Wandering Heart: And I Hope…

Wandering Heart: And I Hope…

About this sermon series

 Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices that
they had prepared.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,  but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.  The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen.  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,  that the Son of Man must be handed over to the hands of sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again.”  Then they remembered his words,  and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.  Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.  But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Let us pray: Oh Lord uphold me, that I might uplift thee. Amen.

Literary scholars say there are only 7 stories in all of literature, with infinite variations
among them. Rags to riches. Fighting the monster. A stranger comes to town. A person goes on a journey. Comedy. Tragedy. Rebirth.
Then, a pastor boiled it down and said there are only two stories, really, only two stories
with infinite variations of them. The story of death and the story of life. The story of the Fall and the story of Redemption. The story of Good Friday and the story of Easter Sunday. The story of how humans are destroying creation and the story of how God is renewing it. And we become the one we believe.” I like that part best – We become the story we believe.
Mary, Mary and Joanna probably knew where to meet up that morning. This was not their
first rodeo when it came to death, to the rituals and scripts folks jump onto in order to face the unthinkable. Spices, yes, gulping back tears, we know where to get those. When death comes, we know how to whip up a chicken casserole, how to find a lovely arrangement of tulips. It could be activating the prayer chain or phoning the neighbors or posting something on Facebook. At some point, we all learn what to do when we don’t know what else to do.
The women probably sensed in their bones that something was very wrong about all of
this. The same way we sense that something is very wrong when a young person is diagnosed with advanced cancer or a child in Gaza has no food to eat. We know the world as it is is not how it should be. But with some spices, perhaps, they could make it less offensive. We keep our documents in a binder on the shelf, we keep that casserole in the freezer for the same reason. We want to lessen the stink of death.
That’s why what happens next is so odd. There is an open hole where a giant stone was
supposed to be. There is no body needing spices, no body at all. They are thrust off the script. That’s when the NRSV translation gives us the understatement of the millennium. “They were perplexed.”
Now, I am perplexed when my laptop is slow to load up. I’m perplexed by how many
solitary socks we have in our house. But, here they are, thoughts skipping from tomb robbers to a violent regime to the reality that they are creeping around a graveyard, I’d be way more than perplexed. Freaked out. About to lose it. Thankfully this word can also be translated “at their wits end.” That sounds more like it.
That’s when two men in dazzling clothes suddenly stand beside them. If they were at
their wits end before, now they are completely frozen with fear. These men ask them a bizarre question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” But — The truth is they weren’t looking for anything living. You see, once we are on the script of decay and decline and death, that’s all we’re expecting to see. When the casserole comes out of the freezer, when the doctor says cancer, when the church numbers across the country spiral into decline, when the newspapers say war and violence, when betrayal or addiction attack our marriage, when we stand under a funeral tent and stare at a hole covered with fake grass, we are looking for death, not life.
But that’s when they hear the words. “Remember how he told you… on the third day he
would rise again. Remember?” I think death’s great power is its ability to make us forget. Forget what a healthy body feels like. Forget what unspoiled trust feels like. Forget what healthy disagreement in our country and around the world feel like. Forget what your loved one smelled like. Death says, forget all that and the terrain ahead will be sad but familiar, sad but predictable.
Easter freaks us out because we have been expecting death’s story, rehearsing and
preparing for death’s story in subtle ways for a long time, and suddenly we hear, “Remember how he told you….” “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me shall never die.”
Remember how he told you over and over again, “Peace be with you. Do not fear.” Remember the other story, about the bread of life and cup of salvation poured out for many, the kingdom where all are welcomed and none are coerced, remember that odd consortium of people who risked their lives for a truth they could barely believe but could not deny. Remember… he is risen. Indeed.
Then, the text says… “Then they remembered.” They started to believe something more
was possible than the old tired story of brutality and death they were expecting. That’s when the women told the eleven this news.
At first, their reaction was predictable too. “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and
they did not believe them.” The word for idle tale is leiros. It could be translated “silly talk.” Oh, you precious grieving naïve women, how cute your delusions. We sometimes dismiss the realness of the resurrection as if it were a grief response or naiveté from cute people a long time ago. We keep ourselves at a safe distance by thinking that we are perhaps more enlightened and skeptical than they were. Scholars say that this judgment is historical snobbery, plain and simple, because the disciples were no more prepared for this jarring truth then than we are now.
It turns out, the translation of leiros should be much harsher than our buttoned up NRSV
allows. “B.S.!” (And it’s the actual street word they use!) How dare you! How dare you bring
possibility and hope into our bunker of fear! Sometimes hope and new life talk makes us angry. Like picking at a scab. So we say, get that nonsense out of here!
But something happened in Peter. I am not sure whether it was the wild look on Mary’s
face or the way grief makes you do crazy things like carry on whole conversations with a
deceased loved one. I suspect it was something like the flicker of hope, fanned by possibility, fueled by a memory. But, he got up and ran to the tomb to see for himself. Peter jumped off the script that death continues to slide across the table, the script that says resurrection is nonsense, the script that forgets ancient promises and even dismisses last week’s tiny graces. And Peter arrived at a miracle, these grave cloths, all by themselves, in a tidy pile. I love that small detail.
It’s as if Jesus thought, “You know, I don’t need these… but maybe someone wants to make a
craft with them or something.”
CS Lewis said, “a miracle is a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is
written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”
Defined that way, I have seen many miracles. Take my friend John who considered
himself a historically grumpy guy. He had been let down many times, by love, by the church, by people who should have known better. So his frown was reasonable. His discontent was earned.
He used to argue with me at church, “As nice as your sermons sound, people really don’t step up.
People usually let you down.” Until a holy impulse nudged him to practice smiling at age 70. He was perplexed because it actually worked. As he practiced his smiling, people would smile back.

Friends commented on his smiles. A year or more he did this. As a scientist, he’d write notes to document his evidence. People smiled back 95% of the time.
One day, he and his friends went as usual to the town restaurant, which is like Cheers, a
place where everybody knows your name, and it takes as long to get to the booth as it does to cook a legitimate pot of grits, because there are many people to greet on the way. He sat down and ordered his meal with his usual server, ate his food, and when the bill came, she quickly removed it, which left him again perplexed. Perhaps the bill had an error that she was going to fix. But soon, she returned with the owner who was holding a rubber duck with a note attached to it. It seems a patron had given the owner some money to pay for the meals of customers who brought smiles to people’s faces and little rubber ducks for them to keep. And though it might have started out as a dare to a hostile world, John had been passing joy along in ways that had become contagious in the restaurant.
“There’s a note for you on the back,” the owner said. John read the note and his eyes
welled up with tears as did the eyes of the restaurant owner. The note read, “We are spreading smiles in the world in honor of our son Spencer who left the world too soon. We only ask that you share a smile with someone else.” The note ended with a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “To have made the world better… to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded.”
A smile. A rubber duck. Real lives changed by a defiant kind of hope in a better story.
These things might seem like nonsense or silliness, and yet they became the stuff of miracles, a retelling in small letters of the very same story that might be too big for us to see. How life in Christ mocks the script of death.

Which story do you believe? Good Friday says might makes right and the bad guys win
and we must fend for ourselves and we are defined by what we own and we get what we deserve and we can really only trust ourselves. Good Friday says the best we can do is bring our spices and coping skills to lessen the stink of death. But Easter says that life swallows up death and the poor are blessed and those who weep are comforted and the meek inherit this entire earth. Easter says what is truly ours is what we give away. Easter says our worst days do not define us, only baptism and grace have the power to do that. Easter says we are never orphaned or abandoned but we are forever surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Easter says we are loved when we are at our wits end all the way to the end of the age, and somehow our mustard seed sized faith and smiles and ducks are enough to be the church. And Easter says even when it is our time to die we have no less reason to get up and run like Peter to see what miracles are in store than we do this very day.
We become the story we believe.
So, here is the Good News: This is our story. This is our song. Christ is risen.
Hallelujah, Amen.