Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jesus' Way: God's Arithmetic (Easter, Early Service)

Scripture Reading: Luke 24:1-12

It was a world where almost everyone woke up at dawn, but dawn found the women already taking the road through the city and out the gate on the northwest side. They passed a low, barren hill; almost a mound, like the top of a skull (which is what Golgotha and Calvary mean). Many firmly planted upright beams stood on that hill, ready for new cross beams for the next batch of crucifixions.

The complete shock, and the loss, and the grief from the death of Jesus had kept all the disciples from sleeping soundly. And the task for the women, that dawning, made them wake up before anyone else.

Because Jesus died in the late afternoon, before the beginning of the Sabbath, that Friday evening, there had been no time to properly prepare his body for burial. There was only time to wrap the body.

Now that it was the dawn and the first day of the week, and the Sabbath was over, they would take the time to do the women’s work: the last act of caring and nurturing of others, because caring and nurturing defined their identity as women. They would carefully wash the dead body of Jesus. They would anoint it with oil, and pack the shroud with sweet herbs.

And they had not slept because they were in danger. They were all in danger, either from the authorities, or from self-appointed vigilantes and bullies on the street. The men, being men, were in more danger than the women who, being women, would not be noticed. Men were not supposed to notice women.

So the women went alone, even though the men should have gone with them to move the huge stone door of the tomb. It would have to be rolled aside. But there were more than four or five of them and, together, they would manage.

Most of them had stood at a distance from Jesus, as he was dying. They had all come close when the guards let them, in the end. They had all followed and watched Joseph of Arimathea, and his friends, take the body to the tomb.

They all knew exactly where they were going. They knew exactly what they would find there, and what they would do. They were hurting inside, but they were prepared.
They were prepared for almost anything but the resurrection.

They found the door was open, and the wrappings around the body were empty. Our translation of the Bible says that the women “wondered” but the real word, in the Greek, describes a state of confusion, and being at a loss. They weren’t thinking straight anyway. Now they were at a total loss for what to think and what to do.
What it meant for Jesus to die, and for Jesus to be buried, was like adding two plus two. The sum was that they should find the body there, unless it had been stolen. But there were strict imperial laws against bodysnatching. The friends of Jesus would never dishonor his body by stealing it. And the enemies of Jesus would surely want the body to stay put as a sign of their victory over him.

Two plus two meant they should find the body wrapped, and in its niche in the tomb where they had left it. Nothing else would make sense. Anything else would sound insane; just as the men thought when the women brought them the news.

Oh, they saw the angels and heard their message, but that hardly settled their minds. It only scared them, except for this: the angels reminded them that Jesus had explained all of this to them, many times before. And now they remembered: yes, Jesus had explained it all before. “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day be raised from the dead.” (Luke 24:7)

They had simply not listened to this. Look at yourselves; is it surprising that even the first disciples didn’t listen to everything that Jesus said? Even the first disciples didn’t take everything that Jesus said seriously. Even they tried to explain away the things they didn’t understand, or didn’t like, or made them uncomfortable.

Because they did not listen, or remember what Jesus said, they looked at the empty tomb with confusion. They did not know what it meant. They had to remember, first.
The world has its own arithmetic. The world has its ways of adding things up. But God’s arithmetic is different. Sometimes it is the wisest thing to say that we really don’t understand anything at all, no matter how well we can explain it. But God’s explanations tell us the real meaning of things, even when it takes our whole life to listen and understand.
Here is the different arithmetic of God. Jesus explains the real meaning of sorrow and mourning: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Jesus explains the real meaning of meekness and gentleness: “Blessed are the meek, blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:4,5) Jesus explains the real meaning of self preservation and self sacrifice: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33)
God has a different arithmetic. When we meet the Lord and listen to his explanation of life, and of himself, then we understand the real meaning and importance of things.

This world will give us a different explanation of life, as it will even give us a different explanation for what happened, or what didn’t happen, at the tomb where Jesus had been buried. The women went to the tomb expecting the world’s arithmetic and the world’s explanations to be true.

They were completely surprised, and they came back changed. No! The change wasn’t only in them. They found that the resurrection of Jesus changed their world.
Jesus’ surprising explanation of what would happen fit what they saw. Jesus had told them how things would be, and what he said was now confirmed. Evil had failed, and death was defeated, and the power of this world was powerless. The resurrection changed the way things added up, and they would never be the same again.

When I was a little boy, we lived in Southern California, not far from where Disneyland was built, but I remember it from the time before Disneyland existed. And that might tell you how old I am.

The living room window in our house faced north and you could see the mountains through that window almost every day. In the winter they would be covered with snow, and they were beautiful.

Then they built the freeways through Orange County, and that might tell you how old I am. And the mountains disappeared. Oh, they were still there but we hardly ever saw them again, because the smog hid them. We seldom ever saw those mountains again, except by driving to them, and that took some time.

In our world God’s arithmetic, and Jesus’ explanations of life and the world we live in, and the ways of the kingdom of God, are like those mountains. For most of the people who live down there, the smog is their daily reality. But those mountains are the real truth, and they are not true only once in a while, when the smog blows away. They are true every day, even when we do not see them, even when we do not listen or remember.

The Resurrection of Jesus is true like that.

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