"Seemed to them an idle tale"-Easter Sermon, Luke 24:1-12 by the Rev. Miles Brandon
I heard a lecture last fall given by a priest from the Church of England named the Rev. Canon Chris Russell. Like me, Chris is a Vicar, the priest in charge, of a parish in the center of Reading, England called St. Laurence. Now St. Laurence is in the center of Reading, what they call the town center, what we might call downtown. And like many urban areas, and you know this well from heading to downtown Austin for just about anything, parking is always a challenge and often costly…perhaps we can even describe it as nightmarish. Apparently St. Laurence doesn’t have a parking lot of its own and most of the street parking is paid parking so people often complained, and perhaps understandably so, about having to pay to park to go to church on Sunday mornings. For one looking for an excuse not to come to church, not like any one of us of course, but someone looking for a good excuse not to come to church…this often provided an excellent candidate. Well Chris gave it some thought and came to the sensible conclusion to visit some of the neighboring businesses to see if one might open their parking lot for church use just on Sunday mornings…maybe it could be mutually beneficial to give the church some free parking during worship…and give the business some good will from those potential patrons who attend the church…and sure enough he found one…a kind business owner who opened their lot to the family of faith on Sunday mornings. Well after the deal was done, the next Sunday, which was the second Sunday of the Easter Season, Chris, during the announcement time, let the community know the good news…free parking for the faithful…and he said the crowd went totally wild…the congregation erupted in cheers…high fives all around…I mean joy like he had never seen expressed in church. Now British church goers do tend to be a bit buttoned up, the whole stiff upper lip thing…but this good news rocked the place, and they let it all hang out…almost like the risen Jesus had made an unexpected appearance in their very midst…it seemed to them like the best sort of news…and we all might cheer for free parking.
Well Chris went on to say that the Gospel reading that he was preaching on that day was from the very same chapter we just heard read from this Easter morning…Luke chapter 24…the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ…the defeat of sin and death…the forever promise that life and love rule supreme and are the gracious end of all that is and all who breath…even you…even me. The good news is that love is stronger even than death…life wins…and this is not just good news…it is the best sort of news. Jesus’ resurrection proclaims that the suffering we see all around us, that we so often literally see in the news, as in Belgium just this week, does not have the last word…the suffering we experience ourselves can indeed be overcome. For our God is a resurrection God…offering healing, wholeness, peace, meaning and direction in this life…and eternity in the next. This is of course the hinge, the fulcrum, the center point of our faith…Jesus is risen from the dead…and the world is thus turned on its head…death which seems so all pervasive…always somewhere in our consciousness…just below the surface…seeking to consume us with fear as it surely will our bodies one day…is actually powerless over us…Easter promises us that death will not have the last word. As I said on Ash Wednesday, death from a resurrection perspective is nothing more than a human construct to speak of transformation or change. It is more gate than grave…it is only a point of passing through…in which we are changed from this degree of glory to the next…as CS Lewis describes in “The Last Battle” the seventh book in “The Chronicles of Narnia”, this life is but chapter one in the book that has no end and each subsequent chapter only gets better than the one that came before. And I cannot…nor do I think any preacher can…even one of greater talent than myself…adequately speak of the life-altering great, good news that this Easter Day proclaims…the great and glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ…Alleluia and Amen!
But back to Chris’ story at St. Laurence in Reading, England. Again he said that following the raucous reception he received after sharing the news of free and convenient parking…he went on to preach on Luke chapter 24…the story of our Lord’s glorious resurrection…our great, good news…and his sermon…or more so the good news he proclaimed…was not followed by any reception of any sort…no applause, no cheers, no high fives…not a blip…not a word…not even a rumble for resurrection. Free parking…alleluia, amen…resurrection…well alright…cool…thanks for mentioning it. He said as he reflected on what felt to him to be at the very least inconsistent…out of whack…like we are cheering for all the wrong things…that perhaps our priorities, as Christian folk, are at least slightly askew…he phoned a friend...to share how he was feeling…he told the friend about this experience, hurray for free parking…utter silence for resurrection, and the friend replied with this, “Chris we know what free parking looks like…we have no idea what resurrection looks like.”
Now to be fair…my own heart leaps a little bit when I find that one open parking space at the packed grocery store on a busy evening…or find that spot on the street directly in front of an office building downtown…avoiding the steep charges at the parking structure two blocks away. We indeed live in the now…parking now…death and resurrection later…when we have to face it…as we sit at the bedside of a very sick loved one…or get the phone call that a loved one has died in the night…or even as we take seriously our own aging and real physical and mental limitations. Life now…death and the resurrection it promises later…but only then, when hopeful musings about resurrection are absolutely required. But I think in doing so we miss something oh so very important right now, even now…and that is the breath-taking beauty and the hope-filled wonder that is resurrection right now, even now…happening in our very midst. For our proclamation this day is not that Jesus was raised some two thousand years ago or so…a distant tale in some long-forgotten time. I noted for perhaps the first time in preparing this sermon, that after the women discover the empty tomb and run to tell the other disciples the good news that Jesus is risen from the dead…that these other disciples took the women’s excitement and good news as, and I quote here, an “idle tale”. An idle tale is indeed often the sort of response we give to the good news of Jesus’ resurrection…an idle tale of one raised from the dead oh so long again…placing resurrection in the genre of myth and legend. But again that is not what we proclaim this day…not that Jesus was raised some two thousand years ago…but that Jesus is risen…we say…Alleluia Christ is risen…the Lord is risen indeed…the present tense.
Of course, Jesus’ resurrection rightly brings Christian hope and perspective to the reality of physical death when we face it in the undiscovered future…but it is so much more than that…it is indeed about the present…it looks like something…and we can know and do know what it looks like…further we can be resurrection people and point to resurrection for ourselves and all whose lives touch our own…perhaps this is the chief work of the people of God…even you, even me. You see when we dislocate resurrection from our present experience, it is indeed to relegate it to the realm of an idle tale…or at the very least something not to be concerned with right now…get overly emotional about right here, right now…but in doing so we diminish the gift of Jesus’ resurrection…we diminish the celebration we enjoy this day…we diminish our ability to be moved, compelled, disrupted, even transformed by resurrection that always is…is now…for Jesus is indeed risen…in our midst even now.
And if you ask me how so…what does it then look like…I know what free parking looks like…so what does resurrection look like…I will point us directly to one another and to our own stories, the living people of God, and the lives we live. I will never forget sitting in an AA meeting with my biological father before he passed on into the everlasting arms of love. I heard him say it…after years of struggling with profound addiction…hi my name is Nathan…I am an alcoholic…when the time for his own transformation from this degree of glory to the next arrived…he did so sober…that is resurrection. I have watched and walked with many families, including many here today, through the valley of the shadow of death, for indeed it is but a shadow, that looked like terminal illness or cancer or suicide or divorce…and watched them mourn their loss, suffer, heal, discover new relationships, find renewed meaning and direction in life…not leaving behind those they lost…but living with them in a new and transformed way…that is resurrection. I have seen families and friendships that suffered tremendous separations because of betrayal or apathy or neglect or just circumstance be gloriously reconciled…forming bonds of affection that are so much stronger than any that previously existed…that is resurrection. I have seen communities of faith like this one, St. Julian’s, through God’s inspiration and much prayer and hard work grow from just a dream into a vibrant and growing worshiping community full of people fully alive and falling more and more in love with God…that is resurrection…and you in this very moment witness to it. Our very lives that bear witness to resurrection even now…are no idle tale…they are glorious and full of good news…much like the empty tomb on the very first Easter.
Sure we may not literally know what resurrection will look like, even Paul struggled to describe it in I Corinthians Chapter 15…or as he said two chapters before…surely we now see in a mirror dimly lit…and resurrection may indeed feel like it is a long way off…and yet as people of faith we do know something of what resurrection looks like…just like all the examples I gave, which are really just the tip of the ice-berg…I feel like we can see it, know it, proclaim it just as clearly as the women who discovered the empty tomb…and we have been given the blessed good work of naming it for the world…of showing it to the world…for Jesus’ resurrection is indeed the worlds last, best hope…shinning light perpetual in the midst of the darkness…even now, right now…and I can’t imagine literally anything more worth cheering, applauding, offering high fives all around for…the most raucous reception we can offer…even if we do so, like good Episcopalians, in our own buttoned up way. Amen.