Gospel: Luke 24:1-12
1st Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26
So many flowers, so many people dressed up, so many alleluias. Why are we here celebrating today? What is it that we hope to take with us today? We're here this morning to experience a story that brings meaning to our own story and helps us make sense out of life and death. This is a story of closed doors and the way God opens them back up again to give us life.
On my trip to Germany in May, I had many encounters with doors. For one thing, I didn't know the words for push and pull in German, so every door I approached having no clue which action to take. I had several wrestling matches over the course of 10 days. PS, the door always wins. We found a place of mostly open doors in Germany. Berlin was especially open, because they had the wall for so long and had been the sight of so much oppression and murder of Jews. It seemed that Germany learned from having so many closed doors to be a place open to Syrian refugees. I wonder at the changes in the past 6 months or so and how Germany is different now than it was this time last year. In the US I hardly even notice doors, but in a foreign country, I paid attention to everything in a different way. Some doors I found open there, and others I found closed, but all of them opened doors in my mind and heart that will remain open.
The last thing we hear on Good Friday, the day Jesus suffers on the cross and dies, is the sound of the large stone being rolled over the entrance to the tomb, the door closing. Since Jesus died on a Friday, the Sabbath was beginning and so no body could be prepared with spices for burial until the first day of the week. Traditions closed the door on that activity, that farewell gift, until the sabbath was over. Jesus' death was another closed door, on the relationships he'd built, on the healing he provided, and even on the new Kingdom he was ushering in, the new way of being community and caring for those no one else cared for. It must have seemed that all the doors were closing.
But that didn't stop the women from coming to the tomb to complete the ritual. They expected a sealed tomb, to experience a barrier to ministry, between them and Jesus' body. They expected another closed door, but they were used to doors closed to them, limited access to that which gives life, challenges to be overcome.
Closed doors, darkness, barriers. We know this reality all too well. It seems like the powers of this world are out to shut all our doors, to trap us in, to keep us disconnected from each other, to keep us from sharing life. Divisions of political party, religion, age, and class are like huge walls that keep us from connecting with each other. Advertisements try to convince us that there is a difference between people who eat a certain kind of food or use a certain kind of beauty product and those who don't. All these losed doors seem to stand between us.
Scripture offers us a different story, and that is what we come today to hear. It is the story of life out of death, hope where there is despair, closed doors being opened. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the angels ask the women at the tomb this morning. Do we start expecting closed doors in our day to day lives, in our spiritual life, in our political lives, in relationship to others? Do we look for the living among the dead? Are we looking for Jesus, the Christ spirit embodied in our world and if so where do we seek him, among dead stones and closed doors, or do we see him as one who breaks down barriers, removes boundaries, and crosses borders?
The story of closed doors and darkness begins in Genesis. There is darkness, chaos, the face of the deep. Next thing you know, God's voice is moving over the waters and calling the universe into existence. Where there was chaos, now we find order. Where there was only darkness, we find light, and soon we find life growing from the soil, teeming from the waters, and walking upon the land, commanded to be fruitful and multiply. Where there was nothing, now we find relationship, of animals to plants, of people to the rest of creation, and of the Creator to us all.
The stories of closed and locked doors being opened go on—Abraham is afraid he will never have any offspring, a closed door, but God gives him Ishmael and Isaac and makes him the father of many nations. The Israelites are enslaved in Egypt, a closed door, and God delivers them—life out of death, a new way of living as God's people. King David the shepherd, writes of walking through the valley of the shadow of death, a closed door, but emerging, the stone rolled away and his cup overflowing. Daniel in the lion's den, as good as dead, but saved by the power of God. And aren't the people of God called to share life, as the prophets remind us to care for the widow and the orphan and to feed the hungry and visit those in prison, to look out for the foreigner in our midst, to share life in community, to look out for those on the fringes so that life might be abundant for all? Doesn't God ask us to open the doors between us so that light can shine and life be shared?
Jesus was all too familiar with closed doors, only he didn't leave them that way. Whenever he encountered them, he flung them wide open. Most obviously, he opened the closed door of death and brought eternal life, in his sacrifice and resurrection, but the way he died was a continuation of the way he lived. He was always opening doors other people preferred to keep closed, freeing those who had been trapped, and sharing life with those considered as good as dead. Touching those with leprosy, giving sight to the blind, and healing many, sharing food with crowds of people, and even raising the dead. Where there is death and hopelessness, a closed door, Jesus is there bringing life, looking for the living among the dead, bringing God's presence, God's Kingdom reality to this earth, flinging open the door so that people are not trapped, but fully in relationship to one another.
Our eyes are wide open to the closed doors around us, the problems facing this world. We saw the images of the terrorist attacks in Brussels this week. We heard the despicable rhetoric, the blaming and the closing of doors that went on between people arguing and explaining, rather than opening the door and taking in the pain and feeling the despair. We are aware of the suffering of this earth, the pollution and damage that has already taken place and wonder are we too late? We know of people living in their cars, who don't know how to feed their kids. We know people whose lives are destroyed by drugs or mental illness. We see a lot of closed doors and we further close them sometimes because we are afraid and the problems seem to big to start looking behind each door.
But in this big, dark hallway, we stand, like the women outside the tomb. They went there anyway. They went because it was part of their job—to honor the dead and treat them with respect, to remember them. They had faced many closed doors in their lives. Because of their experiences, they also had confidence, having faced challenges daily in their lives and ministry that they would overcome their challenges with God's help, and they would find a way in, a way to say their final goodbye, to anoint Jesus' body. To them, a heavy stone was nothing. They had brought children into this world. They had held the hands of the dying. They had held grieving mothers. They had dealt with bitter in laws and others who would tear them down. A stone was nothing to them. A closed door, even a locked one, might as well be a curtain. They had a job to do and that was to remember. Closed doors separate. Open doors re-member—put back together.
Remembering is what Jesus asked them to do at the Last Supper. Remembering is what the angels asked them to do at the tomb. “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galiliee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they did remember. They had been separated by death, by closed doors, by rules of their culture, but they found themselves remembering, coming back together as community—community with a story to tell. The men weren't ready to remember. They called it an idle tale. They didn't want to associate themselves with emotional, unrealistic women. They did not want to be community with them. And that's where we stand today. Is this an idle tale? Do we still insist on being behind closed doors, untouched by the resurrection, unwilling to take it in, or look for it behind the closed doors that we encounter all the time? Or are we ready to remember, to be part of the light and peace and challenge that Jesus offers? Do we have hearts of stone, or do we let Jesus roll away the stone and join us to community, however imperfect? Do we let God do the amazing work of bringing new life to those who most need it, so that God can build us into community that can make a difference in people's lives, that can share about the pantry and how hunger is a closed door between people and the fullness of life, who can work together across generations and classes and nationalities and religions.
God is rolling away the stone this morning, all those closed doors. May we be open to remembering the Kingdom and coming together to be the Risen body of Christ, feeding, healing, and embodying hope.