April 16, 2017 | “Looking for the Living” • Luke 24.1-12

“Empty Tomb” He Qi (2001)

Luke 24.1-12 (NRSV)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “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.”Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who were with them early that morning entered the tomb intending to prepare Jesus’ body to rest for who knows how long.

They were surprised.

They were counting on something different.

They didn’t anticipate finding any signs of life or goodness in that tomb.

The heavy stone covering the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away. The tomb was empty. They were perplexed. But they shouldn’t have been.

When we think of the things Luke has told us about Jesus – what Jesus said, the things Jesus did. When we consider how over and over again Luke has gone to great lengths to tell us Jesus is trustworthy and reliable, this group standing at the tomb really should have been expecting something much different.

They underestimated Jesus.

They underestimated God.

Those men in dazzling clothes – who sound a lot like angels – suddenly appeared beside them and pointed this out.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

“Don’t you remember how Jesus told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again?”

It clicked. They remembered.

I wonder if all of a sudden they felt kind of silly holding those supplies for preparing Jesus’ body to spend more time in that tomb.

They underestimated Jesus.

They underestimated God’s power … God’s will for life … the strength of God’s goodness.

Just like Jesus said; on the third day, he would rise again.

 

That group of women had to go tell their friends. They had to let the disciples know.

When the disciples heard from the women, they made their own underestimation.

They heard Jesus say the same things about betrayal, death, and resurrection. (He said this to them at least four times before!)

They heard the news and they thought it was an “idle tale” – that is the safe way to translate it! They thought they were hearing “complete baloney!” (The word Luke uses is actually more crude and course.) They didn’t remember. They underestimated Jesus. They underestimated God’s power.

Peter, at least was curious.

He ran to the tomb. He looked inside. He went home amazed at what happened.

The disciples, the women, Peter, they all spent so much time with Jesus. They watched as he multiplied a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread into more than enough to feed 5,000 people. They watched as Jesus raised the dead … they stood there as Jesus gave sight to blind people … as he healed paralyzed people … they had been with Jesus when he brought resurrection life to people and relationships and communities. They heard Jesus talk about God’s power and desires for the world. After witnessing the horror, shame, and pain of Jesus’ betrayal, suffering, and death … they grew forgetful. Maybe fear smothered their hope. They underestimated God’s power – God’s power over life and God’s power over death.

 

Easter Sunday challenges us to remember.

Easter Sunday reminds us not to underestimate God’s power and God’s desire to bring life out of death.

If God can raise Jesus from death … what else could God do? If God can bring life when it seems impossible, what could God do in our lives … in our communities … in our world?

God is bringing life and resurrection in us and all around us … sometimes we miss it … sometimes we aren’t looking for it … sometimes fear chokes our hope and clouds our vision.

Easter … Christ’s resurrection … remind us, God is in the business of bringing life where it seems impossible.

Sarah’s brother, Joe, works on a farm in Senegal.

The landscape in Senegal wasn’t always what it looks like today.

Cows, goats, and sheep, have overgrazed the land so badly green plants have become sparse and the land seems barren.

There are a few large baobab trees throughout the landscape, but any new tree or shrub that sprouts up is quickly eaten or trampled by free-range livestock.

If you were to see the farm Joe works on from above (from an airplane or even on Google Maps) you would notice the farm is a green speck in a sea of yellow, dry land. The farm wasn’t always that way … the farm used to be a yellow and dried out too.

Ten years ago Eric, a French missionary, was concerned about the sustainability of village churches in rural Senegal. Eric was worried about two things:

  1. Village churches depended on income from outside sources. If something happened and churches in France and other countries couldn’t support them any more, the Senegalese churches would be in a really bad spot; and
  2. Eric watched young Christian men in rural villages struggle to support themselves. Many of these young men were giving up on their villages and moving to bigger cities in search of good paying jobs. When the young men moved away, many of them didn’t connect with churches in their new cities. Without connections to churches many of the young men were drifting away from their faith. With their young men moving away, the rural churches struggled without their involvement and leadership.

Eric searched for ways to help the churches become self-supporting and for ways to help young men stay in their villages so they could become leaders and supporters of their churches.

Eric was convicted that the transformation of Senegalese culture would come from these young farmers in rural areas.

Eric asked village leaders to give him a 99 year lease on a piece of land. No one wanted anything to do with the land Eric asked for … many people believed that patch of land had been cursed …in many people’s eyes that piece of land was as good as dead. When the french colonized Senegal, many pieces of land the French seized was cursed by witch doctors. They cursed the land to it barren, unfruitful, and even kill the French who took it.

Eric didn’t care about the curse.

The first thing Eric did was build a fence around the land’s perimeter to keep cows, goats, and sheep from grazing on it.

The land sat for about 8 years while something incredible happened … it began to show signs of new life … trees and shrubs and plants started to grow. Cattle and goats didn’t eat all the spots of green. The land changed from yellow, dry, and barren to green and thriving – not as green as we might imagine, but green for land in West Africa.

When farmers climb the farm’s water tower to get a look at the land and see the contrast between the green land inside the fence and the barren land on the other side, many weep – they see the way things are and way things could be.

The interns at the farm are taught how to harvest limbs sustainably, taking only the lower branches – instead of clear-cutting fields. The limbs are used to make charcoal and sold to a nearby restaurant. The trees provide protection for crops from the intense African sun and slow down soil erosion. Interns are taught about composting to renew the soil. They are taught about drip irrigation. And the interns are taught by Senegalese pastors what it means to follow Jesus and how to be leaders in their churches and communities.

A landscape that looked dried up and dead, is showing real signs of life. People that were struggling are experiencing hope. Young farmers who might have given up on their farms and villages and churches and moved into cities are starting to have hope. God is bringing new life to rural Senegal.

These are signs of our resurrection hope – God can bring life where it looks impossible.

Easter Sunday shakes us … Easter Sunday reminds us … don’t underestimate God. Don’t underestimate God’s power to bring life … Don’t forget God’s goodness …

Remember Christ’s resurrection!

If God can raise Jesus from the dead, if God can bring hope where things look hopeless, what can God do in our lives?