Date: March 27, 2016 (Easter Sunday)
Title: “Off the Record in the Cemetery”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Luke 24:1-12
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Okay, so the tomb is empty. Now what? During these weeks of Lent – our preparation for today’s great joy – we have been doing a sermon series entitled “Off the Record”, in which we tried listening to the various voices and the main players of the season.
We’ve gone “Off the Record” with the devil, tempting Jesus in the wilderness to forget his identity and forego his mission. We went “Off the Record” with Herod, the symbol of the powers that be, the Roman governor who recognized the threat Jesus’ new life presented to the existing one. Then there was Lazarus, Jesus’ friend who was called out of the grave, and had to find the courage to start over, thanks to Jesus. And an unnamed woman, whose love for Jesus flowed into forgiveness for her. We even went “Off the Record” with Judas, the disciple who eventually betrayed Jesus, thinking perhaps it was the only way to push his agenda for change.
Last Sunday – Palm Sunday – we went “Off the Record” with the crowd greeting Jesus in victory and then later turning against him. So here we are today, going “Off the Record” in the cemetery itself.
So what does it mean, that phrase, to go “Off the Record”? Apparently the phrase was first used by President Franklin Roosevelt, in the 1930s, when he would invite reporters into his confidence telling them it was all “off the record”. When it is used today, typically what is meant is Don’t publish this; or, even more commonly, Don’t let anyone know this came from me!
Going “off the record” can be a way to share information without having to be responsible for it. Or, it can be a way to allow a deeper level of honesty, a greater degree of vulnerability, a way to get beyond the impression management we all practice, and to find what is really going on.
Today the tomb is empty, and we find ourselves in the cemetery with the two Mary’s, and Joanna, and the other women. Today it is time for us to go “Off the Record” ourselves; it is time for us to find that deeper level of honesty, to risk that greater degree of vulnerability. It is time for us to get beyond our impression management and figure out what is really going on with Easter.
Easter is a mystery in a world which favors certainty. It is a question in a society which is much more comfortable with answers – even if the answers are all wrong. Easter is an ever unfolding story, a still developing event in a time inclined toward static snapshots. So Jesus’ resurrection leaves us bursting with questions, especially this year. Though we’ve heard the story many times before, though we’ve repeatedly been surprised by an empty tomb and cheered by God’s outlandish hope, somehow it feels different this time around. Easter feels just a little bit more mysterious this year. It feels a little bit more questionable. Certainly, it feels a little bit more unfinished.
Perhaps that is because the world feels that way itself. We can become so lost in the terrifying visions of a world teetering on the brink of despair, where the insanity of violence begets more violence; where hatred gives birth to nothing more than hate; and where the cries of the oppressed, the plight of the poor and the isolation of the lonely threaten to overwhelm us every day. We can become so lost in the rhetoric of our pride, or the denial of our response – ability, thinking we have no ability to respond to the terrors we face, that we lose sight of the power of Easter and the hope of resurrection.
Certainly that was true for the women who came to that first Easter tomb. They were not the only ones lost in despair, or giving in to depression. No one expected Jesus to be resurrection, even though he had several times predicted it while he walked in Galilee with them. No one greeted that first Easter morning with shouts of “Alleluia!” And as if Jesus rising from the dead isn’t miracle enough, somehow these women find the courage to move beyond their expectations. Somehow they are able to open themselves to the birth of unimaginable possibilities in their lives.
What about us? Can we find that same kind of courage? Can we find hope in the face of hopelessness? Can we be among those people who take action in the midst of apathy, and find new life even in the middle of death?
Easter gives us a chance. This Easter gives us another chance to do just that. Standing in the cemetery with our friends, and even a few strangers, and going off the record – going deeply into vulnerability and honesty and truth – we find there are good reasons for us to be here. Amy Julia Becker put it this way:
Shower, breakfast, kids to school, myself to work. Go running, make dinner, kids to bed, check email, sleep. It’s easy to forget.
But after an earthquake or a tornado; after a tsunami or in with the news of famine, I need the resurrection. When another bomb explodes, I need the resurrection. And when I see the flash of blue and yellow of a bird in flight, or when apartheid ends, or when my kids hold hands, I need the resurrection.
In the sorrow and the joy, the resurrection reminds me that goodness will last. Easter reminds me that light overcomes darkness, and that life triumphs over death. I need the resurrection.
We all need it; that is why we are here. The Bible tells us through story and example and even command, how good it is to rejoice. That can seem risky, in a world full of reasons to fear disappointment. We can be left feeling like a solitary fool, dancing our way into heartache or danger or just plain ridicule. And yet, it does not have to be that way. When we find ourselves in the Easter moment – those moments when new life and new possibilities for our lives present themselves; those moments when goodness and kindness begin to edge out nastiness and hate… when we find ourselves in the Easter moments when bombs explode and some people run into the darkness in order to save the light… we can seize the moment, embrace that Easter, and live the joy.
Let’s watch as Matt Harding and Alicia Lemke put Easter hope up on the big screen for us to see [https://youtu.be/Pwe-pA6TaZk] As the song says:
I don’t want to be left at the end of things in a world kept small
I need to know I can be lost and not afraid…
I need to remember we’re gonna trip the light, we’re gonna break the night,
And we’ll see with new eyes, when we trip the light.
My friends, God has started a revolution of joy. Isn’t it about time we moved Onto the Record, and joined the dance? Happy Easter! Amen.