Easter is one of my favorite days in the church year. I love how no matter whether we come to church every Sunday or if we haven’t been to church in ages, something about Easter draws us to the Church. I love the celebration: the Easter outfits, the fragrant flowers, the boisterous music, and the family of faith gathered at the communion table. I love the sweet feeling of having emerged from the penitential season of Lent, and counting how many times we can say, “Alleluia.” There is a loudness to Easter, an unbridled joy, a sense of victory.
What is funny about our experience today though is very little of the boldness of this day is present in Holy Scripture. In fact, Luke tells a story that is quite the opposite of our experience today. While we sing loud alleluias and hosannas, all of the characters in our gospel lesson today are in a totally different place. They are mired in grief, lost in confusion, unsure about what has happened to them. In a quiet, almost mechanical, numb way, the women who have been beside Jesus his entire ministry and were the only ones remaining at his death, come to the tomb in the fog of dawn, to do the work of tending to the dead body. In their haze, no sense of closure comes. Instead, more confusion comes. Not only is the tomb empty, the angelic figures tell them Christ is risen. The angels remind them Jesus had explained this to them, and things start to make sense. But when the women return to tell the men, the men are so resigned and defeated, they mock the women. Peter goes to check out the story, but even he does not come back with profound clarity. He is lost in amazement – in awed confusion. This story tells us very little about what this all means, what we should do, or how we should respond. Very little about the gospel today is loud, triumphant, or jubilant.
Though I have been begging our musician for years now for more sound at Easter – a timpani to accompany the brass – the truth is, I kind of like how our gospel lesson today takes us in another direction. Much of what we boldly proclaim today – that Christ is risen, his resurrection brings eternal life, and everything we know has changed – is pretty difficult stuff to believe. Any of you who has spent time around an inquisitive child or a doubtful friend knows how difficult explaining the resurrection can be. For our rational, twenty-first century selves, the theology of Easter is not only difficult to articulate, Easter is almost unbelievable. And when we are really honest with ourselves, in the quiet of our own homes, we sometimes have moments when we are not really sure why we believe what we believe about Christ.
That’s why I love today’s gospel. Today’s gospel reminds us of how unbelievable the resurrection of our Lord really was. Sure, Jesus had said he would be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again. But his words sounded crazy at the time. Now that Jesus’ words have come true, the women are perplexed, terrified, and rejected when they share their truth. The men are paralyzed, doubtful, and downright mean. On this early morning, the followers of Jesus only have their experiences of Jesus, their uncertainty of faith, and their attempts to believe the unbelievable.
To me, that is very good news indeed. On this day as we sing songs about Jesus’ resurrection, and as we hear Peter preach with certainty in the book of Acts, and as we, with joy, proclaim, “Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!” our gospel story reminds us faith is a journey full of doubt, questions, and confusion. We come on this festival day not because we are absolutely certain about Jesus. We come on this festival day because in our foggy dawns, we have had encounters with the risen Lord – even when we did not know how to articulate the encounters. We come to this festival day because in our pain, suffering, and questioning about life – we have had moments when something from scripture or our faith life suddenly connected and made sense. We come to this festival day because even in our doubts, there is some small part of us that cannot extinguish hope, that suspects Christ might have actually changed the world.
On this day, the Church does not want our theological explanations of the resurrection. On this day, the Church invites us to recall those moments, however fleeting or miniscule, where we have encountered, or suspected we encountered, the risen Lord. Our bold singing of alleluias only needs that small flicker of hope – or maybe our desire for that flicker of hope. Our celebrating today only needs our presence – our willingness to be here, encouraged by others walking through the fog. Our proclamation today that the Lord is risen, only needs our willingness to say the words. The community gathered here today will do the rest. We will say with you, “The Lord is risen indeed,” until someday we can all claim the astounding love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ ourselves. Amen.