Easter • 27 Mar 2016

Luke 23:54 - 24.35

Rev. Chris Udy

Easter turns things upside-down.
It says death is not the end of life;
it says true power
isn’t exercised in violence,
but in love and peace;
it says betrayal and denial and desertion
are impossibly costly -
but they can be forgiven;
and most of all,
it says God is not removed
and distant from human life -
he is risen and present,
right here beside us
in life, in death,
and in life beyond death.

The day of resurrection begins
with the women
who had loved and supported Jesus
throughout his life
coming in the first grey light of the early dawn
to the tomb where they had seen his body laid.
They were carrying spices and ointments,
wanting to wash the body down,
rinse off the blood
and reduce the signs of his suffering,
before they wrapped his body in a shroud
for final burial.
But when they came to the tomb
they found the stone that sealed the entrance
had been rolled away,
and when they went inside
they found the body gone.
Luke says they were perplexed about this,
which always reads to me as an understatement,
but then, in a moment,
their perplexity turned into terror
as two men in dazzling clothes appeared
and stood with them in the tomb.
The women fell down
and hid their faces in the ground
as the dazzling visitors said
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?
He is not here; he is risen.”

Easter turns things upside-down.
Luke makes a point,
and he emphasises it, just to make sure.
He tells us that the gospel of resurrection
was not reserved for men to announce,
as you might expect in a middle-eastern culture:
responsibility for proclaiming the resurrection
was given to women.
Luke even writes in
the response of the other disciples
to emphasise how unusual this was:
‘It was Mary Magdalene,
Joanna”, who was a wealthy woman,
the wife of King Herod’s steward,
and “Mary, the mother of James,”
(which might also be a way
of referring to Jesus’ mother Mary,
because the only James we know
was the brother of Jesus).
So it was those three women,
and the other women who had gone with them,
who now became apostles to the apostles,
returning from the tomb
to tell the eleven remaining disciples
what they had seen,
and what they had been told.
The male disciples,
true to their culture’s form,
did not believe them.
The resurrection “seemed to them an idle tale”
and most of them dismissed it, Luke says.
But Peter - now the leader of the shattered group -
at least had the grace
to get up and run, himself, to the tomb.
But when he arrived
the tomb was empty.
He found only the graveclothes;
not the body of Jesus,
and not the dazzling messengers either.
And so this ‘idle tale’
the women had told the men
became a subversive, disruptive proclamation
that would radically change the world.

Easter turns things upside-down.
It says the fundamentally violent
and oppressive order of the world
is changing;
something new and unexpected is growing.

Often on Easter day
we finish our reading
with what happened in the morning –
but that was just the start of an epic day.
As we heard today,
Luke continues his account
by describing the journey of two disciples of Jesus
who had obviously left Jerusalem
just after the women told their amazing story.
Luke says one of the disciples was Cleopas -
but that’s not a name
from the lists we have of the 12 disciples of Jesus.
Luke also says there were two on the road,
but we’re not told the name or the gender
or the age of Cleopas’ companion.
As they walked,
a stranger drew up beside them
and asked them what they were talking about.
So they told him what had happened
over the last few days,
how Jesus,
the leader of their movement,
had been killed by those
who held power in the city,
and how they had lost the man
they thought would be their hope and redemption.
They also told him
what they had heard that morning,
when some of the women of their group
returned from the empty tomb
with a message of resurrection.

The stranger listened carefully
to Cleopas and his companion,
and then he laughed at them
(not what you might call
an especially sensitive response).
But then he continued on,
tracing through the Hebrew Bible
threads of meaning
and promises of liberation,
all of which, he said,
had been renewed and deepened and fulfilled
in the life of Jesus.

As they walked
the evening of that very significant day
was drawing on,
so when they came close to their destination
Cleopas and his companion
urged the stranger to stay
and share a meal with them.
He agreed, but when the meal was ready,
although they were his hosts,
it was the stranger who took the bread,
said a prayer of blessing,
broke it apart, and gave it to each of them.
It was only then,
in that moment,
that, Luke says, their eyes were opened
and they recognised Jesus.

And so the epic continues.
In that very same hour, Luke tells us,
they went back into the night,
travelling all the way to Jerusalem,
where they found the eleven disciples all together.
The disciples said
“The Lord has risen indeed -
he’s appeared to Peter!”
which must have happened
sometime during the day -
so Cleopas and his companion
then told their story,
of how Jesus had been made known to them
in the breaking of the bread.

Easter turns things upside-down.
There are surprising things,
amazing things,
all through this story.
Some of them we simply don’t understand
and they will forever remain a mystery.
We simply don’t know
how Jesus returned to life.
The physiology and mechanics,
the biology and psychology of that moment
are beyond us.
It’s a moment forever hidden in the tomb.
What we know
is that the tomb could not contain him;
he was too explosively alive,
too real, too true,
to be wrapped up and moulder away
in a mausoleum.

There are two great Easter traditions -
two foundations to the resurrection gospel:
the first is that the tomb
in which they laid the body of Jesus
was empty on the morning of Easter day.
Despite the efforts of those
who have wanted to prove
that Jesus is dead and buried,
the tomb of Jesus always turns up empty.

And the second Easter tradition
is of appearances.
Jesus appeared to people.
First to Mary Magdalene, then Peter,
then to the rest of the disciples except Thomas,
then to Thomas too - as we’ll read next week.
Among those amazing early encounters
is the one we read today -
with Cleopas and his companion -
and their companion - on the road.
Luke puts this encounter in,
first, to represent this important part
of the Easter tradition,
and, second, to tell us how we, also,
can share life with the risen Jesus.

Luke tells us this story,
and he tells it in this form,
because he also wants all of us to encounter Jesus.
Cleopas isn’t named in the list of disciples
because it isn’t only the 12
who share that last supper with him.
The story of the Emmaus road
only makes sense if Cleopas - and his companion -
were there when Jesus broke the bread
and gave it to his friends.
Cleopas and his companion
couldn’t have remembered and recognised Jesus
if they hadn’t seen him break the bread before -
so they had to have been there
when Jesus called
all his disciples together.
Luke also makes a point of telling us
that the circle of the disciples
was almost always larger than the 12.
Others were there -
and among those others
there would also have been women -
like Mary of Bethany, or Mary Magdalene,
or his mother Mary, or Joanna,
or maybe the companion
Cleopas walked with on the road to Emmaus.
Maybe among those others
there would also have been children;
in fact, to share a Passover meal
without a child or two
would have been quite strange.
As we remembered on Thursday night,
children had a special role at the Passover meal.
Children always asked the questions
needed to get God’s story of redemption
started and retold.

Easter turns things upside-down.
When we start thinking
that Easter is about something
that happened long ago and far away,
Luke puts us in the picture.
Luke wants us to understand
that the disciples of Jesus
aren’t limited to the 12.
There was room at that table for Cleopas;
there was room for his companion,
and if there’s room for them,
then there’s room for us.
And that’s important,
because, if we also want to meet the risen Jesus -
if we also want
to discover that Jesus travels with us
on whatever road we take;
if we want our hearts to burn within us,
finding the hope and light of the stories of faith;
if we want to be part of the Easter tradition
and know that Jesus is still alive -
even now, 2000 years later -
then what we’ve done this weekend,
and what we’ll be doing next Sunday,
and all the Sundays after that,
is exactly what we need to do -
because it’s when we read the Bible together,
looking for threads of meaning
and promises of liberation,
renewed and deepened and fulfilled
in the life of Jesus …
it’s when we do that,
and then when we share
in the breaking of the bread,
that our world will be turned upside-down,
we will also discover
that Jesus is risen;
Jesus is here,
living and healing and working
and serving among us.