Monday, April 16, 2007

Ready or Not (Luke 24:1-12)

Well, one thing’s for sure: Nobody was ready for Easter.

They weren’t ready for what happened in the days before; first the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and then the crash and burn of the arrest, mock “trial” and crucifixion.

People who thought he was a popular religious leader and teacher probably wondered why the religious leadership wanted him dead so badly. Those followers who thought he was the Messiah weren’t ready for an end like this to their hopes. The Messiah was to bring the restoration of the united Kingdom of Israel – not die on a Roman cross. Other followers, who had responded to his message of love and concern, weren’t ready to see the end of the man who had been the first, if not the only, person to treat them as people with dignity and value. He’d given their lives meaning, and they certainly didn’t want to see that end.

But the women – sensible in the face of the tragedy in a way women often seem to manage quite well – realized that like it or not, they had a dead body to deal with, and no one had the time to properly prepare it for burial in the cave tomb. Religious and cultural customs required certain things be done for a decent burial, and if no one else was going to do them, well, they’d just take care of it themselves.

Tomb burial was temporary – as soon as the body had decayed, the dry bones were sealed in an urn, often kept with other such urns in s family plot or cave. Certain spices and oils helped make the decay a little less unpleasant and a little cleaner. So the women had prepared these mixtures and were headed to the tomb Sunday morning to take care of this last act for their beloved teacher.

Of course the large stone would have to be moved, but there were soldiers guarding the tomb, and surely they could shift it so they could do what needed doing.

Perhaps they discussed their task as they walked along; pointing out who was good at this part of the burial, and who was better at another part. They might have prepared themselves for the odor they would likely encounter, or rehearsed how they might convince the soldiers to move the stone. They were about to do something necessary, but unpleasant, so they tried to make themselves ready for anything they might encounter.

But ain’t no way they were ready for what they found. No soldiers. No stone. And no body. That was incredible enough, but perhaps they’d heard of people so low they would desecrate the dead. Then things went completely beyond anything they could have imagined – two men in shining clothes appeared and said Jesus had risen, just as he had said he would.

They weren’t ready for what they ran into. They were ready for something, but not what actually happened. The remaining disciples weren’t ready for this either, disbelieving what the women told them.

I’ve yet to live a half-century, but I’ve picked up on a couple of things so far. One of them is that people never really seem to be ready for an Easter. Sure, it jumps around on the calendar so we don’t always know when it will be, but that’s not exactly what I mean.

It seems we make ourselves ready for the worst that can happen, if for no other reason than to be able to say, “I told you so” when it does happen. And when the worst does happen, then we seem to think that’s the end of the situation. A disease is terminal. A friendship is broken. A job is lost. A life is ended. And that’s it, game over.

But we’re never ready for the Easter. Well, “never” is too strong. Some people are. Some people seem to be ready for the transformation of what looks like a dead end. And probably most of us have, one time or another, found ourselves still hoping in a situation where hope has no reason to exist.

It takes faith to look for an Easter to follow whatever Good Friday we might experience. Faith that even if we can’t really see all of what’s going on, God can, and God’s sight includes possibilities as far beyond what we imagine as resurrection was beyond what Jesus’ followers looked for.

I don’t mean naïve optimism. Christianity deals with hard realism. Jesus, after all, died an awful death, and that death was real. I mean the kind of faith that accepts reality but doesn’t stop there. It says, “This is real, but it isn’t all there is.”

It’s not necessarily easy, which is probably why most of us fail sometimes. The disciples had Jesus himself spell it out for them and Good Friday devastated them so much they couldn’t accept his teaching. We live in the same kind of Good Friday world and we don’t even have Jesus in the flesh teaching us who he was and what he was here to do.

But at least one day, every year, we can remind ourselves that Sunday’s coming. We identify ourselves with that claim. Yes, it’s a Good Friday world for sure. But Sunday’s coming. Easter’s coming.

Are you ready for some good news?

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