The women who came to the first Easter morning had their hands full. That’s appropriate. Whatever our traditions are, we usually come into worship on Resurrection Sunday with our hands full. Some of you came bearing food for a potluck. Some came carrying instruments to play in worship. Some of you were carrying children in your arms; some of you were trying to park the car and shepherd your family to their seats. We come to Easter with our hands full and with our hearts full: full of anticipation. We anticipate being together for the day; we anticipate shouting He is Risen!; we anticipate hearing a trumpet play a descant, singing Alleluia with a full congregation. Some of you may have even anticipated hearing a good sermon. I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, you can’t have everything you want.
We come to Easter with our hands and hearts full, and so do the women in our story. They had come to Jerusalem from Galilee. Galilee was home to them, and to Jesus. Poetically, Galilee represents better days, a simpler time; and it represents a time of preparation. Everything they experienced in Galilee brought them to this time in Jerusalem. Shakepeare said in his play, The Tempest, past is prologue. Everything that has happened up to this time has brought us to the opportunities, challenges, and decisions we have to make in the present moment. Though we are often scarcely aware of it, our past is prologue.
Experiences that seem small and insignificant today will bear a harvest of fruit at some unknown point in the future. I’ve often thought it would be nice what those experiences are, so I can write them down and pay attention to them. Keep them in a notebook and pull it out when I need it. But life doesn’t work that way. You never know what particular seed from the past is going to spring up and bear fruit, and when. The places we have lived, the people we have known, things that have happened to us, seeds from years ago, back in Galilee, that have been sown into our lives and lie there in the soil waiting to shoot up. These women came from Galilee to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover festival with Jesus.
Mary Magdalene — she got to know Jesus when he drove out the demons and she was finally set free; Joanna, she got to know Jesus when he healed her, and she started supporting his ministry with her gifts; and Mary, the mother of James, she got to know Jesus because Jesus called her son to follow him. I imagine Mary the mother of James became sort of like a booster club mom, there at all the events, helping with the logistics, maybe bringing a casserole every now and then. These three had been with him in Galilee, for they were his disciples, and a lot of seed had been sown into their lives in Galilee.
So they came with Jesus to Jerusalem, knowing it might be his last Passover. Luke makes sure to tell us that they were there at the cross when Jesus took his last breath. Most of the people at the cross scattered, but not Mary, not Joanna, not Mary mother of James. As Jesus was taken down from the cross, the disciples watched. With commitment, with love, they stayed. They followed to where they buried him so they could come back, after the Sabbath day, and prepare his body the way it should be prepared. With funeral spices.
So these three women have come to Easter morning with their hands full of funeral spices. They have come with their hearts full of love for this one who blessed their lives; they come with hearts full of grief for this friend who died tragically; they have come with hearts full of disappointment and confusion because they allowed themselves to think it would end differently.
You see, when we come to worship on Easter, or any other day, we bring our whole lives into the presence of God. Sometimes we think we have to bring our best self, or at least a pretty good self to worship. But worship is not about bringing your best self to God, nor is it about bringing your worst self. Worship is about bringing your whole self to God. We come with full hands, full hearts, full lives. Some of things that we carry smell good; and some of the things we carry smell… like a tomb. Life and death; joy and sorrow; hope and disappointment; peace and anxiety; that’s what it means to get up early on Easter to come see Jesus — you bring it all. The question is, what do you do with it?
When these three women got to the tomb, they found that the stone had been rolled away. The stone that covered the entrance to the cave was a like a large stone wheel that rolled in a track. It had been rolled back, but they didn’t know what that meant. We know the rest of the story, but they didn’t. They saw the stone was rolled back, and they went into the cave carrying their spices thinking they would find Jesus. Spoiler alert. They didn’t. And so they stood there, holding their spices, very confused. What do they do now?
The women at the tomb were fortunate because while they were standing there confused, two men in dazzling clothes appeared to them to clear things up. Wouldn’t you like to have that happen to you? When you’re deeply confused in your life, you wonder what God is doing with you and what it all means, two well-dressed people would show up and help you sort it all out? If only you knew that would happen when you come to church! These two messengers stood beside them and helped them understand what to do with all the things they were carrying.
The men said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here — he 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.” Now, Luke is such a spare storyteller. They way he tells it, you kind of imagine these women saying, “Oh, we had forgotten that. Thanks for reminding us! What are we doing here?” But you see, Galilee was a long time ago. It was on the other side of the cross, of the trial, of the accusations and the plotting. Galilee was a long time ago, and there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. It’s not surprising they forgot.
Memories are powerful but also elusive. Memories can be hidden in the corners of our minds. They can be buried under mountains of debris and clutter. There have been a least a couple of times in my life when it seemed that I couldn’t remember anything, I was forgetting names and appointments. Now, if you’re like me, when you have unusual symptoms like this you Google it and diagnose yourself with the worst possible disease.
I was too young for dementia, so I thought it must be a brain tumor. I was at the doctor, and said, “Doctor, I’m forgetting things. I’m concerned that there’s a real problem.” Fully expecting a CAT scan, she said, “I think you’re just stressed.” Stress and anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation – we could call it the seas of forgetfulness. Except we really don’t forget. Our memories are still there, they’re just buried under a mountain called life.
A study published a few weeks ago related to Alzheimer’s treatment, indicated that researchers now know that memories do not disappear. The director of the center said, “Even if a memory appears to be gone, it is still there. It is a matter of how to retrieve it.” Even under the terrible disease of Alzheimer’s, the memories are still there. Life happens, the years pile one on another, but the memories don’t go away — they are simply submerged.
The memory of what Jesus said to these women in Galilee was not gone, but it was buried under a mountain of sleeplessness, and stress and worry and anger and grief. The well-dressed men sent from God helped them to retrieve the memory that Jesus said he would rise on the third day. Luke says, “Then they remembered his words.”. Those few words. They had heard them, but had no idea what they meant.
Dropped in the soil of their lives like a seed, now they spring forth! They remembered. They left the tomb, and went to tell the others what they had heard and seen. The memory of Jesus’ promise was buried but it was there. The memory of his promise was hidden — but it was not gone. It simply took a messenger from God to help them remember. “Remember what he told you in Galilee…” They memory transformed the place of their grieving into the ground of their hope.
Where are these messengers today? I believe the mission of the church is to be a place where we are messengers of God to one another. When a person comes with their hands full looking for Jesus, there is someone to help them remember and by remembering to encounter the risen Jesus. Starting in a couple of weeks, I’m going to preach a series of sermons that looks at this more deeply. What does it mean to be a great church?
But for today, part of what it means to be a great church is right here with these men in dazzling clothes. No, being a great church doesn’t mean being well-dressed. It means showing up alongside one another to be an instrument of resurrection power and a vessel of grace. In time of confusion, of disappointment, anger, failure, fear, or grief. When our hands and hearts are full, and we don’t know what do with the stuff we’re holding — someone shows up in the name of God to say, “Remember what he told you in Galilee.”
This is the power of the risen Christ. Rowan Williams says, to believe in the risen Jesus, “is to trust that the generative power of God is active in the human world; that it can be experienced as transformation and re-creation and empowerment in the present; and that its availability and relevance extends to every human situation.” God’s power is present when we help one another to remember the words of grace that have become buried in the everyday facts of life; words of grace that lead us into God’s new creation.
What is it that you need to remember this morning, standing here at the empty tomb? When a child is baptized, the minister says to the child, “You are a beloved child of God.” Our prayer is that the child will grow year by year to understand what that means, to claim his or her identity as a child of God, one who is unconditionally loved by her maker.
But as the years go on, our hands become full of other things, other messages about who we are and what we are worth or not worth, where we are welcome or not welcome. Perhaps you’ve come here with your hands full of competing messages about who you are, and what your life is about, and how much you are worth. Today at the empty tomb, perhaps you need to remember this: you are a child of God, beloved, and precious in God’s sight.
What is it that you need to remember at the empty tomb? Perhaps you’ve lost your direction, and wonder how you got to where you are, and which road you’re going to take to get back. Remember Jesus said, “Follow me.”
Perhaps you’ve spent your life accumulating accomplishments and wealth and stuff, and at this tomb today you have to say it’s not nearly as satisfying as thought it would be. Remember, Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you as well.”
Perhaps you have come to this empty tomb anxious about many things, about the state of the world, about your family, your future. Remember Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
The words of Jesus are like seeds that are sown into the soil of our lives. At the time, in Galilee, when all is well, they may seem small and insignificant. But later, in Jerusalem, in the crucible of life they spring forth with resurrection power. These words, in the power of the Spirit, can reconfigure the facts of our lives and sends us forward with hope.
The messengers of God said, “Remember what he told you in Galilee.” And they remembered and left the tomb. But you know, Luke never tells us what these women did with the spices. They came to the tomb with their hands full of spices. What did they do with them?
I like to think they laid them down and left them there. They didn’t need them anymore. They remembered what Jesus said, and his words set them free, their hands and their hearts were free to proclaim the good news, that Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed. Amen.