Struck with Wonder

April 17, 2022; Dr. John Stephenson
Easter 1 A. myrhhbearers-02.jpg

Easter Day 2022
St Luke 24:1-12

Was that any decent way to talk to a group of mourning women who had the marks of PTSD all over them? Even if you were a pair of holy angels, was it right to imply that these ladies were a bunch of goofballs? Wasn’t it insensitive to charge them with a brief memory span? Yes, in everyday life the two men in shining apparel would have crossed a line, but they weren’t everyday beings and this wasn’t an everyday situation. In actual fact there may be a touch of humour in the barbed remarks the angels directed to the women, and this may be why, centuries ago, Lutheran pastors had the custom of beginning their Easter Day sermons with a joke.

‘Why seek the living among the dead?’ Those pious women, the crème de la crème of the Altar Guild and the LWML, it was okay for them to be shocked at the Empty Tomb, but they had no business being surprised by it. Like the rest of us, they had allowed words of Jesus to float in through one ear and out through the other, and like the rest of us they should have listened, harkened, trusted, and hoped. What else but an empty tomb could you expect when the God of Israel wraps Himself in a human life and does on earth what Jesus of Nazareth had already done?

‘Resurrection’ is a loan word from Latin, which means nothing more than ‘standing up again’. We all get up from a nap or a rest or a night’s sleep, and with whatever difficulty we even get up from the hard knocks dished out to us by life, but to get back on your feet days after your soul has left your body is a dicier proposition. I wouldn’t necessarily doubt what some people tell us about their Near Death and even shortly After Death Experiences, and we can’t forget how the Lord Jesus brought at least two men and one woman back into this life from the sleep of death. But He only brought them back into this life, with them having to leave it again sooner or later. The human race has long had a sense, which most people still have, that bodily death isn’t the end of human existence. So the penitent thief was with Christ in paradise even while the Lord’s body lay in the tomb, and it would have been no big deal if the Lord had come back as a ghost. But for Someone to stand up again from among all the millions in the bleak realm of the dead, brighter-eyed and bushier-tailed than ever, and in such a way that death can never again lay a finger on Him, this is the bottom line of what brings us together this morning.

But what about all the objections raised by modern science, modern history, modern philosophy, and even by good old-fashioned common-sense, which remains the same in every age? Bring on all the objections you like, because look what reaction the holy women got when they told the Eleven and the rest of Jesus’ followers what had just happened. Richard Dawkins and whatever other mouthy unbeliever you care to name have nothing on Peter and his brethren, who basically accused the women of overdosing at the cannabis store. ‘They did not believe them.’ If that unbelief had remained unshaken, the Church of Christ would be like a damp squib that drifted to the bottom of Lake Ontario.

This morning’s celebration is the hors d’oeuvres of a banquet, not a five-course meal in itself. Enough for now to register the fact of the mega miracle of Jesus standing up from the dead and walking ahead of us into the life of the world to come. There’s a reason why Easter has seven Sundays: there’s a lot else to explore and set forth. The Second Adam has undone the curse called down on all of us by the First Adam. Yes, we have hope beyond the grave prior to the Lord’s return, and we also have the sure hope that one day bodily death itself will be undone.

Let’s close by casting a glance on Peter, who is himself a sign of hope to troubled people. With his three denials of Jesus he committed treason against the King. In strict justice it’s the firing squad for him. Alas, he added insult to injury by joining in the wave of unbelief that washed up against the holy women. But then he went and checked out the state of affairs at the sepulchre, and when he walked in and saw just the graveclothes, ‘he wondered.’ Alas, the sense of wonder is horribly challenged these days. Do you ever wonder over sun and moon and stars? Do you ever wonder over sunrise and sunset? Do you ever wonder over the signs of spring in the buds now appearing on seemingly dead branches? Wonder in our hearts bounces off the power and artistry of God, which are at work not only in this old, perishing creation, but supremely in the new creation of which the Risen Lord Jesus is the first fruit. May the Lord fill you with wonder over what He has done to Jesus the Firstborn of many, many, many brothers and sisters, who likewise are going to stand up again in their bodies, your bodies, from the realm of the dead. Alleluia, The Lord is risen.