"But, Guess What?" - Luke 24:1-12
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking with them the spices they had prepared. They saw the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, but when they went in, they did not see the body.
While they were perplexed about this, suddenly there appeared before them two men, in dazzling white. The women were terrified and they bowed their faces to the ground. But the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must suffer at the hands of sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day, rise again.” Then they remembered his words and they left the tomb and told all of this to the eleven and all the rest.
Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James who told this to the disciples. But their words seemed to them and idle tale and they didn’t believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb. Stooping and looking inside, he saw the linen cloths lying there. And he went home, amazed at what had happened.
As usual, I’ve been stewing about an Easter Sunday sermon or a few weeks now, wondering what new, different, noteworthy thing could be said about the Good News of it all, again, this year. I’ve been noodling this version of the story from Luke 24 around for days, wondering what word or turn of phrase would get my attention and be meaningful and have something to say for us. Words like “perplexed,” “dazzling white,” “terrified,” “amazed,” all have emotions and images attached to them that gave me some possibility, for sure. But, I imagine academic, exegetical, theological treatises and sermons and volumes have been written and preached and taught about all of that ad nauseam over the years. So, I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired to add to it.
And then I remembered something. If you were here last week for the 10:45 a.m. Children’s Sermon, with “The Box,” you might have noticed. Kyle Stamper had loaded “The Box” with super-heroes – Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, and Wolverine, to be specific. And it made a nice children’s sermon, I thought, about how Jesus is the real, surprising super hero in all of this, Lenten/Easter stuff, because he’s weak, not strong; he’s humble, not proud; he’s gentle, not mighty. In other words, Jesus’ superpowers aren’t anything comic books would consider powerful or mighty or worthwhile, in any way, really.
And as I was doing my best to share all of that with the kids during the Children’s Sermon last week, Kyle kept interrupting me and talking over me and adding his own two cents in the cutest, most profound and persistent way. He just kept saying, “but guess what…” “but guess what…” “but guess what…” (It’s much cuter when Kyle says it.)
And I decided, in some ways, there’s nothing more or less than that to Easter’s good news.
“BUT, on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb.”
If you didn’t catch it the first time around, that’s how our Easter Gospel begins for today…that little three-letter word…and that’s how Easter’s Good News is always supposed to sound for us. “BUT, on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb.” And guess what…
See, that little three-letter word matters, because just before what we heard this morning some horrible things had happened, right?
Jesus was betrayed. Jesus was arrested. Jesus was denied by his friends. He was whipped and crowned with thorns and spit upon and pierced and crucified and left for dead on the cross. Jesus was wrapped in linen grave clothes and buried in some stranger’s tomb. The disciples were likely in hiding, afraid for their lives. The women left him in that tomb and went home to rest on the Sabbath, because that’s what good, faithful Jewish women were supposed to do, even in their grief.
“BUT, on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb.” And guess what?
This is the good news of Easter, people: “But, guess what…?” “But, guess what…?” “But, guess what…?”
There’s been another terrorist attack in Belgium. Dozens have died. Hundreds are injured. BUT… on the first day of the week…they went to the tomb. And guess what?
Our country is confused and confounded about who our next President should or should not be. It seems at least half of us are going to be disappointed, no matter which way this all goes. BUT…on the first day of the week…they went to the tomb. And guess what?
He still can’t find a job… her relationship is failing…the cancer won’t go away… … the addiction seems to be winning…they lost the baby. But, guess what…? But, guess what…? But, guess what…?
Now, don’t get me wrong. None of this is that easy. I don’t mean to minimize or simplify or pretend that the struggles of our daily lives and the fears that keep us up at night can or should be dismissed with a simple “but…” because we all know things are never that easy.
But, guess what? It’s always been that way. And that’s been faith’s story and God’s promise and humanity’s hope, since the beginning of time.
The story of Adam and Eve tells us they were banished from the garden, but guess what? God wouldn’t lock them out forever. The flood happened in the days of Noah, and all hell broke loose, but guess what? God promised never to let that happen again. The chosen ones wandered in the wilderness for a really long time, but guess what? God fed them and led them and showed them a way home. And then there was Jesus – again crucified and left for dead – but guess what? He wasn’t/he isn’t in the tomb any longer, and we don’t have to be either.
God’s good news for us at Easter is as persistent and as earnest as a child’s best intentions: “But, guess what?”
It’s not trite. It is the Truth.
In response to our darkest days, our greatest fears, our deepest misgivings, our loneliest moments, our ugliest sins, our most profound failures – and we all have them – we are invited to show up at the empty tomb and hear God say, “But, guess what…?”
Guess what…none of that is here – not the darkness any longer, not the fear, not the sins, not the failure. Guess what? It’s been obliterated, forgiven, undone, raised – as far as God’s concerned – and it doesn’t need to hold sway over your life anymore.
So let’s consider Good Friday’s cross in the light of this new day. Let’s remember or see there all the ugliness that was heaped upon God’s very own self, in Jesus. Let’s acknowledge the sadness and shame of whatever that means for each of us – and let’s acknowledge the death – literal and figurative – that it leads to for all of us. And let’s be as surprised and as amazed and as filled with joy as those women, and as Peter, and as the first disciples, too, once they finally received the news: because guess what… God always wins. Love always wins. Light and life and forgiveness and mercy and second chances always win, in Jesus Christ our Lord, crucified and risen for the sake of the world.
Amen. Alleluia. Happy Easter.