Easter Year C 2022

They had come all the way from Galilee, these women:
Mary, the mother of James, Joanna, Mary Magdalene, and the other women.
It’s 75 miles away by today’s roads,
but they most certainly did not take a direct route—nor a car, of course.
They’d traveled on foot over the rough terrain of Judea,
through the hills and valleys from village to village.
These women walked alongside the 12 disciples, with Jesus,
as he healed and preached and broke bread.
The women had left their homes, their families,
the certainty of meals and a place to sleep.
They had followed Jesus as disciples themselves, these brave women,
providing for Jesus, Luke tells us, out of their own resources.

They never stopped providing…even after his death,
the women came to Jesus’ tomb, ready with fragrant spices and perfumed oils they’d prepared for his body…and… they found him gone.

None of the disciples expected the resurrection.
Not the crowd of people who’d been following Jesus all the way to Jerusalem. Not the 12 men we typically call the disciples.
Not the women disciples who’d traveled the same path.

If they had expected him to rise from the dead,
they’d have been keeping vigil, watching and waiting just outside the tomb. Instead, the 12 locked themselves inside, hiding away.
The women, after the crucifixion, followed Joseph of Arimathea,
as he carried Jesus’ body into the tomb,
but then as the Sabbath day was approaching, they left as well.

Jesus tried to tell them…
We read this in Luke’s gospel account
and while Jesus often taught with symbolism, stories, and metaphors,
he was pretty direct with them on this subject.
Three times Jesus talks about his death and resurrection.
The last time was just before they left for Jerusalem.
He took the twelve aside to tell them, “Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.”

Jesus’ words are pretty straightforward.

Yet, it is clear, that none of Jesus’ disciples or followers understood.
All of them thought Jesus’ death on the cross was the end.

It was early before dawn on the third day
when the women came back to the tomb,
fully expecting and prepared to tend to a dead body.
They were at perplexed to find him gone.
They were frightened to see the men in shining garments.
They ran to tell the apostles, but none of the apostles believed the women.
Peter, had to go see for himself,
but upon seeing the empty tomb, he left, also perplexed,
wondering what had happened.
He, too, missed the miracle.

I’ve read that there are at least two ways to miss a miracle:
first, is to dismiss it, to reject it right off the bat, maybe before it even happens, believing that astonishing things never really happen;
the second way to miss a miracle, is to domesticate it, to accept it too readily, rationalize it, to believe that nothing is really astonishing at all. (SALT project commentary)

This past Wednesday, smack in the middle of Holy Week,
I celebrated a very special communion.
Many of you know that St. Luke’s partners with the Arc,
a non-profit dedicated to providing opportunities
for those with differing intellectual and physical abilities.

We share our parish hall and kitchen and rooms
with our friends from the ARC during the week,
and together we pack the goods for the food pantry at the end of the month.

I’ve fallen in love with these friends, Lydia, Chris, Steve, Wesley, Tasha, and their caregivers, Hayley and Becca.
So when they asked about what I’m doing this Holy Week
and I talked about the plans for Easter beginning with Thursday’s Last Supper, they asked if I would offer communion for them.
Thrilled, I jumped at the chance.

On Wednesday, we gathered here in the sanctuary at noon.
As they arrived, I was playing one of my favorite songs on the speaker:
Kyrie Eleison by a group called Love Canon.
Kyrie Eleison are the words we often say near the beginning of our service.
It translates, Lord Have Mercy.
The song’s refrain sings,
“Kyrie Eleison Down the Road that I must travel
[Lord Have Mercy], through the darkness of the night.”

“How many times in life do we need those words?”,
I asked out loud, singing in my loudest voice.
“Oh Lord!” One friend responded.
Oh Lord, is right.
Kyrie Eleison Where I’m going will you follow?
Lord Have Mercy On the highway in the light.

We lit the candles, talked about Jesus Last Supper with his disciples,
and we said the Lord’s Prayer together.
They’d brought saltines and grape juice.
I’ve never consecrated saltines and grape juice before.
Thanks to the pandemic, though, I did have little cups for the juice.
Two things I learned aside, that day, by the way.
You cannot break a saltine over your head without crumbs going everywhere.
You will be on your hands and knees
making sure you don’t leave Christ’s body scattered all over the floor.
Secondly, and even more importantly,
you cannot eat a saltine and then try to talk out loud.
You can’t do it gracefully at least. You will spit crumbs.

Besides my own lessons learned, I would like to tell you
the joy of sharing Christ’s table with these friends.
But I don’t think I can.
My words would fail me. My tears will come back into my eyes.

It would be just as hard to say
which one of these new friends is my favorite.
I couldn’t.
I’d like to tell you about all of them…
About Tasha, who many of her friends call baby, and she loves it.
The sometimes, grouchy Steve
who needs his coffee in the morning before he’s ready to talk,
but who says hello all day long as if it were the first hello of the day.
There’s Lydia who gets to giggling and cannot stop.
And Chris who wears his red Alabama sweatband on his head
every day of the week—Chris loves music; he’s strong, he can carry any of the pantry boxes, and he’s compassionate.
Chris takes great care of the others.

Each is a child of God with their own gifts.
Each is a miracle of God’s grace.

But today I want to tell you about sweet Wesley.
Wesley, like Chris, is also an uncompromising Alabama fan.
But he can kid with me about my going to Auburn.
He is a young man, about 30 years old.
Wesley didn’t want to be at Saint Luke’s when he first arrived.
This was an unfamiliar place. He was comfortable with the old setting.
It was a lot for Wesley to make this change.
He is completely confined to a wheelchair.
Unlike the others in our group, Wesley needs a lot of help to eat and drink—
his fingers are twisted, arms are bent, and his legs don’t hold him up.
He needs folks to tend to his other physical needs too.
Wesley is also smart. He can tell you as clear as day what Easter is about,
he can pray the Lord’s prayer word for word,
and sing all the words to most church songs I know.

I learned this week why Wesley was reluctant to come meet at St. Luke’s.
The place where this group used to meet, was where he first met Andrea Tate.
Andrea was a friend of Wesley’s and many here in Scottsboro.
She could sing like an angel.
Andrea died just over a year ago and Wesley misses her deeply.
Leaving the other place meant leaving memories of Andrea.

On Wednesday, after communion, I asked Wesley what he wanted to sing
and he said, “I’ll Fly Away.”
Maybe you know the song…
“One glad morning when this life is over, I’ll Fly away.
To a land on God’s celestial shore, I’ll Fly Away.”
Wesley knows without question God will raise him up
and when he dies he’ll fly, as the song says,
like a bird from prison bars has flown, I’ll fly away.
I know he will.
No more wheelchair, no more frustration,
surrounded by love even greater than he’s found
in this amazing group of friends…
he’ll join Andrea and his loved ones, with Jesus.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
the men in shining garments ask the women
who came to the tomb on Easter morning.
Why are you afraid? “Get up. Remember what Jesus said,”
that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day.

Not even Peter was convinced what had happened.
Luke’s gospel leaves us here on Easter Day.
At the amazement they felt: the marveling and wondering.

We read only about the empty tomb today,
and I think this is appropriate
because this is what Easter faith looks like more often than not—
we are perplexed, left wondering,
uncertain of what to make of all this.

The very next verses tell the story of the walk to Emmaus,
where the risen Jesus joins two companions on the road,
and in the next story Jesus appears to his disciples in a room as they are talking. They still doubted, we know this
because Luke said they thought they were seeing a ghost.

Like us, many, many times, the disciples were reluctant to believe.
Like them, we too miss the miracles before our own eyes.
And Why?
Because we don’t want to be wrong?
We don’t want to look foolish or sound irrational?
Because we want our Christianity to be palatable?

Here’s the problem:
“Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered what is ordinary.”

These are the brilliant words of the Christian writer CS Lewis:
“Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered what is ordinary.”

What is Ordinary?
The enduring love a group of differently abled people have for one another,
and still they freely and generously offer that love to a stranger, to me.
It’s extraordinary.
They know love is not a commodity that runs out, ever.

What is Ordinary?
The devotion a group of women in the first century had for a teacher
who led them all over the dusty hills and valleys.
They just walked and gave what they had to Jesus’ cause, risking humiliation and disgrace,
and witnessed the most extraordinary miracle of all time.

What is Ordinary?
A nurse who begins a new career in the middle of a pandemic
and finds herself in an incredibly difficult place.
Angry, exhausted coworkers, irritated with one another,
impatient with patients—
And finds that slowly, in bringing her genuine vulnerable loving self
to this place each day…things begin to change.
It is the extraordinary miracle of love.

On Wednesday we concluded the Eucharist with sharing the Peace.
Wesley asked grouchy Steve for a hug.
Steve declined.
I asked Wesley if I could I have a hug.
He said “bring it on in.”

I leaned over his wheelchair and received the greatest, most endearing hug.
“You know what God’s superpower is”, Wesley? I asked.

He has this way of looking up with his great big eyes to think.
“Hmmm,” he said.
After a second or two I continued….
Spiderman has his webs to climb and swing.
Superman can fly and leap tall buildings in single bound.
God’s superpower is love. It can break down walls and build up people.
God’s love offers us new friends in new places.
God’s love can make crackers and grape juice
into a feast that fills us up like nothing else.
God’s extraordinary love even conquers death.

Even death on a cross.

Thanks be to God.