March 31, 2013
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
The stories of the first witnesses to the resurrection are stories of people unprepared for what they see and what they don’t see, for who they find and who they do not find.
Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them are not prepared for the empty tomb, for the two men in dazzling robes who ask why they are here, and remind them of what Jesus had taught them so many times about what was to come.
The other disciples are not prepared for the story that the women bring back. Peter is not prepared for what he heard from the women (which is what he had heard from Jesus before) being true. And I claim no superiority to the disciples, to these first witnesses. I too feel unprepared for God to
…create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things [not to] be remembered or come into mind.
I am unprepared for the wolf and the lamb to feed together. I am unprepared for the lion to eat straw like the ox, much less for no one to hurt or destroy. Perhaps you are as unprepared as I am. There is some grievous comfort in the fact that we are not alone in our unpreparedness.
If we are not prepared for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, how much less prepared are we for Paul’s?
“Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
Are we prepared for God’s reign of compassion and justice, of mercy and righteousness, of resurrection and life? I’d like to think I am. But I am probably closer to the disciples. What we find in their unpreparedness for the resurrection is not simply that they were unprepared, but that they spent their time preparing for the wrong things.
Peter was prepared for the women to be wrong. After all, weren’t the twelve Apostles all male, as would be acceptable for disciples of a male teacher in those days? Or maybe he actually got it. Maybe spending that much time with Jesus, it had sunk in and he realized that like Mary, and Martha, and the other Mary, and Salome, and the other Mary, and Joanna, and the other Mary, women could be disciples and witnesses. Perhaps he was ready for these witnesses, but the empty tomb was more than he could handle. After all, when Jesus would speak of such of his arrest, and torture, and crucifixion, and resurrection Peter usually rebuked him or changed the subject.
The women were equally prepared, just for the wrong thing. After the crucifixion on Friday, they had prepared spices and ointments with which to anoint the body. To be sure, this was a loving act, a great good, a final kindness. But they too had not listened to Jesus, or had not understood. They were prepared for the dead. And this was not only reasonable, but they are generous in their preparations.
Instead, they encounter two men in dazzling robes. No mention is made here of the two men in dazzling robes appearing earlier in the Gospel of Luke – Moses and Elijah when Jesus was transfigured. Nor are they named when two men in dazzling robes show up later at Jesus’ ascension.
And these unnamed men – be they angels, or Moses and Elijah, or whoever– ask the question of preparedness: Why do you look for the living among the dead?
Are we so prepared for death that we cannot find life?
Are we so prepared for the worst that we cannot see the good that God provides in abundance?
Are we so prepared for the political fights – abortion, health care, gun control, same-sex marriage, education, unions – that we cannot see one another as neighbor?
The truth is that we are all unprepared. This is why we call it a miracle. This is why it is so surprising:
When the lost one shows up after so many years,
When the forgotten one is remembered and welcomed,
When the imprisoned one is visited,
When the hurting one is comforted,
When the gatekeepers of justice practice mercy,
When the swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks,
When the hungry are fed and the thirsty are given drink, the naked
clothed and the blind recover their sight.
Easter Sunday, resurrection, the empty tomb, these are promises that God is still doing what God has always done – a new thing!
We are not prepared for this. But, oh how we long for it! Oh, how we need it! Thankfully this is what God has done, and it does not rely on my preparation or yours. Ours is the task of receiving this new life, accepting it, giving thanks for it, rejoicing in it, celebrating it.
And then living it and giving it to those around us, as best we are able, according to the grace given us.
For Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed.
Thanks be to God.