Sermon by The Rev. Patrick J. Wingo, April 21, 2019
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Gospel: Luke 24:1-12
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came 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 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.
Sermon for Easter Day 4-21-19 CAK The Rev Patrick J Wingo
Alexander Sanders is the former Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.
In 1992 he spoke to his daughter Zoe’s college graduating class, and told this story:
“When Zoe was three years old, I came home from work one day to find a crisis in my household.
Zoe’s pet turtle had died.
And she was crying as if her heart would break.
At the time I was practicing law and serving in the Legislature.
Frankly, it was a problem a lawyer politician was not up to solving, but I tried.
First, I made the obvious argument that we would get another turtle to replace the one that had died.
I got nowhere with that argument…A turtle is not a toy.
Zoe’s tears continued.
Finally, in desperation I said, “I’ll tell you what, we’ll have a funeral for the turtle.”
Well, being three years old, she didn’t know what a funeral was.
“A funeral,” I explained, “is a great festival in honor of a turtle.
Well, she didn’t know what a festival was either.
“Actually,” I said, “A funeral is like a birthday party.
We’ll have cake and ice cream and lemonade and balloons, and all the other children of the neighborhood will come over to our house to play.
All because the turtle has died.”
Success at last!
Zoe’s tears began to dry, and she quickly returned to her happy, smiling self again.
Now happy, now joyous, at the prospect of all that was going to happen.
All because the turtle had died.
Then, an utterly unforeseen thing happened.
We looked down, and lo and behold, the turtle began to move.
He was not dead after all.
In a matter of seconds, he was crawling away as lively as ever.
I just didn’t know what to say.
But Zoe appraised the situation perfectly.
With all the innocence of her tender years, she looked at me and said, “Daddy,” she said, “Daddy, let’s kill it!”
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For a three year old, something like the death of a pet turtle can be a traumatic experience.
Of course, having the thing come back to life and ruin a good party is pretty traumatic as well!
Three year olds can go from the heights and depths of emotion in a matter of minutes, but think about the heights and depths of elation and utter despair that Jesus’ followers must have felt between Palm Sunday and when he was crucified.
At the height of their feeling about him, Jesus was the promised Messiah who was going to reign as king on earth, but by 3:00 PM on that Friday Peter and the rest of the disciples had deserted him.
Now he was dead, and they had quickly plunged into despair.
Confusion and anguish were all that remained.
Many of the women who followed Jesus did stay at the foot of the cross, but they must have felt helpless, abandoned and alone.
His lifeless body was taken down and put into a borrowed tomb, and there was no one to say that a funeral is like a birthday party because it wasn’t true.
The one in whom they put their hope and faith and trust was dead.
Death had won.
Over nineteen hundred years later Zora Neale Hurston would write, “I been in sorrow’s kitchen, and licked out all the pots.”
The women at the tomb had been in sorrow’s kitchen for three days.
It was those sorrowful women who did the hard work on that Sunday morning—the faithful, caring work—by going to the tomb with spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.
Please note that this is one of the most important things that all four gospel writers agree on—the first witnesses to the resurrection, even in that patriarchal culture, were women.
And Luke goes even further by writing that when the disciples heard what the women had experienced, they thought it was “an idle tale.”
“No way,” they said. “No way this could be true.”
Note also the verbs that Luke uses about the women’s experience.
He writes that they were perplexed, then terrified, and then, he says, they remembered.
They went from the depths of despair to the heights of hope because they remembered Jesus’ words, and in that moment everything became clear.
Jesus said he would be crucified and he said that he would rise again on the third day.
It is often those who have no power, no voice, those who are perplexed or terrified, or lonely or abandoned who have the eyes to see Jesus in their midst.
They are the ones who remember words of hope because often that is the only thing that they have.
But here’s the reality of our lives, all of us: not one of us is immune to those ways of being, those ways of experiencing vulnerability, and it is in those times when there is the most possibility of experiencing the Risen Christ.
And, you see, that it what unites us today.
Even if you are on the top of the world on this glorious Easter morning, you have been or will be in sorrow’s kitchen.
And if you are now in the midst of licking out all those pots, perhaps you are here for a word of hope, one that you can remember in those most desolate times.
“Christ is Risen” is that word of hope.
Those words, “Christ is Risen”, and everything that stands behind them, have changed the course of countries and civilizations, and made new relationships and reconciliations possible.
For those who have experienced that reality, the words “Christ is Risen” are not a vague concept.
They are a truth to live by;
they point to a person to follow;
they call us to be deeply cognizant of how we treat others, indeed how we treat all of God’s created order.
And they call us to be part of the Christian community, the church, something that, even in all its fragility and with all its flaws, contains the possibility of bringing people together for the essence of what it must mean to love God and follow Jesus: reconciliation.
Bringing back together that which has been broken.
For you, it may be a broken relationship.
For another, it may be a broken spirit.
For someone here, it may be a broken heart.
For all of us, being part of a collection of broken people who are on a journey toward wholeness is where the words “Christ is Risen” get lived out.
Broken people, a broken institution, and yet always on the road to reconciliation and wholeness in Jesus Christ, Risen from the dead.
No way, the world says.
There is no way that I can be reconciled with someone who has hurt me.
No way, the world says.
There is no way that I can be around someone who thinks so differently than I do.
No way, the world says.
There is no way that I can live again when I have lost so much.
The sorrowful women who went to the tomb that morning felt full of “no way.”
But when they got to the tomb they discovered that God had made a way out of no way, that the ultimate no way, death, was turned upside down, and therefore so was the world, so was the rest of history.
So were their lives.
Turtles die, relationships die, dreams die, people die, and it all throws us into sorrow’s kitchen.
But it is resurrection light that shines into our fragile and imperfect lives in reconciliation, in the hope of the resurrection.
God has defeated death, that great enemy, that great symbol of all that keeps us apart.
As Frederick Buechner put it: “All the death that ever was, set next to life, can scarcely fill a cup.”
This is what we celebrate today.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!