Jesus, in you. The people of God who love, who forgive, who work for justice, who show grace, who care about others even when doing so benefits them not at all, who show up for their community in many and various ways, in these people of God, I encounter the risen Christ.
My prayer for us on this holiest of all holy days is that Christ be raised up in our presence, in a way we can see and hear, taste and touch and smell, that we might proclaim with confidence: Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.