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St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Easter Sunday (Year C): April 17, 2022
“All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”1 This powerful statement of faith is found at the end of the liturgy for the dead at the commendation of the body where the deceased is entrusted to the love and mercy of the God. What does the liturgy for the dead have to do with Resurrection Sunday? Everything! The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy, which finds all of its meaning in the resurrection. The connection is this: Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.
As we, with joy, gaze upon the empty tomb and celebrate its emptiness this day, let us remember the obvious: that though Jesus’ body was not in the tomb. The tomb was still there, and remains, an inescapable reality for the living.
When Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other unnamed women, had gone to the tomb to prepare the body of Jesus, they did not find that the tomb had been moved or had somehow disappeared; they found the tomb right where it was supposed to be, albeit the entrance was exposed because the large stone which sealed it, had already been rolled away. The Tomb was open!
Upon entering the open tomb, the women were perplexed—not by what they saw, but by what they did not see—the body of Jesus was not where it was supposed to be. Dead bodies don’t just disappear. How could this be? The perplexed state of the women was intensified with terror when two angels, described as two men in dazzling clothes, announced God’s raising of Jesus from the dead. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen,” the messengers said (24:5).
We can infer that the women were not grasping the words spoken to them because the angels, continued to bring them to understanding. The women could neither make sense of what could have possibly happened before they arrived at the tomb, nor what they were collectively witnessing inside the tomb, until they were shaken out of their forgetfulness by recalling the words Jesus had spoken to them.
“Remember when Jesus told you,” the angels said, long before he went to Jerusalem, that he would be handed over to sinners, crucified, and on the third day rise again (24:7). It was this angelic call to remembrance that lifted the fog of forgetfulness about what Jesus had told them, which transformed the women into messengers in the earthly realm—evangelists—who would announce Jesus’ resurrection.
Unfortunately, the male apostles, with whom the message of the risen Christ was shared by these new female evangelists, were unable to receive the message, and subsequently, did not believe the women whom they assumed were telling an idle tale. But Peter, listened to the women, and ran to the tomb. Although he did not go in, Peter looked inside the open tomb where he saw evidence of linen cloths—cloths that had once been on Jesus’ body and were no longer. I can’t help but think that maybe, of those three times when Jesus foretold his death and resurrection in Luke’s gospel, Peter remembered that after the Son of Man was betrayed into human hands and killed, he would be raised on the third day.2
The human tendency to forget must not be taken lightly. Imagine how powerful human forgetfulness can be in the enslavement of humanity by sin and how powerful human remembrance can be for the liberation of humanity in this broken world. The dangerous fog of forgetfulness seeps into our lives, disguised by the competing demands for our attention. Such forgetfulness visits the faithful and the unbelievers alike. The danger, for the faithful, is forgetting identity and purpose—identity as children of the living God and purpose as the living body of Christ in the world.
Guarding the faithful against this dangerous forgetfulness takes place within the gathered faith community. Jesus’ public ministry took place in, and through, community. The Christian faith is not practiced in solitude. Within the faith community, language, symbols for meaning-making and tradition are shared. Regular worship in church enables us to engage the living Word of Scripture, and wrestle with that same word—together. It is in the community of faith that we are steeped in remembering who we are, what Jesus has done for us in his saving work on the cross, and what we must now do as His living body—the Church—in this world. And what we must do now is make Christ known, in this death-dealing world.
The risen Christ calls those, who believe in him, to enter into myriad, open tombs, of the human condition, to seek those souls who are like the spiritually walking dead amongst the living and to bear Christ’s hope—that because Jesus was raised from the dead, all who die in the Lord, shall also be raised. On this Resurrection Sunday, and throughout the season of Easter, let us remember that through our baptism, we are united with Christ in a death like his, and are certainly united with him in a resurrection like his (Rom 6:5).
On that day of Jesus’ resurrection, the tomb was still there. And, the tomb remains today, for us all, an inescapable reality for the living. Because we are Easter people, who proclaim that Christ has taken away the sting of death, the open tomb reminds us, not of our mortality, but of our promised freedom in eternal life with God.
Renowned Yale professor, Jaroslav Pelikan, a preeminent authority on Christian history, spoke these deathbed words: “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not—nothing else matters.”3
Remember today that the open tomb matters; the empty tomb matters; and the truth that by his death, Christ has won the victory for us all matters for all who walk in darkness and believers alike. Death did not win! For “All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” Amen.
1 Commendation, Burial I, BCP, p. 482.
2 Luke 9:22; Luke 9:44; Luke 18:31-33
3 “This Changes Everything,” Our Daily Bread, Our Daily Bread Ministries, April 2022.