On Why Every Sunday is Easter
Two of the three small churches I served in the 1980s had cemeteries. Almost every day, I could look out my office window and see people coming to visit the graves of their loved ones. With flowers in hand, they came to remember the dead. A cemetery is a place of memories.
Luke tells that women who had accompanied Jesus came to his tomb at first light when the Sabbath was over. Instead of flowers, they brought spices to anoint Jesus’ body. They expected, I’m sure, that they would have an hour or so alone with their memories as they performed this final act of love. The rituals of death keep the mind and hands busy; they help us find our way the first few days of grief.
The morning, however, did not go as planned. They found no body to anoint; they found, instead, an empty tomb and an angelic vision.
I wonder what the vision of angels would mean to those so deep in grief. Grief is a numbing and disorienting experience. Luke tells us they were terrified. I bet they were. We’ve learned how to cope with grief. How do you cope with visions of angels and a message like this:
“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 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.”
The women left the empty tomb that morning with more than they expected to find. They expected to find some comfort in their memories. The angels gave them hope that their relationship to Jesus didn’t belong only in the past. If the angels’ message was true, then Jesus was more than a memory.
It took something more than an empty tomb and an angelic vision, however, to turn hope into reality.
The women told the other disciples about their vision, but the disciples resisted the idea. Even though Jesus told them that he would be put to death and rise again, they found it hard to believe it when it happened. They thought the women’s story was a bad joke or some sort of crazy talk. Peter went to look for himself, found the tomb empty, and wondered what it all meant.
Later that day, a pair of unconvinced disciples walked down the road to Emmaus haunted by their memories of the prophet and deliverer. They were doing what we all do when people die. They talked with each other, finding comfort in telling stories about the dead.
Almost every time that I have visited a home where someone has died, the experience has been the same. We stand around the kitchen and tell stories. Remember when Ralph did this? Remember when Myrtle said that? For a brief time, the tears cease and smiles break out. We might even laugh.
The disciples on the Emmaus road told stories about Jesus, looking for memories that would comfort their grief and give some meaning to this experience. And as they walked, a stranger came near them and began to walk with them.
Of course, we know that the stranger was Jesus, whom they did not recognize at first. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
More Than Memories
Jesus walked with these grieving disciples and he listened to them, but that’s not all. He didn’t just sympathize with them; he made himself known to them. He talked with them about himself from the scriptures and he ate with them. I wish that Jesus himself could come to your home and my home when someone dies. He knows just what to do.
On this day, after Jesus opened the scriptures to the disciples, he broke bread with them. Luke casts this ordinary meal in Eucharistic language.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. (Luke 24:30)
And when Jesus broke the bread and gave it to them, their eyes were opened. It took an encounter with the risen Christ for them to believe.
The first disciples saw the risen Jesus, and so we think it is easier for them to have faith. Maybe it is. But somehow, in the worship and witness of the church, with the words of the holy scriptures, through the work of the Holy Spirit, people still recognize him today. Faith is always something of a miracle. God is still working that miracle, even in our age.
That’s probably why this story was so important to Luke. The disciples recognized Jesus when he opened the scriptures to them and broke bread with them. Luke knew that in his own day, people still experienced the living presence of Jesus in the word proclaimed and the bread broken. In word and sacrament, Jesus still reveals himself and gives himself to us today.
Jesus is alive and in our worship he makes himself known. Why is it then that our services of worship sometimes seem more like funeral services than celebrations of Jesus’ victory over death? The resurrection of Jesus was the focal point of the early church. They believed Jesus spoke to them through the scriptures and the church’s prophets. They believed he was with them at the table where bread was broken and the Eucharistic prayer was offered.
We Christians have more than our memories of Christ. We come to worship every Sunday not only to be inspired by his memory, but to be touched by his living spirit in the preached word and the broken bread .