A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy Hammer, March 27, 2016
Luke 24:1-12 ESV
What do you suppose those women were really feeling as they hastily made their way back home on that morning that has come to be called “Easter”? What thoughts were really going through their minds? And were they looking over their shoulders as they ran?
Because of the many layers of tradition, and many years that have passed, and many romanticized beliefs that have grown up around Easter, it is difficult, I believe, for us to really appreciate what those early followers of Jesus must have experienced during their walks to and from the Tomb. Our tendency may be to quickly pass over the refrains of “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and “Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?” so that we may hurry on to the alleluias of “Christ the Lord is risen today!” But if we read closely the earliest accounts of that “first day of the week,” we may get an inkling of the sorrow, bewilderment, despair, and confusion that Mary Magdalene and the others must have experienced on that Sunday morning.
In reality, the road from the tomb initially was a road of great despair. The gospel of Mark, whom scholars believe to have been the earliest of our four gospels, gives us a less rosy picture of that morning than the other three gospels do. The original ending of Mark notes that the women who walked that path that morning “fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). Luke also notes that disbelief prevailed among the disciples after the women shared with them what they had seen and heard. It was a road of great despair.
The road from the tomb can be to an uncertain future. There were so many uncertainties that plagued those early followers of Jesus throughout that eventful weekend. They had cast their lot with this charismatic itinerant preacher, embracing the message he embodied. Some had pinned all their hopes on him, believing that he was to be the one to lead them in deliverance from the power of the mighty Roman Empire. Some thought he had come to usher in a new age of prosperity and peace. But now he was gone. What were they supposed to do?
And also, some rightly feared for their very lives and went into hiding. What if the authorities came for them who were known to be associates of this Jesus from Nazareth? And now that it was reported that Jesus’ body was gone, no longer in the tomb, what if they were accused of stealing him away?
Then there was the concern about their livelihoods. Some had given up their family business or profession in order to follow Jesus throughout Galilee. What were they supposed to do now? Yes, there were so many uncertainties that swirled through their minds as they made their way from the tomb.
But the road from the tomb can also be accompanied by promise and new possibilities. For the followers of Jesus, the darkness of the tomb was not the end. Although it took them a while to see it, a new day was dawning for them in a way none of them could have ever imagined. Their experience, as dark and dreadful as it had been, gave birth to the greatest story ever told. Their lives found new life, new purpose, and a new vision for the future that ultimately changed the world.
This past week, I ran across some words of poet Mary Oliver in this regard. Oliver writes, “how shall there be redemption and resurrection unless there has been a great sorrow? And isn’t struggle and rising the real work of our lives?” (Winter Hours, 106).
But the point is this: it would take some time following that morning for disbelief, despair, bewilderment, and confusion to give way to belief, hope, acceptance, and clarity. It did not happen immediately, I am inclined to believe. But that in itself is at least part of the good tidings of Easter—after times of despair, disbelief, confusion, and bewilderment can come new hope, new faith, new clarity, and new life. And such hope is the lifeblood of the soul.
Thus, the road from the tomb can also become the road to hope. Now, this message of Easter would hold little relevance if it didn’t in some way apply to the lives we live today. We all walk a road from a tomb of life every now and then: The road from a literal tomb or grave of someone close to us; the road from a tomb of deep depression or seemingly hopeless despair; the road from the tomb of life-threatening illness or weeks of painful therapy, rehab or sickening treatments; the road from the tomb of family disintegration; or the road from the tomb of (you can fill in the blank). Most of us have been on the road from the tomb of death, despair, and uncertainty.
But every year Easter rolls around with its basket of hope of renewed promise and new possibilities. And the reality is, we have to have hope in order to survive; and this is what makes Easter such an important celebration for us. Easter is a validation of the innate human longing and soul-need for hope.
It was quite apropos that as I was working on this sermon this past week, I ran across an article on hope in the March 22 edition of the Wall Street Journal hope titled “An Emotion We Need More Of.” The writer, Elizabeth Bernstein, notes, “Research shows [hope’s] a crucial element of our physical and mental well-being. People who have a higher level of hope have healthier habits: They sleep and exercise more, eat more healthy foods . . . They also have fewer colds, less hypertension and diabetes, are more likely to survive cancer and have less depression.
“Students who have more hope have higher grades. . . . Hope is the belief that the future will be better than the present and that you have some power to make it so. . . . It is also important to spend time with the most hopeful people you know. ‘Hope is contagious,’ Dr. [Shane J.] Lopez says.”
Bernstein goes on to say, “Hope is made up of four components . . . Attachment, a sense of continued trust and connection to another person. Mastery, or empowerment, a feeling of being strong and capable. . . Survival: a belief that you aren’t trapped in a bad situation and have a way out. . . [and] Spirituality, a belief in something larger than yourself. People who have all four of these resources [attachment, empowerment, survival and spirituality] are more hopeful, and therefore, more resilient.” Yes, we have an emotional, spiritual, and, it seems, physical need for hope.
But now a true short story about hope. I had a friend that I worked with some and ran around with some when I was a teenager. This friend was actually ten years older than I was. But as it turned out, he and I started preparing to enter the ministry within six months of each other—I first, then he six months later. During my first year in seminary we took several classes together and commuted together. Well, my friend had married some years earlier than I had, and for years he and his wife tried to conceive a child. But there was a physical problem, it seemed, and there was a question as to whether they would ever know the joy of having a baby. Well, finally they did conceive and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Can you guess what they named her? They named her Hope. Through all those years, they never gave up hope of having a child.
If we were to give Easter a second name, it very appropriately could be the name “Hope.” Because Easter beckons us to never, ever give up hope. And the perennial and hopeful good news that Easter brings is this: That after fear can come renewed faith. And darkness and death can give way to light and new life. Easter Hope! Amen.