But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 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.6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 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.
The rhythm is gonna get you! Can’t avoid it today. The Easter jam is too exhilarating! Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine made that song, “The Rhythm is Going to Get You,” famous in 1987. It was written, maybe not surprisingly at all, by the band’s drummer, Enrique Garcia. Who knows more about rhythm than the drummer of Miami’s Sound Machine? Just last year, the song was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, and artistically significant.” Touche. Rhythm is contagious for sure and Gloria Estefan’s voice can easily get stuck in your head. Rhythm is simply defined as a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound. It denotes a repeatable pattern and, consistently experienced enough, forms a sustainable base upon which any great song can be built. The rhythm often makes the song. It’s something we can feel. When we were teens, if there was a song that didn’t have the best message but we still liked listening to it, that was our excuse: “We just like the beat.” “We just like the rhythm.” And my grandma would say, “Don’t let that rhythm getcha Markie!” Grandma… I’ve. Been. Gotten.
We’ve been living in the Sacred Rhythms of the spiritual life the last forty days leading us to this Easter moment. Our song today is one of resurrection… a rhythm of our faith upon which every other layer of our life-song is built. Today, as we celebrate the rise of life over death, I ask a simple question for you to consider: How is your life adding to this great resurrection song? We get all spiffy’d up to be here today… might as well see if we’ve got any Easter rhythm in us. Is there any punch to Easter still or is it mostly pomp and circumstance? I resonated with a guy who once said, “I want to do great things for God.” It was such a noble desire and Easter had him all pumped up. I thought, “I want to do great things for God too.” Something flipped a switch for him, however, that helped me re-calibrate the rhythm of my life too. He said, “That idea had too much to do with me. ‘I’ was what was on stage… as if ‘I’ was doing God some big heroic favor.” He shifted the idea to “I want to simply do things for a great God.” God will take care of the greatness of anything. I just have to do the next faithful thing. This was about finding true purpose in the little things every day… not some grandiose operation that makes a hero out of me. Just things that point to a great God… that bring some healing to the world, that validate the worth of someone who’s been de-valued. It was steady and faithful; even doable. It’s like the old spiritual sage Thomas Merton’s quote: “Ask me not where I live or what I like to eat… Ask me what I am living for and what I think is keeping me from living fully for that.” What are you living for? What’s getting in the way of that? Where is your rhythm?
Easter is as good a time as any to ask these questions. The story is familiar. After the terrible mess of Friday’s crucifixion, all pretty much sat in ruins. Someone recently said, “Nothing ruins your Friday like realizing its Wednesday.” But this particular Friday we’ve come to call Good, sort of ruined a whole lot of things – killed a man who was armed with nothing but a basin, a towel, and grace; killed a movement; broke a mother’s heart. It was a dark deal no doubt about it. Most of us can relate to Good Friday. We’ve had the loss. We’ve had a dream or an idea or a life-direction murdered. Any grueling heartbreak will give you the feels of Good Friday.
Silent Saturday followed… sometimes more numbing the day after than the day of the great demise itself. Have you sat in such a space? You haven’t showered. Your teeth have sort of fuzzed over. Your gaze is glossy… maybe staring out the window in the front room… seeing life moving on for others when yours clearly halted abruptly the day before. People try. They’ll ask you something. Mumble a trying word about “your loss,” maybe even leave a frozen casserole with a note about pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees and baking for sixty minutes. It’s all a blur really.
Sunday rolls around… nothing sacred there… unless you’re a group of committed Jewish women who have honored Saturday’s Sabbath and have taken first chance to head to the tomb of their beloved son, leader, friend. It’s the women who need to be thanked for giving us Easter. Jesus did his part, of course, but it was the women who ventured to the tomb in their grief and fear and uncertainty. The four Gospels in the Bible all tell the resurrection account a little differently but every one of them gets the women to the tomb first; a culturally stunning reality given the oppression of women in that time and even now.
I saw this all-too-true cartoon this week that demonstrated this very thing.
It said, “So ladies, thanks for being the first to witness and report the resurrection and… we’ll take it from here.” It is the women who have long, and still, been the backbone of the movement; whose voices and visions and witness should also lead us forward. As Luke tells us, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary (Jesus’ mother) and ‘the other’ women find the tomb empty which mostly compounds the feelings they’re already sorting through.
Suddenly, a couple of guys in Easter pastels with night-running head lamps on show up and say, “Whatcha lookin’ for?” They tell the women that Jesus has checked out of the tomb after enjoying the “free hot breakfast.” It’s just like he intended all along. There’s understandable confusion. The angels go on: “Remember that time when you were back in Galilee and Jesus was teaching and he told that funny story about he and his brother James getting locked out of the family station wagon after the Zeppelin concert?” They nod… it was an epic story. “And do you remember, then, when he said how he was going to be handed over to sinners, killed on a cross, and in three days rise up? You remember that?” “Oh yeah,” they said. And while I’m sure this was an insanely crazy moment of profound amazement and wonder and skepticism yet optimism and a thousand questions and with all sorts of noise and spices being kicked over and the like, the text simply reports rather stoically, “Then they remembered Jesus’ words.” Come on, Luke, we want the deets, man.
The details make a difference, right? We love the details. That’s where we connect. That’s how we relate. That’s how we truly get to know each other and even know Jesus. Religion is a thing that can get in the way. We can see religion and touch it and try to master it… but it’s not the same. Over a billion dollars has been raised to reconstruct the Cathedral of Notre Dame which is an amazing thing coming out of a very tragic event. Lots of pictures of the gold cross still hanging amidst the rubble of the cathedral. It’s a powerful image. We’re drawn to it because we can touch it, feel it, smell the smoldering piles of pews beneath it. I’m for its inspiring beauty and symbol of hope and new life. But I also know it’s just a building.
There’s a series of comic strips called “Coffee with Jesus.” Great stuff. Always makes me smile, think a bit, convict my own motives sometimes. There was this one that shows Jesus having a coffee conversation with a man named Kevin. While it’s floating around again, it was originally from 2011 so the references are a little dated but I think you’ll get the point.
Man says, “It’s that time of year when we all make our top ten lists, Jesus. So, let’s hear one from you. Give us your top ten most important events of 2011.” Jesus says, “Well, number ten would have to be when this little girl in the rural reaches of Jilin Province in China gave her last apple to a very hungry old woman.” Man responds, “Yeah, that’s not really how this works, Jesus. You pick a world story or maybe a celebrity screw-up. Like Iran or Charlie Sheen.” Jesus says, “You’ve got your important events, Kevin, and I’ve got mine. Number nine: a single mother of three in Mexico adopted the daughter of her dying neighbor…”.
Religion has its value… I’m down with it…I’m swimming in it, right? But I also recognize religion isn’t ultimately the thing we’re after. We’re after the details we uncover in relationship. It’s why you have that knowing look with your best friend, your spouse, or that person who’s been through it all with you. You know the details… the back story… the ups and downs. That’s the rhythm – the bass line – that you’re building your life-song on. While we get a little shorted on the details here, I’m so thankful for the details we do have that guide us into a deeper relationship with this risen Jesus.
Following the reaction, as dramatic or even keeled as it may have been, the women high tail it back to the makeshift ‘Jesus movement’ office where Peter and the other disciples were still in a fog. Breathless, but in the best kind of way, the women told the other disciples what they had experienced. Luke says, “they kept telling these things to the apostles” but the apostles didn’t believe a word. Before we dog the guys out too much here, let’s trust that all of us would find the whole thing a bit unfathomable. And… they were grieving and shocked and exhausted too. Peter, who always acts before he thinks things through, does what many of us may have been inclined to do: lace ‘em up and get to running to the tomb ourselves. The others stayed behind presumably. They probably huddled around a couple of different televisions – half the group were Fox News guys and the others MSNBC. Surely there was some local coverage by now. Pete’s running… man… the endorphins that bounce around your brain when you run are incredible. His thoughts are flashing back through all of the highlights… when he first met Jesus, skeptical as any. The time he walked on water to meet Jesus (more thrilling than bungy jumping). The guard’s ear Peter lopped off when he tried to arrest Jesus… and Jesus putting that ear right back in place. The first time Peter told Jesus, “I believe you’re the Messiah.” The time he told Jesus he’d never betray him… and the three times he came up short, betraying his best friend. The spiraling out of control events of Friday and now… this.
If you’ve given Jesus much time in your life, your story may have similar ups and downs. Seasons when you’ve been in-it-to-win-it, so deeply committed, faithful. Times you served others in need, stood up for the oppressed, served on the tech team at the church. But there were seasons when you let that relationship drift… you were doing you, building an empire or really got into that one hobby that seemed to sort of take over much of your time and, you know, hobbies aren’t a bad thing but they can cause a drift. Maybe you weren’t feeling churchy or your questions felt ignored or that one thing happened and it soured you to the religious stuff. Whatever the case, we may call Peter ‘Saint’ today but he was just a guy trying to figure it out… wanting to do something meaningful with his life… believing he had discovered something real and genuine in Jesus. Someone once said, “The superheroes you have in your mind are nearly all walking flaws who’ve maximized one or two strengths.”
Peter gets there… the guys in the dazzling prom tuxedoes were now gone. It’s just Peter and the tomb. Never bashful, he barrels his way into the tomb… pulls out his smart phone and finally gets his thumb swiped just right to get his flashlight app to stay on so he can see. Nothing there. Just some grave clothes. “Boss?” Pete whispers. “Jesus. You here?” Nothing but the crickets out front and the fragrance of lilies… maybe a little muffled Lauren Daigle, “You’re Still Rolling Stones” in the earbuds that were dangling down the front of his shirt. “And Peter walks away puzzled, shaking his head in amazement.” It’s such an epic deal here, my friends. I don’t pretend to grasp it all myself. But I, too, am stunned in amazement. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says,
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement… get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
That’s the Easter jam. That’s the sacred rhythm… built on resurrection amazement. But what’s the lasting impact? Someone said very bluntly one time and I’ve adjusted some language because people can get worked up about that sort of thing but he said, “If you see your glass as half-empty, pour it into a smaller glass and quit complaining.” This Easter thing… this invitation to new life in Christ… the grace that turns all that seems like loss and death to wins and life… sets the tone for the rest of our lives. It’s beyond comprehensible description; an overflowing cup no matter the size of container we try to hold it in.
Last Sunday, David Brock, one of our elders stood at the Table to invite us to share our offerings for the day. He stood right there, looked over at me and said to all of you, “I wonder what would happen if Mark stood up in the pulpit and simply said, “I got nothin’!” We all laughed but I was thinking… “You don’t know how many times we’ve been that close, buddy.” Sometimes I really just want to say, “Friends, if cauliflower can somehow become pizza crust, anything is possible.” Truth is, today is sort of a “I got nothin’” sort of Sunday. I’m tempted to give you some theological discourse on the preposterous yet undisputable proof of the great Easter mystery. I’d love to think that something I would say today would push somebody over the edge of disbelief to faith; get that email that says, “You know, pastor, before Easter Sunday, I was not having any of it… but that thing you said, that proof you gave, that amazing illustration about the drummer of the Miami Sound Machine knowing so much about rhythm just set it off for me. I wasn’t in before but I’m in now.” Rhythm is gonna get you! Every minister’s dream, you know? But the honest truth? I got nothin’.
Renegade pastor and public theologian, Nadia Bolz-Weber tweeted out this week what she does every year saying,
“Clergy and church workers – here’s your yearly reminder: Jesus will rise from the dead even if you forgot to print out the right hymns, even if the lilies arrive already wilted, even if the whole choir gets food poisoning… [even if you get into the pulpit and you got nothin! we might add,] Nothing will keep the stone from rolling away.”
Thank God for that. And the reality is, it’s up to you what you do with Easter from here. Peter, peering into the tomb to see for himself what the women had already witnessed and proclaimed, simply “went home,” the text says, “amazed at what had happened.” We may do some of that today. After the ham and the deviled eggs and jello molds and a nap and the Thunder playoff game, we may say, “How ‘bout that music? Amazing.” Or “Did you see so and so there? Nice to see the kids were home.” Or… “Resurrection, huh. That’s interesting.” Going home amazed is part of the Easter story. But what really matters is what happens the next day. Rhythm is a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement. The sacred rhythm of Easter is strong… and when repeated in our daily lives… it changes the world. That’s what’s truly amazing. So even when I’ve got nothin’… we’ve got all that ever really matters.