A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on March 27, 2016 (Easter Day)
Isn’t Easter great? The colorful dresses and joyful music; the dignified processions and the slightly less dignified Easter egg hunts; the fancy brunches and half-eaten chocolate bunnies.
There sure is a lot of pageantry and tradition involved for what was originally dismissed as an “idle tale.” That’s what the male disciples called the initial reports from the women who gathered at the tomb on that first Easter Day. They dismissed their eyewitness account of the resurrection as utter nonsense; feminine foolishness. And you can almost hear the condescension in their voices, dismissing both the fanciful story and the women themselves.
Culturally, this dismissive attitude made sense. Despite Jesus’ constant attempts to break down the false barriers between people, despite his continued drive to include rather than to exclude, despite his constant challenge of social norms, despite his clear mandate to love one another, despite his living example of shattering our preconceived notions, the disciples still didn’t get it. Even on that first Easter morning, Peter and his companions just couldn’t accept the first-hand account of the women who witnessed the empty tomb. They couldn’t believe the message; they wouldn’t believe the messengers.
So what were these women doing hanging around Jesus’ tomb in the first place? With heavy hearts these female disciples had made their way to the burial site, not because they expected a miracle but simply to give Jesus’ body the dignified burial they felt it deserved. They brought embalming spices in order to anoint the body. Remember the myrrh from the Christmas story? The gold, frankincense, and myrrh brought by the three kings? The three worst baby gifts ever? Well, myrrh was an expensive, spiced embalming oil. Foreshadowing the crucifixion.
But an odd thing, a perplexing thing, a confusing thing took place when they entered the tomb. It was empty. And it’s tough to embalm a body that simply is not there. So as they raced back to tell the others this stunning news about what they had seen and heard, they were met with hardness of heart. “But these words seemed to the male disciples an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
There are still many who dismiss the Easter story as an “idle tale.” This is nothing new. An increasing number of people have built walls around what feels rational and logical in order to keep out that which they deem irrational and illogical. It’s easier that way. To dismiss the miraculous, to cling to the power of our own minds, to hold onto only that which we can see with our own eyes. It’s become almost fashionable to reject the resurrection.
And I get that. We, like the male disciples, want to run back to the tomb to verify things for ourselves. We want to treat the empty tomb like a crime scene. To dust for prints; do some DNA testing; analyze the data. But there are certain things in life that defy logic; things that rise above the rational. Like love and forgiveness and faith — things that we feel and know in our hearts, even when we can’t quantify them or plot the data on a graph.
The resurrection is one of these things. Yet if we open our hearts and minds to the power of Christ’s resurrection, to the irrational notion that God loves humanity not just in general but you in particular, we come to see deeply embedded and eternal truths.
Because the resurrection of Jesus shows us that God works in ways that transcend human comprehension. That God is not limited by human logic or mortal constraints.
The resurrection of Jesus shows us that God works through the disenfranchised and marginalized. In revealing the resurrection first to women, God shows us that God is not bound by the prejudice of society in any age.
The resurrection of Jesus shows us that, in the end, fear never wins out over faith. That nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.
The resurrection of Jesus shows us that there is a better way. That life doesn’t have to be a slog to get through but a joy to enter into.
Yes, the sugar high of Easter Day eventually wears off. The organ is powered down. The trumpets are silenced. Candles are extinguished. Colorful dresses return to the closet. Brunch is digested. Peeps get stale — actually that never happens. They have an indefinite shelf life. But we’re left with a clear path. Jesus beckons us to follow in his footsteps, either confidently or haltingly; often in equal measure.
Of course, you can ignore the invitation. You can hop right back on the hamster wheel. You can fill your days with endless activity and noise. You can find yourself, once again, with no time for silence or reflection. It’s safer that way, really. You can spend most of your life avoiding the larger questions of life; ignoring questions about the eternal and your place within it.
But, like a boomerang, eventually these questions return with ever increasing intensity. Life, death, faith. Walking the path of Jesus gives us answers — not easy ones mind you — but his path anchors our life, roots it in hope and meaning. Offers us peace even in the midst of anxiety; laughter even in the midst of tears; life even in the midst of death.
When you take those first tentative steps to truly follow Jesus, a funny thing happens: an idle tale becomes transformative. The “proof” of the resurrection is seen in lives that have been changed and healed and made whole through encounter with the risen Christ. We see resurrection not just in an empty tomb once a year, but in one another each and every day. We see resurrection in fear driven out; in hateful rhetoric denied; in equality achieved; in discrimination overthrown; in the crumbling of walls that seek to divide us one from another and in the tearing down of obstacles that seek desperately to separate the rational from the mystical.
As you walk through the rubble of these torn down walls, may this “idle tale” fill you with all hope in the power of the resurrection. May the joy of this Easter day open up for you an ever deepening relationship with the living God. And may Christ’s victory over the grave open for you the very gates of heaven. Alleluia and amen.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck