To the curious, Jesus offers new life
A Sermon preached by The Rev. Tom Pumphrey
at the Church of St. Peter & St. Paul, Marietta, GA, April 21, 2019
The Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus (Easter Day, year C), Luke 24:1-12
Luke 24:1-12 (NRSV): On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 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. 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.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 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.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Welcome to St. Peter & St. Paul on this feast of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Today we celebrate God stepping into human history to live and die for us and to rise again to new life, so that we might have new life. Jesus brings us God’s forgiveness, restoring us to God, restoring us to each other, and renewing in us the wholeness God wants for us. Before the resurrection, Jesus’ followers were afraid, defeated and scattered when Jesus was crucified. But then they changed and started sharing with the world the Good News that Christ is alive, and that he offers us new life.
In today’s reading from the Gospel According to Luke, we hear about Mary Magdalene and other women who were among Jesus’ disciples who go to Jesus’ tomb after the sabbath. They go to anoint his body that was buried quickly before the sabbath began. At the gravesite, they find the tomb open, and Jesus’s body gone. Angels appear to them and tell them “he is not here, but has risen.” The women run to the apostles and the rest of the disciples to tell them what had happened. But to apostles, it seemed like an idle tale.
However, at least one of the apostles did not seem to think it was an idle tale. Peter was still curious. Peter did not dismiss the women’s story. Surely, Peter was devastated by Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. Perhaps he still felt the burden of guilt since two days before when he had denied Jesus three times. Yet, Peter did not let go. Something about his experience of Jesus or something that rang true in the women’s story drove him to look further, to follow that curiosity to see what he might discover.
So, instead of wallowing in his grief and defeat, Peter followed his curiosity enough to run to the tomb where they had laid Jesus’ dead body. There, Peter found the tomb just as the women had told them. Jesus’ body was not there, and Peter was amazed. Peter followed that curiosity and discovered that there was more to the story. And what he discovered led him to be more curious and to follow that curiosity to more discovery.
Peter’s amazement at the empty tomb was not the end of the story. He followed his curiosity further. Over the course of the next seven weeks in church, we will hear more about how Peter and the rest of the disciples encountered Jesus risen from the dead. As Peter returned to the other disciples, he himself encountered Jesus, alive again. Peter then meets with the other disciples, including two who also encountered the risen Jesus.
Later, Peter meets Jesus by the sea of Galilee, and Jesus talks with Peter about his life and ministry. When the Holy Spirit fills the disciples, Peter is the first to preach boldly to the public about the Good News that Jesus is the Son of God, risen from the dead, and offering forgiveness and new life to his followers. Peter continues to follow that curiosity, and he discovers more that God has to reveal to him.
Peter followed his curiosity about Jesus, and each time he did, he discovered more and more about the truth of Jesus. He discovered more and more about the new life that Jesus offers us. Peter discovered more and more of Jesus’ love for him personally. He discovered that this was not just an idle tale. This was God breaking into the world in Jesus to bring us new life.
Many people come to this church as they do to other churches in this area and all around the world. People bring their own experiences of life, their own hopes and their own burdens and losses. They also come with their own curiosity—even people who have been coming here for years come at least just a little curious about God. In just this last year, I have met many of these people and watched their curiosity lead them to new discoveries of God at work in their lives.
A couple visited this church from time to time, usually on the holidays when a relative was in town. Over time, they became a little more curious. They met a few people and learned more about the church, and came a few times on their own. And their curiosity grew. They were trying to understand more about themselves and their marriage. They were trying to understand more about being parents to their young child. Questions of career came up, especially when the husband lost his job.
They found themselves following that curiosity back here, seeking to understand where God was in all that they had to navigate. They wondered whether the story about Jesus was more than an idle tale. The more they followed that curiosity, the more of God they discovered. Their challenges didn’t all go away, but they were able to see God at work in subtle ways in their life, ways that they would have missed had they not been looking. And the more they followed that curiosity, the more they discovered about God and the more they discovered God’s love for them personally.
Others have come here struggling or grieving a heavy loss—a death of a loved one, or a chronic illness. They need a new start, but they don’t know how to start. So they follow their curiosity until they discover God’s presence here, in prayer and in new friends who walk alongside them. Slowly, God begins to heal their loss, and they find the freedom to celebrate the gifts that God brings them each day.
I’ve met young adults sorting out their lives wondering about relationships and career. They are not sure where God fits in, but they know they want to do that sorting out with God in some way. So, they follow that curiosity. They follow that curiosity until they discover God alive and at work in their lives.
Teenagers from this parish went to Puerto Rico last summer on a mission trip. They went into one neighborhood and knocked on doors to see how they could help the villagers. No one opened their doors to them. But they were still open to what God might do. They gathered in the middle of the neighborhood and began to pray together for the people in that neighborhood. And soon, one by one, doors began to open and people came out to struggle through the language barrier to ask for prayer and receive prayer. Both the teens and the villagers followed their curiosity about Jesus until they discovered him at work in their lives.
What about you? Where are you curious about God? What questions do you bring this morning? What burdens do you bear? What joys do you want to understand more fully? Where are you looking for new life?
The resurrection of Jesus is not a metaphor, not an inspirational story, not a self-help fable. The resurrection of Jesus is not an idle tale. The resurrection of Jesus is God stepping into human history to take action in our lives. Every time we feel that curiosity, we really feel God himself actively pulling us a little bit closer to him. Every time we follow that curiosity and stick with the hard questions, we will discover God more and more. And God will pull just a little bit more until we keep following that curiosity further.
God stepped into this world in Jesus Christ. Jesus showed the full extent of his love for us by giving his life for us, demonstrating his forgiveness of us and the sacrificial love that embodies his grace. Jesus then rose from the dead to show us that not even death has the last word in our lives. Jesus offers us a new life—a life that is even stronger than death.
Follow that curiosity. Follow that curiosity until you discover Jesus alive in your life. Follow that curiosity to discover more and more of the truth of Jesus and the truth of God’s love for you personally. Then you will know why the world rings out today with the Easter acclamation: Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!