The Resurrection of Our Lord

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Luke 24:1-10
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They entered the tomb. And they found the tomb was empty.

The four Gospels differ in many details, but they have one thing in common. Their accounts of the Resurrection are distressingly vague.

Each of the evangelists describes Jesus death in painstaking, blow-by-blow detail. The crucifixion happened in public, in broad daylight. It was witnessed by hundreds of people.

But the Resurrection story is cloaked in ambiguity. There are no witnesses to the Resurrection itself,
–only witnesses to the empty tomb left behind.
–only witnesses to circumstantial evidence
subject to a host of explanations.

And who were these witnesses? Galilean women, people whose word was worth so little, they couldn’t even testify in court. One of them had been possessed by demons. The other two, we never heard of before; and we never hear of them again. Even the apostles didn’t believe them. The apostles called their story the hallucinations of a fevered brain. That’s the literal translation. Only Peter gave the story enough credence to go to the tomb himself. He saw with his own eyes the tomb was empty—but he had no idea what to make of the fact.

The women claimed to have met two men who said, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” But who were these men? What did they know? And how did they know it? And why did they appear only to the three women, and not to Peter, the apostles or the masses?

The Gospel writers often polished their stories,
–embellished the facts, for good reasons,
–to make their point and to make the meaning clear.

They wanted us to know who Jesus was. They wrote, not to record history, but to inspire faith. Yet, when they come to the crowning point, the heart and culmination of the Gospel, their story is as vague and shadowy as a tomb at dawn.

I want some of that clarity here.
I want twelve unimpeachable witnesses to have seen Jesus get up from that stone floor, tear off the shroud, and walk into the daylight.
I want to read that the Risen Lord marched with a crowd into Jerusalem like he did on Palm Sunday. Then I could know. I could know with certainty that the Resurrection happened. That Jesus arose. That he died and yet is alive.

But it didn’t happen quite that way. We don’t have the Resurrection clear and plain as an historical fact. Instead, we have a mystery. We have an empty tomb, and, like the disciples, we must decide what it means.

The empty tomb proves nothing.
But it challenges us.
The empty tomb puts us to the test.
The empty tomb confronts us with the fundamental question of our existence. It asks what we believe in.
When all is said and done, what do we believe life is about?

That’s the question the empty tomb poses. And there are only two possible answers. You can elaborate and nuance either answer a thousand ways. You can change the words and even the names. But fundamentally, there are only two answers. Either we believe in death or we believe in Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. Either death is the Alpha and the Omega; or Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega.

Either we believe that every living thing is doomed to die—that all that is will cease to be. Or we believe that the love of God is stronger than death. We believe that whatever is decent and just and pure will be redeemed from death and raised into the glory of God. We believe that the source of life has endowed our lives with meaning and value and purpose—eternal meaning, eternal value, eternal purpose. Which cannot be quenched by death.

The tomb asks what do we believe we are becoming?
Are we on our way to being corpses?
Or are we becoming living sons and daughters of the Living God?

In the empty tomb, God gave us a mystery –a holy transcendent mystery. And by giving us this mystery, God requires us to ground the basic decision of life, not in fact, but in faith.

We cannot prove the Resurrection. If we could prove it, we wouldn’t need faith. The mystery offers the choice, the chance to choose, between faith and faithlessness. Theologians call that choice the fundamental option.
–The basic yes or the basic no.
–The existential choice between life and death.

The fundamental option. It’s a choice we make with our hearts, more than with our heads: –the choice between yes and no. We may not be able to articulate the choice beyond that simple yes or no. We may respond as one Christian writer did. He wrote, “I don’t know who–or what–put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer ‘yes’ to someone—or something—and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful, and that my life in self-surrender had a goal.”

For Christians the fundamental yes is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We take what we know of death, and we take what we know of Jesus, then we look at the empty tomb, and we figure it out. We choose Jesus. We say, “Jesus is bigger than death.” We say, “Alleluia! He is risen!”

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ means there’s more to life than waiting for death. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ means that life has value. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ means that the love of God is stronger than the power of death.

Christians (even those too young to speak for themselves) say “yes” when they are baptized into the death of Christ. We say “yes” (or our parents and godparents say yes for us) believing that we will be raised with him. It can be a hard to say that great “yes.” In the face of death and the forces of death that surround us, it can be hard to say, “He is risen.” It’s so much easier to prove death than life.

In the face of all the forces of death, it takes courage to say, “He is risen.” But we say it. We’ve said it over and over. And we’ll keep saying it again and again, not just until we die, but into eternity.

In the 1920s the Bolshevik party sent one of their most distinguished leaders to Kiev to address a rally promoting atheism. The speaker abused and ridiculed the Christian faith for more than an hour, presenting every argument against its unbelievable claims, logically tearing it down, stone by stone . Then he invited questions, confident and ready to counter any defense.

An elderly priest of the Orthodox Church slowly stood and, with a smile and a nod, the Bolshevik gave the priest permission to speak. The old man turned to the crowd and in a calm voice said, “Alleluia. Christ is risen.” And five thousand voices thundered back, “He is risen indeed. Alleluia.”