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Easter, March 31, 2013

There is an episode of the “Twilight Zone” in which a man awakens one morning to a normal day. He takes his shower, dresses for work, and heads for the kitchen to have breakfast with his family. He greets them, only to have them stare at him strangely. They begin to speak to him, but it is not in a language that he understands. It is English, but all the words are jumbled up. Nothing means what he thought it meant just a few moments before. It is like he has entered a foreign country where everyone knows how to speak the language but him.

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and some other women wake up on the Sunday after the crucifixion ready for death. They have grieved throughout the Sabbath and told stories about how Jesus had been with them – the miracles he had done, the teachings he had proclaimed, the welcome he gave to them and equally to the tax collectors and sinners. Perhaps they had recounted with anguish the circumstances of his death to the other disciples, who had all fled the scene. Jesus was dead, and their hope about the coming kingdom of God, which would be ruled with peace and justice instead of violence and oppression, was snuffed out. There is only one thing left to do, and that is to return to the tomb and anoint Jesus’ body for burial. They had prepared what they needed the night before, so they are ready to go at early dawn. Death had come to someone they loved, and they knew what to do about it. There were rituals to follow. There were actions they could take to bring their relationship with Jesus to a close. Death was familiar to them, especially in that world, where so many died at such a young age.

When the women arrive at the tomb, they are startled. The stone has been rolled away. Thoughts of grave robbery surely enter their minds. They finally get the courage to look in the tomb and it is empty. They are perplexed. Where is Jesus’ body? They have what they need to take care of a dead body, and they cannot do it. They are looking for death because they expect to find it. In their experience, dead bodies don’t move unless carried away by someone. While they are standing there, wondering what to do, two men in dazzling white appear. They are angels, and the women are terrified. They bow down with their heads to the ground. They thought their world came apart on Friday when Jesus died, but it is beginning to come apart again. An empty tomb and angels. What would be next? When the angels begin to speak, the women are like the man in “The Twilight Zone” episode. They are speaking words the women do not understand. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. The women didn't jump for joy or shout “Hallelujah” or exhibit any signs of gladness. They simply did not understand what was going on. Jesus had died on Friday and he was still supposed to be dead today. They did not understand the words “living” and “risen” in this context. They are unprepared for life, and new life at that. Then the angels remind them that Jesus had predicted that he would be handed over to sinners and be crucified and rise on the third day. Oh, yes, now they remembered something to that effect, but it was so far beyond their comprehension when he mentioned it that it was like he was speaking that new language they did not understand.

Then the women go to tell the disciples that are gathered what the angels had said. Perhaps there is a faint wistfulness in their voices or a glimmer of hope that what the angels said might be true, but nobody was a true believer yet. The disciples thought it was an idle tale – the word in Greek applies to people who are delirious – and none of them believes either. But Peter has to go and see for himself. He sees the empty tomb and the linen cloths and comes back amazed. He does not shout for joy either about the Lord’s resurrection. He was having the same reaction the women did. The angels were speaking in a language he does not understand. The idea that death was not the end, that God was doing an entirely new thing in the world, is so big, so fantastic, that it will take more than an empty tomb and the report of two angels to convince the disciples. If God has entered human history in this way, then their lives will never be the same again. There will be an entirely new language to learn – the language of love and peace and justice that Jesus had talked about in regard to God’s coming kingdom – and they were so shell-shocked that they could not even begin to learn this new language and face this new reality. They were still half expecting that Jesus’ body would eventually turn up somewhere.What it took for the disciples to believe was an encounter with the risen Christ. Two disciples meet him on the road to Emmaus and when they return to tell their story, Jesus has appeared to Peter as well. People have seen him for themselves and have believed in his resurrection. They believe that God has raised Jesus from the dead to bring new life and new hope to the world. They begin haltingly to speak the new language of God’s victory – the triumph of love over hate, of death over life.

The man in “The Twilight Zone” episode fumbles around trying to hold his life together in the face of the unexpected new reality of a foreign language being spoken in his comfortable world. He finally decides that if he wants to continue in relationship with his loved ones, he will have to learn the language they are speaking, and he begins that process. That is where the episode ends, but the story of Jesus’ resurrection does not end there. By the time Luke gets into the book of Acts, Peter is clearly familiar in detail with the language of the resurrection and is testifying to it both to Gentiles and Jews. He and Jesus’ other followers have seen the Lord and know their call is to testify that Jesus is back, back in a new way through God’s grace and the sending of the Holy Spirit. They know they are to testify about Jesus to create others who will testify without an experience of the risen Christ in his body, but with an experience of Christ in the Holy Spirit so that the witnessing can be carried on and on through all generations. The Hallelujahs” that are missing before the disciples encounter the Lord are now present. The joy at what God has done is palpable. The gratitude for reconciliation with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus is there for all the world to see.

It is sometimes hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Now you know that if you are having a hard time, you are in good company. It took a lot for the disciples to believe. It took a lot to shake them out of old ideas, of what they thought they knew about life and death. It can be hard for us too. We know about death. It is all around us. We do not always know about life and the new life that is possible through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are still looking for the dead instead of the living because we dare not hope that the news is that good. We dare not hope that death is a passageway to eternal life with God, that God loves the world – and each of us – enough to turn our lives upside down in this fantastic way, to teach us a new language that brings us words for the riches of God’s grace being poured upon us.

But the testimony of witnesses, beginning with those disciples in Luke who doubted and wondered and puzzled and just plain thought talk of resurrection was crazy, is there in the Scriptures to convince us. The new language that we are learning every day as we go through life started with them and continues down the centuries to us. Because of their witness, we sing Alleluia today and praise God’s name for God’s saving power given to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of their testimony our view of the world is so different than it would have been if they had just remained in doubt and unsure.We are the next generation of testifiers – of witnesses to the greatness of God’s saving power. Testifying is not just for other people. The language of God’s love is for us to learn. The joy of salvation is for us to share. We are an Easter people, and the world needs to know about Easter. We are a people whose lives have been touched by God’s abounding grace, and the world needs to know about that too, so that people may hope.Jesus Christ is risen today. Let us shout Alleluia!


  - Rev. Ann Barker