21, 2019, Easter Sunday Year C, Luke 24:1-12
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
This Easter as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus I’m sure many preachers will be using images from the past week’s fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Especially that image I’m sure many of you saw from the day after the fire of the golden cross still standing over the main altar of the Cathedral – the one with the pieta or sculpture of Mary holding a dying Jesus. In the picture the morning light comes down from the now non-existent roof and bounces off the gold of the cross as it stands against a smoky background and high above piles of charred debris littering the sanctuary space. Many shared that they view this occurrence of the still standing cross as a symbol of resurrection hope that after a night of so much sadness and fear of total destruction of this historic 850 year old house of worship, Christ’s cross was not destroyed and so they asked, what more appropriate symbol of resurrection hope in this the holiest of weeks of the church year?
Except perhaps you also saw the meme making the rounds on social media in response to the Christians commenting on that picture of the Notre Dame altar cross? The meme includes that picture of the cross standing in the light above the rubble from the fire with one person’s message, “After all the aftermath and destruction of the Notre Dame fire, the altar and cross remain untouched. Please explain to me how you don’t believe in God after seeing this.” And in response, someone with a Twitter handle identifying himself as a science enthusiast wrote it wasn’t destroyed, “Because the melting point of gold is 1064 degrees Celsius and a wood fire burns at around 600 degrees Celsius.”
As a science geek myself I got a good chuckle out of it, but I think it reveals a greater issue that people of faith face all the time at Easter over the resurrection, as people want some sort of way to explain it to our modern day minds. The need to find proof or something concrete to back up our faith isn’t new though. Just think about the relics they spoke of saving from the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral this week, particularly the crown of thorns. Was it really the same crown of thorns worn by Jesus at his crucifixion? Perhaps that is my own cynical question, but I don’t think I’m alone in wondering about it. In fact, I know I’m not, as the dean of the American Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Paris, the Very Rev. Lucinda Laird, addressed that question this week as she was interviewed in the aftermath of the fire. She said the question wasn’t really if the relics are the exact ancient items linked to Jesus as they are said to be. Instead, she said, the question is how do they help our faith today?
I think a similar approach to Easter is often preferable as well. The question for us isn’t “What exactly happened to Jesus on that day almost two thousand years ago?” That can be complicated to explain and understand. Rather, the better question for us today is “Where is Jesus and the work of resurrection happening for us today?” Because Easter wasn’t a one time – one and done – event. Instead, for the Christian, Easter is an ongoing occurrence.
In thinking along those lines, the picture that stuck with me from the Notre Dame Cathedral this week wasn’t the golden altar cross still standing the morning after the fire. Instead, the image etched in my mind is from the night of the fire of Christians on the streets of Paris kneeling in prayer and singing hymns in the shadow of the Cathedral as it is engulfed in bright red flames against the dark and smoke-filled evening sky. To me that is where the power of Jesus and the resurrection were in Paris that day. In those Christians who, in spite of all the signs that their place of worship was likely totally destroyed, could still sing hymns of praise to God in its shadow. Their actions spoke to their belief that the story wasn’t over no matter how much it looked like that after over 850 years and a storied history, the end had come for its use as a place of worship for the body of Christ in that place. The fact that they could still sing in hope that God was not done yet and the church was not dead but alive in that situation, is to me what resurrection looks like for us as Christians today.
As Episcopal priest Jim Friedrich says, “Resurrection has consequences. The resurrection is more than an idea we talk about or believe propositionally. It’s something we become, something we ‘prove’ in the living of our stories.” He further points out resurrection’s impact on us as believers when he writes, “In Orthodox iconography of the resurrection, Jesus is never by himself. He is always depicted taking the dead by the hand and pulling them out of their own tombs.”
After worship I invite you to check out an example as one of those icons is displayed by the baptismal font. I also invite you to think about what it means for you to have Jesus take you by the hand and lead you from your own tomb. We all have our own tombs and it is Jesus who meets us there to lift us out of them to resurrection. Maybe your tomb is that surprise diagnosis you received from the doctor this week. Or it’s the illness that seems to be slowly taking your loved one from you. Or the addiction your child just can’t get control of. Or the depression that is slowly having a negative impact on all aspects of your life. Or the job loss that has you questioning your self-worth. Or the break-up of a relationship that has you feeling lost and alone. We all have our own personal tombs and the risen Christ takes us by the hand and lifts us out of them.
The tomb of the apostles in our gospel reading from Luke today is their response to Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them when they tell the apostles that Jesus is risen. The apostles respond to this revelation by calling it an “idle tale.” In other words, “fake news.” They don’t trust the words of these women they think to be irrational. They need more to pull them from their tomb. Peter though seems ready to hear the message of the women. He seems ready to do as author Terry Tempest Williams says and “anticipate resurrection.” He hears their message while standing at the door of his own tomb – locked away in a room with those other disciples for fear of their own safety in the wake of Jesus’ crucifixion – and he anticipates resurrection. He believes in spite of all the evidence to the contrary that the situation isn’t all it seems. All hope is not lost. Death has not had the last word. New life is possible. Resurrection is at hand.
Like the women at the tomb, Peter, and the Christians singing hymns on the streets of Paris this week, Jesus invites us to anticipate resurrection as well, because when we do Easter becomes more than that one and done occurrence that we feel the need to provide evidence actually happened just as the Bible says. Instead, we become the living evidence of ongoing resurrection, of Jesus’ story that continues on today. Because God is still not done! Jesus is reaching into our tombs still today, taking us by the hand and pulling us out! Resurrection has consequences and we are living proof of it! Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!