“God on the Loose” A Resurrection Sermon
(As always the actual sermon differs some in content,but this is a rendering of a version of the sermon.)
“God is on the Loose!”
by Andrew Kukla
Luke 24: 1-35
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and 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, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”
So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This has been quite the week, not this particular year – every year, it is quite the week. It is a week of parades and cheering, of betrayals and sobbing. It is a week of great highs and great lows. It is – for all of that – a very real week. Its messy, it’s turbulent. It’s out of control.
We don’t necessarily like to think of it that way, we like to think of everything as being under control. It’s all a part of God’s plan, it’s all intended, necessary, scripted out. We are here because God wanted it that way. That is what we wish to believe about the turbulent times in our life… but along the way in truth it feels all out of control. Our lives, and the story of this week as well: cheering crowds when they should have been mourning, fearful people when they should have been cheering. Just as they knew Jesus was coming to die but didn’t really get it so they cheered his coming to die, now they should know that Jesus told them he would rise again, but given a firsthand account that Jesus isn’t in the tomb any more they still think it’s just an idle tale… women being women.
Funny that the men dismiss the women for being idle, when the women are the ones out and about and the men are hiding away. The women had gathered, they came together, Mary and Martha and Joanna and the others, to put the spices on Jesus’ body for burial. They hadn’t had time when he died. The Sabbath began on Friday evening through Saturday evening and so when he died they had no time to do so. Jesus’ body lay unprepared sealed in the tomb waiting for them to have time to attend to it, and as early as they could on Sunday morning they gathered the necessary supplies and set out to attend to his body’s final preparations.
So early Sunday morning, this morning, they set out with each other for company and they went to the tomb not expecting anything out of the ordinary prepared to do the very ordinary task of anointing this body for burial in death. But they get to the tomb and it’s open. Ever had one of those moments where you come home and you find you have left the front door open or that it has been opened (not that I would ever accidently leave a door wide open) and your first thought isn’t that something that is inside has gotten out… but that someone that was outside has broken in. Now in Jesus’ case it wouldn’t have been grave robbers because he was a poor man who died the poorest of men but they would have worried that it was broken in to for desecration… he died in shame and very unpopular after all. So now maybe they ran in expecting to see the worst and what they see is… nothing. No body. His body is gone, its been taken… what is going on???
Here they are to prepare his body in death but it is gone and now these grieving women are also confused and angry – “why can’t anything about this story go right? All we want to do is prepare his body and mourn this man we loved.” And then…
Then suddenly a man is there – an angel is there, we know it’s an angel because angels are always greeted in fear and the women are struck to the ground by their fear… kneeling before him as he says, so matter of factly – why do you look for the living among the dead? Why are you here?
This has been a week of questions, fitting because Jesus has a ministry of questions and questioning. And the question now is why do you look for the living among the dead? Why are do you expect to find him here… dead… lying in the tomb? Don’t you remember? Don’t you remember what he told you? His life cannot be contained. Not by the laws, not by the Pharisees or the chief priests, not by Rome or your own desires for who he will be… and not by death. Jesus life cannot be contained by any of our structures. And then they remembered!
They remembered – that word has weight, it claimed them this memory – they remember that indeed the angel right, Jesus is turbulent, Jesus turns expectations upside down, turns the world upside down, why didn’t we expect this – of course he isn’t here, of course he wouldn’t treat death any differently than he treated life. We should have expected an empty tomb because Jesus doesn’t play by any rule book – certainly not ours. So they run to tell the other disciples.
Have you had that moment when you are bursting with good news and you just have to tell anyone, everyone, but certainly your closest friends – and they couldn’t just text them so they ran to tell them… and hit a brick wall… a brick wall of unbelief. The disciples say.. poor Mary and Martha… Joanna… sit down –you must be tired. And they’d wink at each other… “sit down Mary, we all miss him, and we know how hard this must be, but he’s dead. I know it’s hard, I’m broken up by it too but he’s dead.” Now while they console the women (who I’m sure are wondering what is going on again because they don’t need to be consoled).. While this is happening Peter has slipped out and run to the tomb because Peter is eager.. always eager to find good news.
And he looks in the tomb and he finds the tomb empty… no angel for Peter, no risen Lord yet but an empty tomb and he’s amazed. We do not hear that he believes, but he is amazed. His world is rocked, he who is the Rock in no longer on sure ground… he comes back to – well we actually don’t know what reception with the disciples, but we know it’s not belief because we have this others story.
Two disciples travel and talking, and sad about the events of this day. They are not two of the twelve but of the larger body and they know all the inside scoop. “Did you hear that story about Mary… yah shame, she’ll be okay though…” and a stranger comes along and they stop their internal conversation. But they are surprised that he doesn’t seem informed about what is going on – surely everyone has heard, didn’t he read the Facebook statuses? The tomb is empty, this upstart Jesus’ body is gone, and the women of course are telling tales about it – oh I’m sure it’s a hoax, you can edit pictures and videos to show anything these days but they are telling tales and we don’t know what to make of it.
Interesting they don’t really trigger on Jesus next comment when he says – come on you guys! Really? This is the best you can muster? You still don’t get it do you???
Then Jesus begins to talk to them and teach them… how quickly Jesus turns the tables on them, on us. They were trying to tell Jesus what’s what and all of the sudden without them even noticing he is the one teaching them, bringing scripture to life about his life about life for the world. They don’t know its Jesus but their hearts are burning as he teaches them the way all things are made new… and when they reach a split in the road and Jesus makes as if to keep going they ask him to stop because the day is nearly over and won’t he stay and eat with them – they want more of this man’s teaching. And then Jesus – at table – breaks bread and that’s the moment they remembered. That’s the moment that they are claimed by the memory and they remembered and their eyes are opened. O! M! G! Oh my God, and he vanished, he’s gone. And they now know, and they believe, and they’ve been caught up in the turbulence of God and they are Mary and Joanna and the other women and they run back to gathered companions to tell them it is true – he is risen, he is risen indeed!
The story of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not actually primarily about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Oh it would seem that way right, it would seem like that is the story. But the real story that the Gospels would like to tell us, and they do it in different ways, but the story they really want to tell us is the process by which we begin to believe that Jesus is risen. The Gospel account are about us wrestling with what has already happened. In truth Jesus has already risen before any of the story telling begins. No idea when he actually rose, just that the first time they go to check it out it’s already happened. The story we have to tell is the story of the process by which we begin to believe that Jesus is in fact has risen, God is on the loose!
The disciples, women and men, traveled to a tomb to find a body and they find emptiness. And then an angel visits them, Jesus visits the two, and by the time they make it back to Jerusalem – did you catch this tidbit, by the time they make it back those gathered are talking about Simon being visited as well. God is on the loose! Jesus’ life will not be contained, not even by death. Jesus is not to be found in one place but all over the place, he’s so much on the move he is vanishing before our very eyes once our eyes are open… God is on the loose – God has places to go, people to see.
This is not a moment to linger in, the world is turning on its axis – death has been defied, the rules have been shattered. Every effort that has been made to contain God to pin God down, to make God obey our desires has been shattered and God is on the loose – to tomb is empty, and everything is made new.
The question is – do we believe it? Why do you look for the living among the dead – don’t look for God in what was, but what is and is becoming, God has places to go and people to see and its time for us to catch up, to get caught up in that newness.
Remember – my body broken for you, remember – my life poured out for you, remember my commandment- love one another as I have loved you. This is the work of Resurrection.
And the question is not – is he risen? But what are we doing about it, how are we living resurrection in the life of the world, and how is the world different today than it was yesterday. Not just different but more life affirming, life giving, more abundance of God’s goodness and grace.
We know the story and how easily the story become routine for us. We put on pretty pastel dressed, we play big music with extra musicians and we ALL come so church on this day because it is what we do – but how do we live different tomorrow because of today? Today means nothing if the world isn’t changing because of it.
Let us repeat that again because it pretty much sums up everything Paul will ever say, if tomorrow is different than yesterday because of today than today was meaningless – Christ’s death was meaningless.
We don’t gather to simply say He is risen, Alleluia, Amen. Christ doesn’t our storytelling to end there… what Jesus wants for us is to also be on the move – on the loose, that we too have places to go and people to see and when we do it we do it as Christ – as resurrection people, whose lives give life, whose stories preach good news. Whose words and ways and actions speak resurrection, not for ourselves but for the life of the world.
Do not look for the living among the dead – but BE the living among the dead! Thanks be to God, Amen.
One final comment, from the Benediction. Note that when we do the resurrection call and response we say: “He is risen…. He is risen, indeed.” Intriguingly if we play with that we are saying that the resurrection happens, in deed. Its not about words, but actions. We do not say that the resurrection is real, we are meant to LIVE that the resurrection is real. Make is so!