Easter Sunday 2021
1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.Luke 24:1-12, New International Version
9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
It’s one of my favorite quotes that is not true:
“Without women preachers we would have no knowledge of the resurrection.” – Jurgen Moltmann
Moltmann is a German theologian. I thought he was pretty old when he preached at chapel during my seminary days. But he is still with us at age 95. I am sad to say that the only thing I remember about his message was that he carried his briefcase with him as he shuffled into the chancel. His writings, however, have been influential in linking Jesus’ agonies on the cross with human suffering and our resurrection hope for liberation.
Here’s why I love the quote: It would be difficult to over-state the contribution of women during the events of Holy Week. Luke tells us that a group of female disciples followed along with Jesus as he bore his cross to the Place of the Skull. It was the women who watched with horror as he was crucified. It was women who looked on as Joseph or Arimathea took the body of Jesus down from the cross. The women rushed to buy spices for proper burial rites. But the sun went down, marking the start of Sabbath. As the stone rolled into place, they took their jars of ointment and went home to begin a long vigil of waiting.
Along with the rest of the disciples, the women were on lock-down. We can now relate to that feeling more than ever. All their usual plans were on hold. They were shell-shocked from the events of Good Friday. They knew their lives had been forever changed, but they were still not sure what that meant. They waited through the 24 hours of the Sabbath and had to wait through a further night for the light of day.
Someone said that rituals are what we do when we don’t know what else to do. The women had their jar of spices and were preparing to do a more thorough job of tending to the body of Jesus than Joseph had managed on Friday. This act of kindness to Jesus’ body was their way of honoring the one to whom they had been so devoted. This was to be a dutiful act of care and devotion.
The first thing they noticed is that the stone sealing the entrance to the expensive mausoleum-style tomb was rolled back. They went inside and saw the linen shroud but the body of Jesus was missing. As they stood wondering what in the world could have happened, who men in dazzlingly white attire appeared and asked them a question:
“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” This is a great question. In fact, there are several excellent questions asked in Luke 24. See if you can find them all.
The angels reminded the women that Jesus told them he would die and would rise on the third day. This reminder brought things into focus for them. They ran back to tell the disciples that Jesus was risen.
The women were last at the cross and first at the empty tomb. They were the first people entrusted with the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection. Female leadership will be highlighted through the Book of Acts, Luke’s sequel to his Gospel. But I disagree with Jurgen Moltmann when he says we would have no knowledge of the resurrection without the women.
The women, sadly, were not believed. The male disciples chalked it up to hysteria. Even Peter’s personal visit to the tomb did not convince him, Luke tells us. It would take personal visits by the Risen Lord to convince the Eleven that Jesus had been resurrected. The empty tomb was not enough for them.
Dead Men Don’t Hunt
If all we had on the first Easter was an empty tomb, I don’t think we would be here today. I could write a hundred different versions of a story about how the body of Jesus might have gone missing. Weird things happen. But Easter is not about a missing body. It is about a Living Lord who came looking for the disciples. Dead men can go missing. But dead men can’t go hunting. The proofs of Easter are in the lives the Risen Christ forever changed through his appearing.
The rest of Luke 24 is a series of encounters initiated by Jesus to let his disciples know that he is alive.
Two particular disciples (one by the name of Cleopas) heard the report of the women. They stuck around to hear from Peter’s confirmation that the body of Jesus was missing. They didn’t know what to make of all this, so they decided to go for a long walk to a little village called Emmaus. This was about seven miles from Jerusalem. They travelled along together and talked about the events of the past few days.
A stranger joined them and asked what they were discussing. “We are talking about the things everyone is talking about.”
“What things?” the stranger asked.
The reply: “About Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death and they crucified him. But we had hoped that we would be the one to redeem Israel. And what’s more, it is the third day since all this took place. Some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but did not find his body. They came and told us they had seen a vision of angels that said he was alive. Some of our companions went to the tomb and found it like the women said, but they did not see Jesus.”
The stranger wonders at their foolishness! He remarks that they are slow to believe the predictions made by the prophets that the Messiah would suffer before he entered into glory. Starting with Moses, he went through what the Hebrew scriptures teach about the Christ. When Luke says, “starting with Moses,” he probably means the books of Moses, also known as the Torah… the first five books of the Old Testament.
Every book in the Old Testament point to either the need for Jesus, the predicted coming of Jesus, or the results of the Kingdom he will inaugurate.
He took them from Genesis to Malachi:
• In Genesis he is the seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent
• In Exodus he is our Passover Lamb
• In Leviticus he is our High Priest
• In Numbers he is our Intercessor
• In Deuteronomy he is the promised Prophet like unto Moses
• He is the New and Better Joshua, taking us to a new and better Promised Land.
• In Judges he is our Deliverer from our Chaos
• In Ruth he is our Kinsman Redeemer
• In First and Second Samuel he is the Heir of David
• In Kings and Chronicles he is our Reforming Prophet
• In Ezra he is the Restorer of Hope
• In Nehemiah he is the rebuilder of the Broken
• In Esther he the Reverser of Disaster
• In Job he is our living Redeemer
• In Psalms he is our Song
• In Proverbs He is our Wisdom
• In Ecclesiastes he is our Meaning
• In Song of Solomon he is our Bridegroom
• In Isaiah he is the Suffering Servant and Prince of Peace
• In Jeremiah and Lamentations he is our Weeping Prophet
• In Ezekiel he is our Shepherd-King
• In Daniel he is the Fourth Man in the Fiery Furnace
• In Hosea he is our Faithful Husband
• In Joel he is the Giver of the Holy Spirit
• In Amos he is our Burden-Bearer
• In Obadiah he is our Judge
• In Jonah he is our Second Chance
• In Micah, he is the expected Ruler from Bethlehem
• In Nahum he is our Stronghold
• In Habakkuk he is our Watchman
• In Zephaniah he is the Mighty to Save
• In Haggai he is the Restorer
• In Zechariah, he is the one pierced for us.
• In Malachi he is the Son of Righteousness.
As they approached Emmaus, the stranger acted like he was going to walk on further. But the disciples urged him to stay a while longer. They just had their minds blown and they wanted more. The three sat down to eat. The stranger took bread, blessed it, and handed it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized it had been the Risen Jesus all along. As soon as they recognized him, he vanished.
They jumped up and ran back to Jerusalem saying, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?”
I sometimes wonder why Jesus kept himself from being recognized. I think it was probably so they would listen to his teachings. If he had shown himself first, they would not have remembered anything he said due to their awe and excitement.
The Un-Narrated Meeting
When the two disciples returned to Jerusalem, they learn that Jesus has appeared also to Peter. Luke does not provide us with a narration of that meeting. He only mentions that it happened. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall.
The last time Peter and Jesus saw one another was in Chapter 22. At the Last Supper, Jesus predicted that his disciples would abandon him. When Peter puffed out his chest and said he would die with his Master, Jesus told him that he would deny him three times before the sun came up. At the end of Chapter 22, Jesus is arrested and Peter is watching from a distance in the courtyard of the high priest’s palace. Time and time again, people asked Peter if he were not one of Jesus’ followers. As he made his third denial, the sun of Good Friday began to dawn. Luke is the only Gospel writer to give us this detail: As the rooster crowed, Peter’s eyes met the eyes of Jesus.
Peter went away and wept bitterly. Jesus had given him the name “Rock.” Maybe it should have been marshmallow…. turn-coat… traitor. Peter wanted to dig a hole and crawl in it.
But after Easter, Peter was restored. On the Day of Pentecost he would preach to the crowd and three thousand would believe. That Easter visit with the Risen Christ must have been filled with grace, restoration, and new beginnings. This is Good News to any of us who have let God down with our words, failings, and actions. He is not done with us yet.
Ghosts Don’t Eat Tilapia
Finally, the Risen Jesus appears to the entire group of disciples. He said “Peace be with you.” Those words were well chosen because they all turned white as a sheet. They thought they had seen a ghost. But Jesus asked if they had anything to eat. They had some broiled fish and he ate it in front of them. Dead men don’t eat fish.
Eating was not the only proof that Jesus offered. He also showed them the scars on his hands and feet. The print of the nails were still there. It is interesting that the Resurrection did not erase Jesus’ scars.
Scars can be ugly things. We spend of a lot of money in our culture coverings them up. When I was a toddler, my family lived in a house with a floor furnace. I was just learning to walk and ended up standing bare-footed on the hot grating. For years I had lines across my feet from the scars. As my feet grew the lines were much further apart than the originally were… but they were still there.
Even when we see him in heaven, Jesus will have the scars of Good Friday. Revelation 5 describes Jesus appearing as a Lamb that had been slain. Someone once asked me a riddle: What is the only man-made thing in Heaven? The answer: The scars on Jesus.
Questions have been asked down through the centuries about the status of martyrs in heaven. Will they, too, bear the scars of their wounding. The answer the Church has typically given is, “Yes. But in heaven, our scars will be beautiful.”
The scars on Jesus from the nails are eternal reminders of the price he paid for our salvation. They speak to us about how much we are loved by Him. They declare that our redemption is not based on our goodness, but on his grace. How fitting that Jesus came looking for these locked-down disciples to show them that he had overcome.
The day before Easter this year was 4-3-21. Easter Sunday is “Blast-off!” The Disciples had a message of love, grace, and power to share with the world. The Risen Jesus had come looking for them. And he is hunting for you, too.