What brings you here today? Is this the one day each year you come to church? Or maybe you come to church every week, rain or shine. “What? Today’s Easter? Cool.” Or maybe you bought a new hat last September and have been waiting for months to show it off. Or maybe you came to check out the new pastor. (I’m cool with that. I’m here to check you out, too. 😉 But my name is on the sign now. No turning back! 😉
Have you ever heard the term “Chreaster?” It describes folks who come to church two days a year–Christmas and Easter. When asked why some people only come to church on Christmas and Easter, one person said, “Because those are the only parts of the story they know.”
Which is why I consider Chreasters rock stars! Chreasters come for the two hardest parts of the Christian story! Virgin birth? Bodily resurrection? Yeah. That’s dicey stuff.
So…what brings you here today? What is your Easter story?
The Easter story of Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James, begins this way. On the first day of the week, at the first sign of dawn, the women came to the tomb bringing the spices they had prepared.
Just two days before, in what must have been a deeply traumatizing event, Jesus, their beloved teacher, had been executed. As the Sabbath approached, a tomb was hurriedly secured. Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb and a stone rolled over the entrance. Then, despite their shock, terror, and grief, Jesus’ followers must have done what they did every Sabbath–very little.
We get no info from any of the Gospel writers about what that Sabbath day was like. So often, when someone we love dies, we keep the grief at bay with busywork. Jesus’ followers didn’t have that luxury. Work was prohibited on the Sabbath. All that was left to them were their thoughts, their thoughts and their Sabbath practices….The lighting of the candle. The familiar prayers. The meal. All of it done together with family and friends.
It might seem strange to say it, but that Sabbath day must have been a gift to Jesus’ followers, gut-wrenching, yes, but also a gift. Left to their thoughts–and no means of distracting themselves–the reality of what had happened had the chance to sink in. At the same time, though, they were able to lean into the familiar rituals of the Sabbath. In the midst of their trauma and grief, they had the meal and the prayers, the companionship of family and friends, to ground them, to help them as they adjusted to their new reality–a world without their beloved Jesus.
As the sun rises on the third day after Jesus’ death–the signal that Sabbath was over– Luke tells us that Mary, Mary, and Joanna “bring the spices they had prepared.” So, when had they prepared them? If they leave the minute the Sabbath ends and the spices already had been prepared, they must have started the preparations immediately after Jesus died. And being from out of town, they likely had to run quickly to a merchant Friday afternoon, buy the spices, prepare them, and set them aside until the Sabbath was over.
Okay. So, your beloved teacher Jesus has just been executed. Would you have had the presence of mind to go buy death spices? Maybe you would have. Me? I probably would have been sitting in a corner sobbing somewhere. But…this isn’t my Easter story. This is the Easter story of Mary, Mary, and Joanna. Let’s get back to it…
They bring the spices to the tomb…and find the heavy stone rolled away. They’d come to prepare Jesus’ body for burial, but Jesus’ body wasn’t there. As they puzzle over this unexpected turn of events, two figures appear. Terrified, the women bow to the ground.
The figures speak. ‘Why do you search for the Living One among the dead? Jesus is not here; Christ has risen. Remember what Jesus said to you while still in Galilee–that the Chosen One must be delivered into the hands of sinners and be crucified, and on the third day would rise again.’
One of them, let’s say Joanna, hits her forehead with the heel of her hand and says, “Wait a minute. THIS is what he was talking about?” With this reminder, Luke tells us, the words of Jesus came back to them.
The three women rush back into town, find the 11 and tell them what has happened. Actually, Luke tells us that “the other women also” told the 11….so, on the way into town, Mary, Mary, and Joanna must have first stopped by the house and told the other women their story. The telling must have taken, because the women believed them.
But when all the women tell the 11 their Easter story, the disciples don’t believe them. The story seemed like nonsense (one translation calls them “idle tales”) and they refused to believe them. A group of men “refusing to believe” the stories of women? Yes. We could have some conversation about that…and perhaps will at some point.
But this isn’t the story of the 11, is it? This is the story of the two Marys and Joanna… The two Marys and Joanna experience something profound that Easter morning. What else could they do but share the good news with others? The fact that the 11 don’t believe them doesn’t change their story at all. The women’s story is their story, their Easter story. The 11 are living their own Easter stories. Each of them will tell their stories in their own ways based on their own experiences.
At the end of today’s story, Luke gives us a quick glimpse of Peter’s Easter story. Listen. Peter got up and ran to the tomb. He stooped down, but he could see nothing but the wrappings. So he went away, full of amazement at what had occurred.
I don’t know about you, but I grew up with this idea that there was only one Easter story and if I didn’t believe the one Easter story, pretty much, I was going to hell. But right here in Luke’s account of Easter morning, we encounter at least three Easter stories–the one experienced by the two Marys and Joanna, the one experienced by ten of the disciples, and the one experienced by Peter.
The truth is, we all have Easter stories….and chances are good they’re all different. Were we to gather on the porch after worship and tell each other our Easter stories, my guess is we’d be surprised at how different all our stories are.
So, what’s your Easter story? What role does a risen Jesus play in your life?
I want to tell you about my hat. This hat belonged to a friend of mine named Ellie. Ellie died last November, All Souls Day, of metastatic breast cancer. She was 86.
Ellie was a hat-wearer…all kinds of hats, except maybe church lady hats. After Ellie died, her hats were distributed to some of her friends. I picked this one, in part, because it was purple. Ellie adored the color purple. It also just “felt” like Ellie to me. Ellie’s partner, Bev, told me about a time when Ellie had loaned her the hat for a white water rafting trip. When the raft hit a rough patch, Bev went over. She wasn’t nearly as concerned for herself as she was for Ellie’s beloved hat. “Ellie’s hat!” cried. It was saved. It was drenched, but it was saved.
For much of her life, Ellie tried to live the narrative others had created for her. She married, had three children. Later in life, though, Ellie began living her most authentic narrative. She came out as a lesbian. Eventually, she found the first love of her life, Jeannie. They were the first gay couple in the state of California to have their union blessed by 70+ renegade United Methodist clergy. The ceremony took place in an arena.
By the time I knew Ellie, Jeannie had died and she and her new beloved, Bev, had moved to Asheville. The thing that struck me about Ellie is that she was always and only her true self. Once, when she was headed to Cherokee to do a little gambling, I told her I would pray for her. When she came back–reporting her losses–she asked me never again to pray for her gambling. I didn’t. With Ellie, there was zero pretense. She lived her life focused on justice, advocacy, and compassion. Ellie inspired many of us only to be our true selves, too.
Ellie’s Easter story led her to live her one true life. What is your Easter story? What does a living Jesus mean for you? How might you live out your Easter story? How might we as a community of Jesus’ followers live out our community’s Easter story? How might we, as individuals and as a community, live our one true life?
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! This is my story, this is my song!
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2022