The season of Lent provides a time for us to consider where we are on the path of Discipleship and in our relationship with God. In order to know where we are, we need to understand the guideposts along the way. What guiding principles and practices provide a firm foundation and guardrails along dangerous and uncertain paths? At Foundry, we practice biblically rooted sacred resistance, a way of being and acting that is engaged with and for the world God loves. As we journey through Lent, the scriptural texts will illumine some contours and commitments of sacred resistance, touching on topics like taking risks, keeping perspective, and working for a common good. Join us as we are nourished and called to sacred resistance that is deeply rooted in the resources of our faith and in the grace and mercy of our God!
The First Day
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC April 17, 2022, Easter Sunday.
Text: Luke 24:1-12
It’s common on social media for people to say, “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but…” I’m not sure what prompts these messages, whether it’s aggravation or revelation—and either way, my guess is the writer knows exactly who they think needs to receive what they’re saying. This morning, around 4 am, I heard a voice—compassionate with a tinge of sarcasm—saying, “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but…” Let me share the full message received on spiritual media this morning:
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but it is not up to you to raise Jesus from the dead. It is not up to you to make the resurrection happen. It is not up to you to overcome the powers of division and hatred. It is not up to you to bring new life to the whole, weary world. It is not up to you to make the forces of sin and death surrender and shut their mocking mouths. All of this is God’s work and on today this work is accomplished. On today Jesus got up—not because of you but out of love for you, not by your strength but by the strength of the God of all that is.
Yes, the little, scheming gods of death and destruction always think they can worm their way back into control—in their rage at defeat, they try and try and set themselves up to deceive us, to make us forget, to make us despair, to make us think that violence and control are the way, to make us feel afraid and alone, to wear us out with cruelty and injustice, to try to turn us against our neighbor and against our God, to make us believe that our lives end at the tomb, to feel that it’s up to us to save the world and ourselves. The little, scheming gods of death and destruction are wrong and are eternally angry that, they are no match for the love of God in Jesus.
A 4th century Easter sermon by St. John Chrysostom, read every year in the Eastern Orthodox church, proclaims:
Jesus made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh…
It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
Hell took a body, and met God face to face. //
On the first day of the week, the third day after the hungry powers of death claimed their victory, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women came to anoint the body of Jesus. Living under oppressive Roman rule and following the blatantly unjust, state-sanctioned murder of Jesus their beloved Rabbi, they would have been deeply weary on that early morning, worn out from the events of the past weeks and years and from grief. They would have expected nothing more than a sealed tomb, a dead body, and the slow but certain return of business as usual.
What happened when they arrived disrupted their expectations: the stone was rolled from the entrance to the tomb, and instead of Jesus’ dead body, there were two men decked out in their brightest Easter Sunday threads ready to greet them. At first, the women were afraid. But, the two men, like helpful church ushers, provide the most up to date information (which had likely appeared in the worship guide, on the website, in email, an on socials): “You will find Jesus not here in the tomb as previously expected, but out and about in the world. Maybe you forgot the announcement he made again and again—that he would be handed over, crucified, and on the third day rise again. Remember?”
It must have been so difficult for them to remember in the midst of the trauma they’d experienced, the injustice, the suffering, the grief. It must have been so difficult for them to even try to believe that Jesus could be alive—because what if it proved to be a joke. It must have been so difficult for the women to step out of the tomb, a place where, difficult as it was, they knew what to do, and then step into a world so radically altered, so uncertain, and their role unclear.
“The Greek term for ‘remember’ in the text—mimnesko—means more than just mere recollection; it means something more like ‘to bring past actions to bear on the present, with new power and insight.’” Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women whose names are known to God alone took a minute to get there, but they remembered Jesus, they remembered all they’d shared together with him. As a result, they remembered how he lifted them up and honored their ministry, they remembered his words and his call to them, and they emerged from the tomb with new purpose, new vocation, new life. The women were the first to proclaim the resurrection and the first to embody resurrection newness in their own lives.
Peter and the rest of the disciples take a bit longer to fully embrace what had happened. And, while it’s sadly typical and not OK that the apostles blow off the women’s proclamation, it is OK that they aren’t able to immediately remember Jesus’ words, or to emerge from the old expectation and the old ways of life, or to step into the new life that beckons. If you know the rest of the story, you know Jesus doesn’t blame or shame them for any of it. It’s OK that they take a while to receive and step into the gifts of Easter. And that’s good news because it means it’s OK for us, too.
From age to age, our God knows our fear and our need, our failures and regrets. God feels the pain right now roiling in the creation and among people everywhere. God knows the death toll from all the pandemics in our world—viruses, white supremacy, gun violence, poverty, climate violence, willful ignorance and deceit. God knows how hard it is to be human in this world, for Jesus, the heart of God, bears the wounds of the world eternally. God knows firsthand the grief among this human family and among the human family in every place right now. God knows the confusion, the weariness, the “flatness,” the struggle to feel connected that many of us are experiencing. God knows how hard we try—to be good, to be helpful, to do the right thing, to work for justice and for peace, to be kind and loving and wise, to try to hope more and fear less, to be more liberated and alive.
Maybe today you’re able to remember, deep in your bones, the love of God in a way that sets you free to live in a new way, just as the women on that first Easter morning. But it’s OK if you’re not. It’s OK if you’re not “feeling it” this Easter. It’s OK if you’re experiencing a sense of disconnection from things, people, and from God. It’s OK if you’re so weary, you can’t manage to keep up with the latest news and announcements—even when they’ve been in every form of communication. It’s OK if you are afraid at the prospect of something new and if it takes a minute to recognize and claim the new thing that calls you out of the tomb. There’s time. You don’t have to experience new life and purpose or an epiphany on a prescribed schedule or on Easter Sunday. God knows what you’re going through, knows your heart and mind. This day isn’t your last chance. Chrysostom’s Easter sermon reminds us:
God gives rest unto the one who comes at the eleventh hour,
even as unto the one who has wrought from the first hour.
And God shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first;
Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord;
and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second.
…The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women went to the tomb thinking that every day to come would be like the last right up until their last day…carrying the same things to do the same work for the same purpose in the same rut. They went into that familiar tomb expecting a dead Jesus and then, rubbing their eyes in astonishment, they stepped out to seek the living Jesus, the morning dew sparkling and dampening their feet like a baptism as they moved into the first day of their new life. It was the first day they no longer needed to fear death as they had been taught. It was the first day they found their full voice. It was the first day they knew they were part of something so much bigger than they could comprehend—even incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation by the power of God. It was the first day they embodied more of their own fullness—as if parts of their deepest being had been liberated from the tomb right along with Jesus.
The scheming forces of death and destruction believe they can keep us trapped in the tomb forever, they whisper their lies in our spirits, tempting us to hide who we are, who we love, to allow shame and guilt to hold us hostage, to wear ourselves out thinking that the salvation of the world and our own life depends on our own meager strength. These forces and voices want to claim authority over us. They—like bullies throughout all time—won’t admit their defeat, can’t handle the truth that Jesus has won, has risen, has emerged, has been liberated from the tomb and blazed a trail for us to follow. That trail is well-worn by fellow travelers who, by Spirit’s leading, at the right time over all of time, stumble out, rub their eyes, and gaze in wonder at the fullness of life they’ve been gifted. That trail will be there when it’s the right time for you to come out, or to bring out of the tomb the part of you that has gotten stuck there. That path will be there whenever you’re ready to claim whatever new life and freedom awaits. This day isn’t your last chance—however long it takes, God and God’s loving promise and resurrection power is not going anywhere.
Easter is a promise that you have been gifted a future—whether it’s a day, a week, years to come, and even into the next life. Each day of your future is the next first day of your life, a new chance to receive the invitation of God in Christ Jesus to live more fully and freely—and, oh! what an invitation it is, for centuries the same and even unto eternity:
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
Let no one bewail their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for their iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.
Jesus that was held prisoner of death has annihilated it.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns.
Let our shouts, our songs, our sighs of praise and thanksgiving rise: Alleluia! Amen.