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The Rev. Chris Thomas The Rev. Chris Thomas

The Rev. Chris Thomas serves as the pastor of First Baptist Church of Williams, Jacksonville, Alabama

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First Baptist Church of Williams, Jacksonville, Alabama


Resurrection Moments (a sermon)

April 01, 2013

On our coffee table at home is a simple, two-sided glass picture frame. On one side of the frame is one of Sallie and my engagement pictures, taken by a friend of ours about seven years ago. On the other side of the frame is a different sort of picture. It's a picture that was taken over the Fourth of July weekend of 2008 in San Antonio, Texas: we're standing in front of The Alamo. Now, I have to tell you, The Alamo (for those of you who've never been) isn't exactly what you'd expect-at least it wasn't what I was expecting.

For whatever reason, I was expecting to be halfway to the desert, at least on the outskirts of San Antonio, looking for this big, antique, stone building, scarred from its famous battle and years of weathering in the South Texas sun. I was expecting to see the kind of building John Wayne defended as Davy Crocket; I was thinking we'd drive up to a wide, concrete parking lot, with a huge, tan, castle-looking structure in the distance. What we found, however, was nothing like what I was expecting.

The morning we were going to visit The Alamo we got dressed in comfortable walking clothes (I figured we'd need to be comfortable to walk in the near-desert climate on the way to the site), hopped in the car, and started following the brown road signs marking the way to The Alamo. Well, before too long I realized we were driving in downtown San Antonio (I remember thinking how strange it was that we would have to cut through downtown...). But before long, we found ourselves parking between the office buildings that rose up like giant saguaro (suh-wah-ro) cacti all over the city, and we continued following the signs on foot. Then it just sort of snuck up on us: we turned the corner of a construction-clogged city street to find ourselves almost directly in front of an old, dust-colored building no higher than a two-story house. We found The Alamo, stuck between the modern buildings of downtown San Antonio like a lost remote control in the couch cushions. It wasn't at all what I was expecting: it was in the middle of the city and it seemed way too small, but it's strange when you find something you weren't expecting and it changes your perspective.

You see, finding The Alamo in downtown San Antonio among the polished steel, the glistening glass, the paint-striped asphalt, and concrete sidewalks, immediately made me aware of the reality that this modern city wasn't always so modern. It made me greatly aware that this little mission-turned-fortress must have indeed been something of a miraculous battleground as Santa Anna as his troops laid siege for thirteen days on the troops inside. I think if I had found what I expected to find-an antique Texas relic drying on the edge of the wilderness-I may not have been so captivated by its story. But you know, it really is something when you find what you weren't expecting and it changes your perspective.

I'm sure Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were expecting something completely different when, on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. I'm sure they expected to find in the darkness of early dawn, a heavy stone disk securely sealing the entrance to the rock-hewn tomb. I'm sure they expected to ask for help once they arrived since the men who had so closely followed Jesus in his life have now scattered and are in hiding after his death. I'm sure they expected to brace themselves for the stench of decomposition as they entered the tomb to treat the corpse of their beloved friend and teacher they expected to find inside. I'm sure they carried with them all kinds of expectations about death, graves, corpses, and grief, but when they arrived at the tomb that morning, they did not find what they expected to find...they found something else entirely, and what they found changed their perspective, changed their lives.

Luke tells us "They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body." The same Greek word is used there talking about what the women found, εὗρον: they expected to find (εὗρον), a stone blocking the way, and they expected to find (εὗρον) the body of Jesus inside. But they found, instead, what they weren't expecting: the tomb was empty and the body of Jesus gone. Had someone taken the body? Were they in the wrong place (it was dark after all)? Was this some kind of cruel joke, a final rubbing of salt in the wound to his followers? Upon finding anything but what they expected, the women "were perplexed about this." But before they had time to figure out what was going on, "suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them"-this certainly isn't what they were expecting, because Luke records their response to this sudden appearance of dazzling men in verse 5: "The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground." These unexpected, angelic figures speak to the confused and frightened women "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."

That's all it took, a little reminder of words they had heard along the way, and in a literary instant, these women go from perplexed and terrified to being the first, joy-filled proclaimers of the truth-"returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest." But there again, their story isn't what the elven and all the rest were expecting. After all, these were women in the first-century and they were grief-stricken, so maybe they don't have the most credibility among a bunch of first-century Jewish men.

In fact, Luke tells us in verses 11 and 12: "But [the women's] words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb." The men, hiding out in some undisclosed location, don't believe the women, yet there was something that caused Peter to run and "double-check."

Now, I wonder what Peter expected to find. Perhaps he expected to find what the women had expected to find earlier: an intact tomb, the body of Jesus, three-days-dead, inside. Maybe, in the clearer light of a later morning, Peter expected to discover the truth behind what those women had claimed to see, perhaps he expected he might even discover that they had indeed been at the wrong tomb all along. But when Peter arrived at the tomb, "stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves." He didn't see what he expected to see-all he saw were the linen grave cloths and nothing else. "[T]hen he went home, amazed at what had happened."

That's all it took-one look inside the tomb, not a personal appearance from Jesus himself, not some sort of resurrection note in Jesus' own post-death hand-one look, and Peter went from a hiding, doubtful disciple, to an amazed witness. Peter didn't find what he expected: he found something different, and it changed his life.

In those first resurrection moments of that first Resurrection Morning, the unexpected transformed perplexed, terrified women into excited, sure witnesses. In those first resurrection moments of that first Resurrection Morning, the unexpected transformed a denying, doubtful disciple into an amazed apostle. That's what resurrection moments are: unexpected, transformative moments that can change our lives if we are receptive to their truth. Peter, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women were all transformed by these resurrection moments-moments that revealed to them the truth that Christ is who he said he is, moments that might otherwise leave one perplexed, terrified, or amazed.

Of course, these sorts of resurrection moments still happen in our presence today. They are those unexpected, transformative moments that might otherwise leave us scratching our heads wondering, "Why?" They are not moments surrounding an empty, borrowed tomb, but those moments of undeserved kindness: when one offers to help pay for the groceries of a total stranger in line at the market, when the piano player at my home church slips a twenty into my hand after church just because she wants to. They aren't moments highlighted by the presence of a once-dead corpse, but moments marked by the very real presence of the body of Christ: when a congregation comes together to rebuild its community and help to feed hungry children, when a body of believers unites in order to make sure the elderly in its community are loved and looked after, when a church is more than brick walls a and a whit steeple. These resurrection moments don't always happen in the dim light of early dawn, but they happen in the cold nights when a warm blanket and a hot meal are offered to the one who needs it, when friends and family gather around a child the day she has to lay her mother in the ground.

Resurrection moments are happening all around us, every day. They are those moments when the reality of the living Christ is made known by the testimony-the words and actions-of those who believe that Jesus is who he said he is. Because you see, the great thing about this retelling of Jesus' resurrection in Luke's gospel is that the women who first saw the empty tomb-a resurrection moment if ever there was one!-ran to tell others. They ran to create more resurrection moments as they shared the good news of Christ's resurrection. We are called to do the same. We are called to make the resurrection of Christ a reality in the lives of those around us-and not only through the retelling of the story of that first Easter, but through the way we live our lives for others.

We make Christ's resurrection a reality-creating resurrection moments-when we go out of our way, sacrificing our time, money, or resources, in order to bring food, comfort, joy, or love to someone else. We create resurrection moments when we hear the bad news of the world-poverty, sickness, hatred, injustice-and we seek the Good News to the world by striving to right those wrongs. We create resurrection moments when we gather together to relive the story, when we gather around the bread and the cup, for while we eat and drink to commemorate Christ suffering and death, we eat and drink together with our brothers and sisters throughout the world and the ages of time.

And when we, the Body of Christ, come together around the table, Jesus is alive in our midst-it is truly a resurrection moment.
Amen.


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