This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning for Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Day). The gospel text was Luke 24:1-12.
Previously on “The Gospel of Luke”:
Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. He wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb. The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee saw this, and then went home to prepare spices. The Sabbath was beginning, so they rested, according to the commandment.
And now, today’s episode of “The Gospel of Luke”!
Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and the other Mary walked slowly to the tomb. Joanna was carrying an armful of spices. The Mary’s had offered to help carry them, but she insisted on carrying them herself. Typical Joanna. “I can barely see,” Joanna said. “The sun hasn’t even come up yet. Couldn’t we have waited another half hour to leave?”
Mary Magdalene replied, “No, Joanna. We have to get these spices on his body as soon as possible. You know that.”
Joanna said, “Huh. I know. Normally, we’d anoint the body with spices the day after he died. But since it was the Sabbath, we had to wait until the Sabbath ended, and now we have to hurry. But if I’d known it would be this dark, I would have suggested we come back last night, right after the sunset. Sabbath was over then!”
The other Mary pointed toward the east. “Look, Joanna. You can see the very start of twilight. It will be light by the time we get the stone rolled away.”
Mary Magdalene coughed. “Yeah, about that,” she said. “I was thinking about that. What if…what if we can’t roll the stone away? Sometimes those stones are quite big.”
Joanna sighed. “Great. I carried all these spices here for nothing.”
The other Mary put her hand on Joanna’s shoulder and said, “Well, all that carrying has been a good workout. Your arms should be plenty strong to move it.” They all laughed.
Then Mary Magdalene said, “And what if – oh, what if I can’t take it? I don’t know if I can see him in the tomb like that. What if I can’t do this.”
The other Mary said, “Mary, we’ve done this before. We’ve all buried people we love. It’s hard, but we get through it. You’re not alone. We’re here.” They stopped walking, and the Mary’s embraced. “Thank you,” Magdalene said. Joanna said, “I’d join the hug, but,” she looked down at her arms, “spices.” They laughed again, and then kept walking.
“Look!” said the other Mary. “I can see the tomb. It’s right up ahead.”
A few minutes later, they arrived. But they weren’t prepared for what they saw. The stone that had blocked the tomb was now lying about ten yards to the right of the entrance. The tomb was wide open. They all stared for a minute, then Mary Magdalene said, “Oh no. What if someone has taken his body away?”
“Who would do that?” asked the other Mary.
All three of them looked in the tomb. There was nothing there. It was as empty as it had been on Friday morning. They were all confused and perplexed. Finally, Joanna said, “Well, this is lovely. What am I supposed to do with all these spices? Aahhh!” She jumped in surprise, and dropped half of the spices on the ground. Two jars shattered. “Who are you?” she said.
All three women were shocked to suddenly see two men next to them, wearing dazzling bright clothing. The sun was just coming up, right behind them, rays of light dancing off their hair and clothing. One of the men tilted his head, and said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Mary Magdalene whispered, “What if…”
The other Mary said to the men, “We’re not looking for someone living. We’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth.”
The second man shook his head, and said, “Jesus isn’t here right now. Can I take a message for him? Perhaps you’d like to leave a card.”
Joanna said, “Fine. We’ll leave him these spices.”
The man said, “Spices?”
The other Mary explained, “They’re funeral spices, to anoint a body.”
The men laughed, and the first one said, “Oh, Jesus won’t be needing those. He might be interested in a good piece of broiled fish, but not funeral spices. Remember.”
“Remember what?” asked Mary Magdalene.
“Remember what he told you back in Galilee. That he had to die, and rise again on the third day.”
“Yeah, but…” said the other Mary.
“But what?” asked the second man.
“But…that was real?” she stammered out.
The men smiled, and both pointed into the tomb. “Look,” they said.
By now the sun had fully risen. The women left all the spices there, and ran.
Meanwhile, the eleven apostles, along with a few others, were all huddled into a small house in Jerusalem. They had been hiding out here since Thursday night, when Jesus was arrested. Suddenly the door burst open. A few of them gasped. James and John clung to one another in fear. They thought for sure it was the Romans or the priests, come to get them too. But it wasn’t. It was Joanna and the two Mary’s. They rushed in, and said, “He’s alive! The tomb is empty! And we saw some, I don’t know, angels, I guess!”
Some of the apostles shook their heads. Others looked down. “Nonsense,” someone said. “An idle tale,” said another. “Don’t listen to them,” said another. “Death is death,” someone else said. Peter, big burly Peter, sitting in the corner farthest from the door, stayed quiet.
Mary Magdalene shouted over them, “Wait! Remember what he told us back in Galilee? That he would rise in three days?”
“That was just a metaphor!” one of them shouted. The rest kept shaking their heads. John, who was sitting next to Peter, said quietly, “What if…” Peter looked at him, intrigued. “These are all just stories!” someone said. “Jesus always told stories. This is just more stories.” Everybody was starting to argue.
John said a little louder, “Yes, but what if…” Peter was still staring at him, his eyes growing wider. The women were exasperated. Nobody believed them. Suddenly, there was a loud crash. Everybody got quiet, and looked at Peter. He was standing up, and there was a stool lying next to him, broken. “Sorry, that was an accident,” he said. Then he said, “I’m going,” and before anyone could respond, he ran across the room, and out the door. The room shook a little with every heavy footfall. Two cups fell to the floor, spilling water. John said, “Peter! You…umm…forgot your shoes,” holding up a pair of sandals, but Peter was long gone. Mary Magdalene stepped out the door to look, and then came back in. “He’s on his way to the tomb.”
The whole conversation changed at this point. Instead of arguing with the women, the apostles started talking to one another in small groups. Joanna and the other Mary got pulled into the conversation. Mary Magdalene closed the door behind her and leaned on it, listening and watching the others. There was a new life in the room. Everybody was talking. Mary could hear snippets of it, words and phrases and the occasional sentence. She heard things like this:
- “What if it’s true?”
- “What if those stories he told, what if they were real?”
- “What if he really is the Messiah?”
- “What if it wasn’t just a metaphor?”
- “What if God’s love is real?”
- “What if God really did this?”
- “What if we get to see him again?”
- “What if our lives are never the same again?”
- “What if this was just the beginning?”
Suddenly there was a knock on the door. Everyone looked up. Mary smiled and said, “What if…”