March 31, 2024

"Running Towards Hope"

Luke 24:1-12

When I was a sophomore in high school, I decided to run track. My events included high jump, pole vault, and running the mile and two-mile races. I could never figure out pole vault very well, but I was decent in the high jump and pretty good in the mile event. I ran with a couple of goals in mind. The first was to improve my time in the mile. My fastest time to date is running a 5.08 mile (as if I will somehow beat that time at 62😉). I also had another goal in mind- that I could do better at my favorite sport, baseball. I ran towards improving my athletic ability to become the best first baseman ever and someday play for the Oakland A's. Alas, that dream did not materialize.

In this morning's passage, we again focus on the disciple, Peter, who we learn in today's passage also ran. Peter also ran with a goal in mind- not to improve his athletic abilities or time. He ran towards something much more profound and meaningful.

Just how far do we think Peter ran? Well, if the tomb of Jesus was at the site of the church of the Holy Sepulcher, and if Peter was in the Upper Room when the women delivered the Good News,  which tradition holds is a place in Jerusalem known as "The Cenacle- meaning "meal room" in Latin, then the answer is he ran .75 miles to the tomb. Hosting a .75-mile Resurrection Run and fun walk next year might be fun as part of our Easter fair.

Let's review today's story to find out what made Peter run.

As the story begins, a group of faithful female disciples, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James, and other women go to the tomb. They hope to have someone move the gravestone in front of the tomb to anoint Jesus' body with spices for burial, commonly done at the time. This is not an easy job by any means-touching the corpse of their Rabbi whom they loved and followed. Yet, as they approach the tomb, the stone has already been moved, and as they peek inside, Jesus is gone. Two men in dazzling bright clothing are there, assumed to be angels.

These two angelic messengers urge the women not to fear and to remember Jesus' words. "Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again" (24:6-7).

The angels' words inspire the women, and as a result, they remember Jesus saying over and over he would be crucified, die, and rise again. They hurry to the Upper room to tell those mourning, fearful disciples what they had heard and seen. The women seem to believe that Jesus has done as he had said and want to share the amazing news. Church tradition has dubbed these women "the apostles to the apostles" (the official name is quae apostoli ad apostolos).

The disciples' response is disappointing, to say the least. Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis writes, "And what do the disciples say? Not just words of disbelief but outright dismissal. While translations will render their reaction as "an idle tale," "foolish talk," or "nonsense," the real meaning of the Greek word is, "garbage." The women announce Jesus' promises fulfilled, and their response- from the ones who were CLOSEST to Jesus- Is, "Yeah, well, that's a bunch of rubbish." That was the response from all but one of them-Peter. Peter jumps up, bolts out the door, and runs toward the tomb. Peter runs in faith towards HOPE.

We've learned so much about Peter during the season of Lent. Peter told Jesus to leave him alone, for he was sinful. Yet he dropped everything and followed. He chastised Jesus about the idea of a suffering, sacrificing Messiah and questioned Jesus about all sorts of things. "How many times must we forgive? "You would wash MY feet?" "Where are you going?" He stepped out in faith, sank like a rock, drew his sword, and pretended he didn't know Jesus three times to save his skin. Now, he runs to the tomb, wondering if it was true after all. In this act, and all that preceded it, Peter models a faith that somehow persists even among the doubts, the deep valleys, and the mountaintop experiences. His tenacity in hope motivates him to run. When he gets there, he is filled with either amazement or puzzlement. The Greek is not clear on his disposition. Most translations, however, suggest Peter is confused and wondering. Some older versions of this story omit verse 12 altogether.

So, only Peter acts in faith and hope as he runs to the tomb. But then, he is perplexed. You would think an account of this event would give us the news that Peter believed and ran back to tell the others. Yet his initial response is one of confusion. So then, if those disciples who were closest to him thought the whole thing was confusing and rubbish, fake news (except for the female disciples, that is), what about us? How can we modern-day disciples, so far removed from this point in time, have faith enough to run towards the hope of an empty tomb, a risen Messiah, and be anything other than puzzled? We live in an age of idle tales, fake news, and false A.I. generated content. Perhaps this message of a Risen Messiah is just one more message that is "…a tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing," to quote Shakespeare's Macbeth?

I can no more prove to you the hope of the resurrected Messiah than I can the birth of the Christ child. Faith is not an intellectual puzzle. Hebrews 11:1 says, "11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Faith is not some puzzle in which we put the pieces together and see the picture clearly. Faith is a mystery in which we live. Faith helps us see our lives and the world around us differently and can help us run toward hope, even amid confusion and mystery.

Theologian Diana Butler-Bass writes, "The Resurrection is a living theological reality, a distant event with continuing spiritual, human, and social consequences. The evidence for the resurrection is all around us. Not in some ancient text, Jesus' bones, or a DNA sample. Rather, the historical evidence for the resurrection is Jesus living in us; it is the transformative power of the Holy Spirit, bringing back to life that which was dead. We are the evidence."

We can see evidence of resurrection in our own lives. Think about the times in your life with little deaths and resurrections, when life seemed broken and full of suffering, moments when you felt abandoned by God. Yet, life and hope were resurrected in time as God accompanied you to new life.

Jesus is not in the tomb. New life, moments of our resurrections, and the promise of death not having the last word can direct us to run in faith toward hope. The world around us can try to put hope in a grave, but it won't stay there. Hope is right in front of us, for the tomb is empty. As the men asked the women, "Why look for the living among the dead?"

Theologian Lucy Lind Hogan shares a story illustrating the angels' words. Years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land with a church group. My husband was telling our eldest son that I would be going. "Why?" he asked. I think my husband was a bit confused. His response was, "Well, you know, Jesus." I have long recalled my son's response because I think he understood the angels' admonition. He told his father, "Tell her he's not there."

He's not there. He is risen just as he said. You won't find anything rational or reasonable regarding an empty tomb. But you may find something to run towards in life- hope. It took some time, but eventually, that hope transformed the perplexed Peter into an incredible and faithful disciple. After Jesus rose and ascended, Peter spent approximately thirty years spreading the news about Jesus, mostly in his hometown of Capernaum. He was the first to preach on the day of Pentecost after the gift of the Holy Spirit. He was the first disciple to reach out to Gentiles and tell them of the hope he knew. He is also believed to have spread that hope beyond Capernaum in Pontus, Galatia, Caesarea, and Jerusalem. Somewhere between A.D. 64-68, Peter was crucified by Emperor Nero. He was crucified upside down, as he did not feel worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. The traditional site of his crucifixion is Vatican Hill in Rome. The Basilica of St. Peter in Rome stands upon his burial site.

From an arrogant, doubting, questioning, perplexed follower, Peter became a humble, willing disciple, spreading the message of Christ throughout the region of the Holy Land. The hope he ran to changed his life and the world around him.

 That same hope eventually changed this skinny kid on the track team to share the Good News of Christ for almost 44 years. I didn't make the A's, and I didn't become the next Bjorn Borg in tennis, nor the next opera star on stage. I'm working with Christ to help build a kindom where hope, mercy, and justice can abound for everyone. It is a hope that I share with others and a hope I hold onto for myself, especially in difficult days. I remember that death does not have the final word- that although some days may be Fridays, Sunday is coming. I remember that the Risen Christ can be present with me in spirit and that one day, I shall be reunited with those I have loved and lost, for in the end, love and new life win. That hope changed Peter's life, and it changed mine. Will you let it change yours?






Rev Sara Speed wrote the following poem on the mystery of hope in Easter.

Easter Morning

"I cannot stay away on Easter Morning. Like Peter, I would run if I could, stop the car, pump my arms, and take the church steps two at a time, all to know— Did it happen? Did it really happen? Is evil no match for love?

I'd slide down the center aisle. I'd grab the mic to ask the angels, the heavens, the people, were the stories true?

And in response, the choir would sing "Alleluia." The people would flower the cross. The preacher would tell me the stone was rolled away.

The people would pass the peace, welcome strangers, and make room in the pews.

And with faith over doubt, I would hope. For I imagine that all of that ordinary holiness would be enough hope for Peter, and so, it is enough for me."

May the hope in a Risen Messiah, which is all about us even now, motivate you to run towards hope and bring change to the world. Alleluia! Amen.