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Called and Sent

Easter Sunday C-16

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:11) The women come racing back from the tomb on Easter morning with astonishing news. They deliver the first Easter sermon: “He is not here but has risen!” Every sermon you’ve ever heard is merely a variation of this Easter news, first announced by the women to the apostles. The response? Bible translations differ; you can take your pick. The words seemed to them like “an idle tale,” “empty talk,” “a silly story,” “a foolish yarn,” “utter nonsense,” or “sheer humbug.”

It didn’t matter that the women’s story only confirmed the message Jesus himself had told them. Jesus told them three times he would be killed but that on the third day he would rise. Yet the apostles dismiss this first news of Easter with a wave of the hand.

Like the Emmaus Road travelers in the story that follows our gospel, are “slow of heart to believe.” Luke offers us a clue to their state of mind. The women ran and told the news of resurrection to “the eleven,” but later Luke will call them “the apostles,” meaning ‘those who are sent’.

If the Jesus story ended on Friday, then the disciples can simply be “the eleven,” and after the appropriate rituals and a season of mourning, they can go back to life as it was. If the story ended on Friday, then they can be “the eleven,” alumni of Jesus’ school of religion, students of an inspiring though finally tragic teacher. In short, if the story ends on Friday, we can close out the Book of Luke.

But if the news of Sunday is true, they must become “apostles,” those sent to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. There will be arrests and shipwrecks and outpourings of the Spirit and persecutions and gentiles and stonings and miles of weary travel. If we believe the news of Sunday, then the scary truth is that the story is just beginning and we will need a Book of Acts with the apostles as its main actors. (Thomas G. Long, Empty Tomb, Empty Talk, The Christian Century, 2001)

We will not be able to confine this story to the past. We will not be able to quarantine this news with any amount of theological plastic wrap. Instead, it will overtake us. We are confronted with the very same question, the very same challenge, the very same impossibly good news: Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Response: Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!) Then we also, must be sent.

You know, this incarnation business God is into is really lovely when it’s an angel appearing to Mary and Joseph. They said yes to Jesus and the manger, and to life on the run as refugees until King Herod died. Incarnation makes for inspiring stories about the disciples, and for Paul, and the whole early Christian community who risked their lives for the sake of being alive in Christ and for casting the walls of this one life inside the living sanctuary of hope and grace further and further out until all people of every tribe, nation, and religion are included. But the incarnation is a whole different thing, when it comes time to including me. Now it is our turn to enter the story. Now is the time to include our flesh, our bones, our hands, our hearts, heads, and spirit. Because the story did not end on Good Friday, Mary Magdalene’s and the other women’s impossibly good news of resurrection and new life by way of the cross of Christ has made its way through the centuries from a dry dusty town in Palestine all the way to us and is now here. Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Response: Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!)

The incarnation of God’s spirit in us has removed the ‘and’ we use to separate ourselves from one another. We are no longer old and young, but we are an old, young community. We can no longer be delineated by ethnic groups, but see we are a White, Black, Hispanic, Asian community. We are a rich, poor, privileged and under privileged community. Joined together in Christ through baptism we share one blood with all people. When one suffers we all suffer. When one is a victim of injustice, we are all victimized by injustice.

Because the impossibly good news of Easter has overtaken us, now we are called and sent to confront the impossibly difficult challenges of violence, racism, bigotry, poverty and disease in our city and throughout the world armed with the only thing that has ever proved powerful enough to overcome them: the hope and grace that comes from God.

The incarnation is the true power and life of the Church. Longing to see death conquered again, a coalition of churches on Chicago’s Far Southwest Side are gathered in worship today with another seemingly impossible goal — an Easter when all in the city can uphold the pledge “Thou shalt not murder.” “That is really the story of our faith, where darkness always turns into light” said the Rev. William Malloy, pastor of St. Barnabas Roman Catholic Church in Beverly. The whole ‘Thou Shalt Not Murder’ campaign is about life. It’s about rising from the darkness that Chicago finds itself in at the moment and making a commitment to live in that light.” (Tribune 3/26/16)

Incarnation gives power and meaning to Immanuel’s mission to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace. This is how we’re changing lives for our young people and families throughout Edgewater. This is how we make a difference with our lives. This is how we breathe new life into our tired bones. The impossibly good news of un-ending life in Christ is both a gift we receive with joy and the sign of what we are becoming. Christ our wine and our bread; Christ our brother and our light; Christ our host and our table; Christ the shepherd and the lamb; Christ the living Word, the rushing water, the mighty wind, our thirst and our breath now calls, equips and sends us out. See, you have become children of a new heaven and a new earth. Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Response: Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!)

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