The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Reflection for Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016 Based on Luke 24: 1-12

With thanks to those in my circle of colleagues and friends who have sent me good thoughts and wishes anticipating this year’s Easter Sunday message!

For that anonymous thoughtful congregant who tucked a newspaper clipping in my office door from the Courier about VST’s Rev. Dr. Harry Maier’s two part interview questioning the need for the resurrection, I look forward to Part Two of the article!

To another friend who on Facebook drew to my attention the Gretta Vosper interview on The National this weekend-worth watching!

To an Alberta colleague whose own writing reminded me of German theologian Dorothee Solle’s poem, “When He Came” taken from her book ‘Revolutionary Patience’ (1977) , I say, thanks and thanks again and commend all of you to these resources!

For my part, this morning, I want to concentrate on story telling because for me, that’s what the gospel is, particularly this story taken from the twenty fourth chapter of Luke’s gospel this morning.

Anticipating the story, I am taking that proverbial leap of faith in risking sharing some of the puzzle pieces of my own faith story; a story in which disbelief, doubt, rejection, abandonment, and amazement have been important in laying some of the foundation of my own call to ministry. 

Let us, begin, then, with a prayer: Holy One, we gather to celebrate the good news of Easter despite living in world where brutality, rejection, abandonment, death, and destruction continually dominate the landscape of our lives. From the comfort of this, our church home, we gather knowing this-there is much to be done on behalf of the hungry and homeless, the fearful, and the lost, the isolated and alone. We come this day, in hope and in faith that our stories from scripture will shed light on how we, too, can become agents of healing and hope in a broken and ailing world.   Be with us as we hear once again the ancient story of how hope is born in the midst of trauma, doubt, disbelief, rejection, abandonment, and then the amazed response to the good news of your new creation.  May it be so, amen.

When I was a girl of fourteen, my father announced at the dinner table one spring evening, that the whole family would be going to Disneyland this year! I was struck dumb in my disbelief. Over and against that truth, was a dizzying sense of crazy hope growing in my heart that, maybe, just maybe my Dad was telling the truth and that surprising turn of events would come to pass!

Mostly, though I was stuck in a place of disbelief. That is, until I saw the affirming light in my mother’s eye and the slightest nod of her head. Indeed, her body language confirmed we were going there!

Disneyland proved to be all it was cracked up to be and more and could, in itself, segue into its own sermon, but, not today. Still, the story of my surprise at my father’s announcement and all it held for my learning to trust in something that seemed quite unfathomable to me at the time, I will long remember.

Fast forward to another snapshot of my life at about the age of 18 when I was just getting launched into post secondary education. When my mother told me in no uncertain terms, from her own lived experience, that ‘its not what you know, but who you know’, I was having none of it. You might even say, I needed to reject this new idea in my naïve and optimistic understanding of the world and my own sense of ‘yet to be tested’ self. I rejected the idea of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ because it was my deeply held belief that I could achieve whatever I might choose to aim for without any help from anything or anyone.

I held firm to this belief until some years later when a wise vocational mentor guided me through a very challenging time in my post secondary education. Why did he do this? He did this just because he was a kind and wise person. You see, when I had lost faith in my own abilities, he had not and that made all the difference for me in that first call to a vocation that pre-dated my call to ministry by some 30 years.

What I learned from both him and my mother was that striving for what we believe in costs and sometimes the costs require compromise, struggle, humility, and an openness to that which seems illogical or even unfathomable.

Some years later, I had another extreme test of all I had understood about faith and being human until that point in time. And this had to do with a significant death in the life of my family.

I recall vividly the day when my father spoke to me about his life coming to its end, and I, for one, was having none of it. How could he be in the final chapter of his life, just because the calendar ticked over from 68 to 69? Once again, you might say I needed to reject this information for which there seemed no basis nor substance.

Even when my father pointed out the family history of his siblings having all passed at the same age, I, still, was having none of it. Soon after, however, we discovered that truth that my father was very sick. In fact, he died just a few short months after that pronouncement.

This, too, is one of those faith and character forming stories from my life which moved me from disbelief to compromise, from feelings of rejection and abandonment, to embracing my own struggle with faith and my own acceptance of the mystery of God’s abiding presence that I believe lies at the heart of all our interactions.

This pattern of needing to disbelieve, reject, abandon, and avoid compromise and struggle is common to our experience of being rational, intellectual human beings.

This need to reject that which, at first, seems unfathomable, and then finding new ways to be about re-membering in hope and in faith in something we know to be real though we cannot even begin to control or even understand it; this is what I believe happens to Mary and the others as they arrive at the empty tomb as described in Luke’s gospel on offer this morning.

Expecting to find Jesus’ body there ready for its proper burial, the women are overwhelmed at finding the tomb empty.  Over the course of their conversation with two strangers in dazzling white, they start to remember and put together some of the puzzle pieces of what Jesus had predicted would happen leading up to and upon his arrival in Jerusalem.

With sudden clarity, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James, and the other women at the tomb find themselves running to tell the others the amazing good news that their beloved Jesus lives in some new way!

And what does the story tell us happens next?

Rejecting this unfathomable news, each of the eleven disciples tell the women that their proclamation of this good news is nothing but an idle tale! All except for Peter, that is.

You remember the story of Peter? He’s the one whose actions and commitment to follow in the way of Jesus often backfire on him?   Peter, the one who promises to follow Jesus and then promptly forgets, this same Peter, is the first of the 11, who finds himself hurrying back to the grave site.

What motivates his actions, we wonder?  Is he just needing to check the facts for himself? Is he having some guilty thoughts of not following through on broken promises?

The story does not explain. Rather, it just helps us to know something is changing in Peter in this very moment.

Having seen the empty tomb for himself, the story concludes simply with these words: “…then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”

The overlapping themes of doubt, disbelief, rejection, and abandonment that then segues into amazed recognition calling us as partners into God’s redemptive work in creation are familiar ones in the gospel according to Luke. Thinking back on Jesus’ visit to his hometown in Chapter 4, we remember how soundly he was rejected and nearly run off the cliff at Nazareth. And for what? For clarifying his self understanding as one come to liberate the oppressed, bring recovery of sight to the blind, and to preach the good news to the poor. Fortified by his own self understanding and clarity of mission, we recall how Jesus passes through the crowd’s midst unharmed.  

Nothing and no one, it seems was going to stop Jesus from taking up his role in God’s unfolding plan for the world.

For Jesus, Peter, and the women at the empty tomb in the gospel of Luke’s version of events, stunned disbelief followed by amazement at what they see, paves the way from witness and proclamation followed by unswerving discipleship and active participation in their own lives of faith.

Here in our story from Luke’s gospel this morning, we find ourselves caught up in the whirlwind of just one version of the perplexing and confusing account of the empty tomb.

In the sharing and in the remembering and recalling the events that came before Jesus’ death on the cross, we, like those first disciples, are invited into our own struggles with the mystery of new life that emerges out of death and dying.

It’s a story inviting us beyond the bounds of our narrow imaginations.

It’s a story inviting us to new calls to discipleship for how God’s redemptive work in the world can be born in the midst of gobsmacking disorientation and disbelief.

What might this story mean for you in your faith journey?

With whom will you choose to share this story of the empty tomb?

With whom might you re-visit your own stories of doubt, disbelief, struggle, and compromise?

To whom might you run and tell: ‘Come and see that death and destruction will not have the last word?’  

Look around and see, there are many of us here, eager and willing to be about that wondering, that sharing, and that commitment to new life in Christ.

We have all we need: open ears, hands, hearts, and a passion for caring and walking with one another in our own experiences of doubt, risk, despair, rejection, and abandonment that can segue into amazement and response.

The lengthy season of Easter is before us inviting us into yet more stories of how doubt and disbelief are transformed by faith and hope and experience.  For all this and more, let us turn now to a time of thankful prayer. Holy, gracious, and amazing God, who has come to us in Jesus, help us to remember that creeping ‘round the cross so as to avoid confrontation, struggle, and suffering will not bring your kingdom to pass. Help us learn, alone and together, to find ways of hearing and responding to one another’s experiences of your holy, grounding, life changing, and amazingly abundant love alive and at work in the very midst of our own faith struggles this first day of the Easter season. Help us learn to say ‘yes’ to the mystery of the empty tomb and ‘no’ to circumstances that bring death and destruction. Give us faith and give us courage that we might hear your call for our lives so as to be about the challenging work of building up the body of Christ within and beyond the walls of this church.

In the name of the living Christ, we pray: Alleluia! Amen.