Then Peter said “wow! Those women were telling the truth after all. Maybe I should have listened to them in the first place!”
Peter had to see for himself.
Many of you probably remember, at least by title, the best-selling nonfiction book of the 1990s: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. The scene in this morning’s gospel could be taken right from that book, or others like it published around the same time. Look at the contrasts between women and men in the gospel story:
The women, when they encounter the guys in dazzling clothes, which I always call superhero outfits, are terrified. They don’t know what to make of the empty tomb, and they bow their heads. They know they are in the presence of the holy, and they intuitively act with humility and reverence. The guys in superhero outfits, on the other hand, think it’s obvious. Don’t you remember? They say. While he was still in Galilee, he predicted that he would be crucified and rise again. The women take their time letting this sink in. Ohhhh, now I remember, they each think to themselves. Could it be? They begin to believe, and they run to tell the other apostles. But to the apostles, their words seemed an idle tale, and no one believed them. Peter, the concrete guy, had to go see for himself. He went, and got religion from a pile of bloody linen rags.
We need everyone’s voice to tell the story we just heard: the guys in dazzling clothes, the women at the tomb who are afraid then exuberant, the apostles who first doubt and then believe. This day is about how to incorporate all the voices—men, women, those that proclaim, those that doubt, those that wonder. It’s about the voices of Baptists, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Episcopalians, Buddhists, atheists. It’s about incorporating all of these experiences of faith into how we are in the world.
How would you tell the Easter story? What would you take on faith, and what would you need to see, in order to believe? What would be the turning point to make you believe?
It is easy to spend a lot of time thinking about whether or not we believe in the resurrection. We all know people—some of us might even be those people—who say: “I believe in the Jesus, but not the resurrection.” There’s not a lot of hard evidence, after all. All we have for evidence is an empty tomb. An empty thing is an odd symbol of faith.
An empty thing is an odd symbol of faith. Absence is a strange symbol of faith. And so we use the cross instead. The cross is something we can see, something we can put our hands on. It is a tangible symbol for sacrifice and suffering. If we leave it bare and lay it on the floor here, it makes us sad. If our children cover it with flowers on Easter morning, it makes us happy. If we turn it sideways, it becomes the bridge we walk across to get to new life, God’s triumph over death. All of this is not proof, but faith. Which brings me back to the empty tomb. It is the empty tomb that makes the cross a symbol of resurrection rather than a symbol of torture and execution.
I don’t know about you, but I am here because of the mystery. I am here because I have no clue whatsoever about what happened between the time when they laid Jesus in the tomb and sealed it up and when the women discovered the two superheroes on Easter morning. I am here because I love that our faith teaches us that the very most important thing that happened in Jesus’ life—God’s defeat over death—is something that we actually can never know for sure. I am here because that never-knowing-for-sure has engendered some of the most beautiful art and music and writing on the planet. I am here because the empty tomb creates space for hope and uncertainty to coexist.
I am here because the empty tomb signifies the already/not yet nature of the kingdom of God. Like Christmas in Narnia, the kingdom of God is always coming, but not quite here. Unlike Narnia, we are not under a winter spell of an evil queen, but rather we are Easter people, always in the process of becoming citizens of a kingdom where the hungry are fed, captives are freed, the sick are healed, and the poor have good news preached to them. The empty tomb is the sign-post pointing to this kingdom. The empty tomb says that the wild reversals Jesus preached about really will happen, have in fact already happened, and have not yet happened.
Who are you in the Easter story? What will you do next? Whom will you tell?