A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr C ~ Easter Sunday ~ Luke 24:1-12 (MSG)
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale – a tale of a fateful trip. It started from a tropic port aboard a tiny ship. (begin singing) The mate was a mighty sailing man, the skipper brave and sure, 5 passengers set sail that day, for a 3 hour tour. A 3 hour tour!
The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert aisle – with Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire and his Wife, the Movie Star, and the rest – here on Gilligan’s Isle
Bet ‘ya never heard an Easter sermon start like that before! Y’all are like Peter after he saw the empty tomb – walking away puzzled, shaking your heads! How many of you sang different words than me just now? With Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire and his Wife, the Movie Star, and the rest! That’s how the words went in the first season of the show. How would you like it if you were on a TV show that only had 7 characters and you were thought to be so insignificant that they named 5 of them in the intro and lumped you into and the rest? In the second season what did they change to? And the rest became the Professor and Mary Anne. Rightly, that tremendous injustice was redressed and they were thereafter immortalized in the theme song. Compared to the ‘brave’ crew, movie stars, and millionaires I guess a girl next door and a teacher seem pretty ho-hum. History often ignores seemingly insignificant characters who actually do amazing things – but without them the ‘bigger story’ just doesn’t happen.
Luke 24 At the crack of dawn on Sunday, the women came to the tomb…The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship… Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James – aha! Finally, we get some names and they are lifted from anonymity, and these women are given the respect they deserve! – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women with them – well, that didn’t last long! – kept telling (about the empty tomb) to the apostles, but the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up.
To whom was the revelation of the risen Christ first given? Women. Women who were part of ‘the rest’. Not to the so-called stars of the show – and certainly not to ones considered ‘important’ in that society. It wasn’t the chief priests, it wasn’t a king, it wasn’t an emperor, and it wasn’t even one of the twelve named disciples. Resurrection was first revealed to ordinary, mostly unnamed, faithful followers of Jesus. And what was their first instinct? What was the first thing they did upon receiving such a profoundly world-changing revelation? They went and shared it!!!
Luke 24:9 They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest.
The named disciples had been reduced from twelve to eleven because of Judas’ betrayal. But surely you just noticed that it wasn’t only the Eleven who were there. It was the Eleven and the rest! All through the gospel stories of Jesus and the disciples there are references to other disciples beyond the twelve – to the rest. Last week we noticed that at the gates of Jerusalem during the parade there was a ‘multitude’ of disciples. Only 12 get named. But don’t ever think ‘the rest’ aren’t critically important to the story!
The named disciples, and the rest, all hear the testimony and witness of the women – but they don’t believe it. Something is missing. If I have something amazing, and extraordinary, and hard to fathom happen to me, and I get really excited about it, and I come and find you and tell you all about it, at best you might think, “How nice for him.” But something’s missing. It’s second hand. You can experience my enthusiasm for it, but you have to experience it for yourself to really ‘get it’.
Here’s my big point – the telling is not what does it. The telling does not ‘win someone for Christ’ – the telling does not ‘convert’ people. The women did some passionate telling – and the disciples, and the rest, didn’t believe it based on the telling. What did they do? They had to go and see for themselves!
Peter goes racing out to the tomb, and stares into its emptiness, and he is still not assured. What he is, is perplexed! Yup. The guy who ate, and drank, and travelled, and learned at Jesus’ side for 3 solid years, day in and day out, still didn’t get it. That’s not because he’s a duh-sciple (as I so often teasingly call them). It’s because he hadn’t experienced the Spirit of the Risen Christ for himself. He hadn’t learned to perceive the world in a new way yet.
So, did ‘the women’ fail because no one believed them? Absolutely not! The women did amazingly well – because their telling made ‘the rest’ wonder – and opened them to a possibility that they hadn’t considered before – and primed the pump for them to have their own, personal experience of the holy.
Easter dawns, and the world is not all that different. Because we have the benefit of knowing much more of the story we tend to fill in all the blanks. But today’s scripture reading detailing that first Easter morning is filled with ambiguity. Peter walked away puzzled, shaking his head – intrigued, but not understanding. And then, in the coming hours, and days, Peter, and the named disciples, and the rest, began to have personal experiences of the transformed and resurrected Christ, and ‘the church’ began to be set in motion.
From those first followers and down through the centuries the story continued to be told, but apart from a few famous theologians (like Augustine, and Luther, and Calvin, and Wesley), and a few famous mystics (like Saint Francis, and Saint Teresa, and Julian of Norwich, and Brother Lawrence), and a few contemporary heroes (like Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa, and Desmond Tutu, and Thomas Merton) – apart from these folks who made history for one reason or another, the vast, vast majority of people who kept the faith, and shared their faith, and expanded the reach of Jesus’ message of love, love, love were anonymous to us. There’s the ‘big names’ in church-land…and the rest.
From a group of disheartened and defeated disciples sprang a movement so great, and so powerful, that we’re standing here this morning, half a world away, two millennia away, sharing in the wonder of it. How did we get from there to here? How is it that Faith United Church is even a thing? Well, it’s part of the United Church of Canada. Where’d that come from? Well, it was a merger of Methodists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians a hundred years ago. Oh, where did they come from? And on, and on, and on it goes. Where did we come from? How are we here? There’s only one answer: it’s because person after person after person had a spiritual experience and then shared their story, and it opened the next person to their own experience. Those famous theologians, and mystics, and heroes helped tremendously along the way, but we’re not here because of them: we’re here because of the rest.
You’re here because someone in your circle of connection experienced the sacred, and shared it, and that opened someone else enough to drop their guard and seek to experience it themselves. And so on, and so on, and so on. It may not have been a lightning bolt experience for us – most tend not to be. Lots of us were just kind of born into it as we followed along with our family traditions and beliefs. I’ve always thought slow burns were deeper and had more staying power than lightning bolts anyway. But the deciding factor for us to become practicing church folk probably wasn’t a persuasive argument or a finely honed theological discourse. It was your heart strangely warmed. It was (and is) your own, personal spiritual experience that drew you here and keeps you here. And if you just kinda fell into it because your family always did church, then they were actually softly telling you the story all along. Telling the story is key.
And so, each year we continue to rehearse this wondrous story – steeped in mystery and inspiration – a beautiful blend of history and mystery – inviting it to once again stir our stressed-out deadness to new life – knowing that as we hear it and are moved by it, we are once again transformed by the new life that comes as we embrace this way of dying and rising into God’s loving fullness. That’s why we’re together today. We have heard, and in our own ways believed – and we’ve received the blessing of having hearts and minds opened again and again to perceive the presence of God and the reality of God’s Kingdom. Hallelujah!
Now comes the ‘now what?’
This celebration of Easter is wonderful – and it’s all for us, for our strengthening, for our remembering, for our inspiration, for our assurance, for our groundedness, for our empowerment, for our conviction. Easter is a beautiful blessing for us.
And the rest? What about the people who either haven’t heard the story, or have heard and for whatever reason weren’t moved? Do we shrug our shoulders and hope they’ll catch on eventually? No, we must tell the story! Our story, of joyful transformation from how we used to live and love to how we now live and love, Jesus’ Way! Our story of dying to what was and being renewed and reborn into what will be. Our resurrection story. But remember, it’s not the persuasiveness of our telling that’s going to convince anyone of anything. It’s our sharing of our heart – our vulnerability to dare to show someone that Spirit moves us, and transforms us, and helps us live more justly, and more fully, and more lovingly. It’s our lived story of renewed, resurrected life that has the potential to resonate with someone’s deep need. And if I can help move someone to wonder, and to question, and seek out an experience of their own, well, I don’t care if I stay anonymous forever.
It was first Jesus’ story, but it’s not really about Jesus – it’s about me.
It’s now my story, but it’s not really about me – it’s about who I love by sharing this old, new story.
We have gathered this morning at the empty tomb to witness something inexplicably wondrous, and then, like ‘the women’, share it and how it moves you, with ‘the rest’.
Your task as a witness of faith is not to win anyone for the kingdom.
Your calling is to inspire the Peters you encounter to go running!
And the rest…is up to God.