Text: Luke 24:1-12; 1 Corinthians 15:16-20
In the book and subsequent film Big Fish, the protagonist Will is coming to grips with his father’s impending death. And in doing so, he has to deal with his distrust of his father – a distrust born out of a never-ending stream of fantastical tales his father tells about his life: mermaids, werewolves, hidden towns, giants, siamese twins, a witch. Will doesn’t believe any of it. It’s all just a bunch of nonsense to him. It’s unbelievable.
Unbelievable like what we just heard from Luke’s gospel: “He is not here, but has risen.” Unbelievable because we know that the dead don’t come back to life. So did these women, Peter, the disciples. The women brought this message to the disciples and what did they say? “Nonsense!” “[T]hese words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Idle tale as in one of those big fish stories – not possible, completely worthless.
The women went to the tomb to finish the burial. Remember, there hadn’t been time on Friday to do so before sundown. So when they arrive, and see the tomb open and the body gone, they weren’t thinking “He is risen! Alleluia!” “[T]hey were perplexed about this” Luke tells us. They were confused, puzzled, unable to make all the pieces fit. I’d guess that a million thoughts went through their minds.
Now there should be no puzzle here. The game-plan has already been revealed. Jesus told them repeatedly – at least three times – that He would be crucified and on the third day be raised. But this is unbelievable. It doesn’t happen.
To help them, Christ sends two dazzling messengers to them with a question: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” What’s with the burial spices? Why do you look like you’re going to a funeral? Remember what He said? Don’t you believe Him? Why are you trying to find the living amongst the dead?
Why do we? Why do we dwell on death instead of life? Why do we act as though our departed loves ones who have died in faith are gone forever? Why do we toss around phrases like “he’ll live on in your memories” or “she’ll always live in our hearts”? Why do we act as though when Jesus says something, He really doesn’t mean what He says – that He’s physically present in the Supper, that He really demands nothing of us for salvation, that He really truly will rise from the dead?
Because it’s unreasonable, I think. Man can’t walk on water. A virgin can’t conceive. A person can’t change water into wine. The dead don’t come back to life. It’s a law of nature that this is so. And Jesus was dead. This sentiment is alive and well today. The well-known atheist Richard Dawkins has this to say about Jesus and His death: “Presumably what happened to Jesus was what happens to all of us when we die. We decompose.” In other words, the law of nature reigns supreme. The resurrection is not possible, so it didn’t happen. A dead man cannot come back to life.
Except this one; this Jesus. He’s the exception to the rule, because He’s so exceptional. “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” He’s the spiritual Babe Ruth; He called His shot (three times at least!) and He did it. The tomb is empty, the body is risen. Alleluia!
For those who demand some sort of reasonable proof, consider this. Reflect on what Christ’s enemies did: they sealed the stone that covered the tomb; they posted a guard; they were very concerned about some sort of hoax. And yet He isn’t there, and the body wasn’t stolen. This was done that we might all the more recognize the hand of God in this. There is no room for a lie here.
Perhaps the “what if?” still lingers for you. What if Dawkins and all the unbelievers are right? What if Christ was raised in a spiritual sense, an inspiring account to motivate us to charity and love and to be brave in the face of death? What if all these Discovery Channel and History Channel documentaries on the “real” Jesus and the endless so-called discoveries which always turn out to be false of His possible tomb end up being true?
What if all Scripture is a lie? What if all the work Pastor Stuenkel and I do in proclaiming to you the scriptures is an utter waste of time? What if you’ve wasted all these countless hours on Sunday morning, Wednesday night, and all the special services, singing to your neighbors in the pews about things that never really happened? What if these women, these apostles, all these Christians throughout the centuries are witting or unwitting liars – maybe even me? What if Christ Himself said all these things about Himself and they were all false? What if He’s really, truly the biggest charlatan the world has ever seen?
What if nature’s law is immutable, and the dead cannot come back to life?
“If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.”
If Christ is not raised, then we are in trouble, because we have a lot of sin to get busy atoning for. If Christ is not raised, then we have no assurance of how God feels about us; we can only look to whether things go well or not in our lives or whether we get the rain we need or not. If Christ is not raised, we are right to mourn inconsolably for our loved ones, for we know not where they have gone in death. If Christ is not raised, we cannot trust a single word from the mouth of God.
“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” All the eye witnesses testify to it, and would not change their testimony even in the face of death. The stone is rolled away; the linen cloths are by themselves, neatly folded; Many – hundreds and hundreds – saw Him, touched Him, ate with Him, testified to Him.
The moral of Big Fish is that Will’s father will live on in his stories and in Will’s retelling of them. I guess it’s a nice thought, but it really makes me sick to my stomach because ultimately dad’s dead and it’s only a memory that remains.
Not so with Christ, or with you. Let’s not prove it by saying “I know it in my heart.” He is risen. Fact, not faith. His body is risen from the dead. The tomb is empty. And He did it for you. Fact. He’s not a memory, He’s real, physical, still with wounds in His hands and side, physically present in heaven, and here on this altar, and soon on your very lips, too.
He lives whether you believe it or not. But because He lives, and said He would, let us believe all else He said. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me lives even though He dies, and whoever lives and believes in me never dies forever.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Christ rose from the dead. Fact. So too will you. Fact. Not spiritually, not in remembrance, nor stories or anything ethereal like that. Truly. Bodily. Christ is risen, and so will you be.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
Some pastors refer to Holy Week, culminating in Easter, as the “Super Bowl (or Big Game) of church”. I suppose this is an apt description. Easter Sunday usually sees annual peaks of attendance, and provides a wonderful opportunity to preach the fullness of Christ’s Gospel to many people who will hear little of it for the remainder of the year.
But after Easter? Pastors are tired and ready for a bit of a break. Many take a vacation in the week or two after Easter with their families or friends. There are many different ways that they can relax and unwind – and nothing is sweeter than when a parishioner or family member helps them to do so.
In my case, my wife gave me a pedicure. Wait, what? Isn’t that just for the ladies? You might think so, but I’m now convinced that it’s for dudes, too. Perhaps you don’t realize this, but a pastor’s feet are pretty weary when the last Easter service is wrapped up. A nice soaking, a firm foot and leg massage, and a bit of care for the feet go a long way towards relaxation.
Perhaps you’re thinking there’s no way in tarnation that you’re going to give your pastor a pedicure. Fine. But consider something else nice, like a massage gift certificate. Or maybe he really loves golfing for relaxation – buy him a round! Get to know your pastor, learn what his hobbies are, and see what you and your congregation can do to thank him for diligently and faithfully preaching the rich Gospel of Christ to you (and so many others) throughout Lent, Holy Week, and Easter – if not the whole year!