Christmas and Easter present a unique challenge to both the preacher and to those attending church. Any other Sunday there is an even chance that one or both of us may be surprised by what we hear. Any other Sunday, you might come wondering what the scripture passage will be, and what the Pastor might be preaching on.
But on Christmas you know you’re going to hear about Jesus’ birth, and on Easter, you know you’re going to hear one of the resurrection accounts.
I’ve gone over this resurrection account from Luke with a fine tooth comb, gleaning it for every interesting approach, every aside, every interesting detail. I’ve been drawn to the “idle tale” element of Luke’s account. I have lifted up the role of the women, walked through the details of what those men in white have to say, and panted with the disciples as they ran to see what the women saw. After 28 years of doing this, do you know what I’ve got this year?
I got nothin’….
Yep, that’s right, you all came here dressed in your finest for Easter services and some ray of hope or witty turn of phrase from your spiritual leader, and what he has to confess to you is that he’s got nothin’. After 28 years, of preaching and 54 years of hearing it, nothing in this Gospel hits me.
I don’t have Cable, so I really can’t comment on the five part mini-series out on the History Channel or how it has been, except from what I hear in the news. People are watching this in record numbers. They estimate that over 100 million viewers around the world will have tuned in by the time the conclusion airs tonight. That’s impressive! That will make it the #1 most watched broadcast of the year. The History Channel has found a way to condense 4000 years of God at work with God’s people in five two hour segments, which seems to be what the attention span of the modern, or post-modern person can handle.
As I look at Luke’s recounting of the resurrection, I can tell that it would benefit from a little touch of Hollywood. It’s really quite boring and understated when you read it.
The women go to the tomb expecting to find a body, and what do they find instead? An empty tomb!
Now, a good Hollywood rendering of this scene would have involved bright lights, screeching sound effects, maybe a rumble or explosion as the stone was blown away and Jesus stepped out into the daylight.
Instead, they get nothin’….. literally. “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.
Nothin’…..they got nothin’.
In Luke’s account of the resurrection the women don’t even get the benefit of meeting Jesus in the garden later on, or anywhere along the way to reassure them, or tell them what to do. I mean, a good special effect moment with Jesus would have gone a long way toward giving them something spectacular to share with Peter and the others. Instead what they get are two men dressed in white who ask them why they are looking for the living among the dead.
Well duuuuh…. Because the last we saw of Jesus he was dead as a doornail, why would we expect anything else?
Not the height of drama there.
It’s the same with the disciples. After the witness of the women, they run head long back to the tomb hoping, expecting to find a body, or those men in white, or maybe someone along the way who might know what happened to the body. They arrive breathless, enter and look around, but what did they get?
They got nothin’…..
No men in white. Nothin’ but the linen cloth the body had been wrapped in lying there. No explanations, no special effects, just amazement that the body was gone and nothing else was there.
They got nothin’…
There really isn’t a lot to hold on to in Luke’s account of the Resurrection if you are a disciple, or a close follower. Wherever Jesus is now, he doesn’t seem very concerned about making his presence known to those who were close to him. It’s not until much later that day that he appears along the road to Emmaus, and in the breaking of the bread, and then only briefly as he opens the scripture and then pops off out of the picture again.
In fact, there is a strange sense in which what God does is reveal God’s self in the emptiness…. In the nothing…..
It is in the absence of things that the mind races back over the story, trying to catch hold of something, anything that Jesus might have said about this before the events of trial, crucifixion and death.
It is in the absence of Jesus, of him not being where we thought he would be, that we find that our heart searches, and grasps at the nothin’ to try to make of it something. It is because they find nothing at the tomb that the women reach back to the witness given to them, what Jesus said about in three days rising and reminding the disciples of that. It is because they find nothing at the tomb that the disciples find themselves going back over what Jesus said.
It is the absence of Jesus in their lives that makes their hearts open to hearing the scriptures again, feeling them burn within them as that unknown travel companion opens the scriptures for them, showing them how all this had to be.
Sometimes it is having nothin’ that helps us find something, something that all the special effects and whiz-bang visuals or empty platitudes cannot begin to convey.
When I left the church on Thursday afternoon to make a quick run home for some dinner, as I walked out of the side door, I saw a young woman in a longish white top and jeans standing in front of the white cross out there by the little flower garden and sun dial.
Such a thing causes a bit of a conflict in the pastor.
Should I go over and ask her what she is doing? That seemed self-evident, she was looking up at the cross, lost in thought.
Should I ask her if she needs help? As I looked at her standing there intent upon the cross it occurred to me that whatever I may have to offer would pale in comparison to what she was looking for in that symbol that held her attention.
Should I introduce myself, maybe get her name for follow up as a potential member?
Or is this a moment when you trust the Holy Spirit. No one finds that little white cross from a drive by. She knew it was there, felt its pull, maybe from being a member here once, or from seeing at as she walked to MLM, or our food pantry, who knows? At any rate she took the time to seek that cross’ shadow and stand before it.
It occurred to me as I thought through these options before me how much I wanted to be center of the event, to be the one who swooped in to deliver the right word, the right gesture, just the right “moment” to assure her of God’s presence in her life. I was thinking all “Hollywood.” If I jazz it up, make it real, give her a good word, or maybe meet her need, then I’ll seal the faith deal for her.
In the end, I opted to leave her to her moment, and to God’s keeping.
I had nothin’ really. I had nothing to offer other than what she had perhaps already found, or was on the way to finding, or needing, or discovering. If I am to be a part of her journey, then I trust that Jesus will do what he does post-resurrection, which is appear in the nothing as needed, and sometimes to not appear as that is needed as well, so that she will seek out the witness of others, maybe me, or someone else. I had a profound sense that there wasn’t anything for me to say really, this was God’s moment.
Yep, you might say that Thursday afternoon I “got” nothin’.
I got the fact that I can’t prove the resurrection, or bring you to faith, or really give you anything that God in the Holy Spirit hasn’t already at been at work doing in you.
I “got” that whether I stood up here and gave the sermon of my life on Easter, or whether I just recited page 132 out of the phone book, it wouldn’t make any difference at all. The Resurrected Lord is already meeting you in your daily life. He comes at you through the witness of others, or he finds a way to connect with you in the quiet reflection as you stand in the shadow of a cross in a park.
I “got” that the Holy Spirit is already stirring in you to make you into the disciple that God knows you can be, and that there really isn’t a lot more than I can do other than to tell you what I have found, which is that in the emptiness your heart reaches out to find meaning, and it is then that the resurrection becomes something real.
I get it… this resurrection thing. It has nothing to do with what I say or do, any more than it had to do with the words of the women, or the witness of the men, or the rushing of the disciples to look and see for themselves. All they get is nothin’….
No, the resurrection has everything to do with what God has done in not letting dead things lay around, which is what your discover when the tomb ends up empty.
I get it… I got nothin’…. God has it all.