March 31, 2013: Easter Sunday
Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women had come with Jesus from Galilee into Jerusalem. Most of them had been Jesus groupies for awhile, following him around, cheering on his miracles, footing the bills.
Jesus’ public ministry wasn’t long–just about three years–but it was intense. Jesus and his followers walked the dusty roads together, finding stones for pillows each night. They ate in the homes of assorted religious elites and societal outcasts.
Jesus’ followers, Joanna and the Marys among them, saw demons cast out, storms stilled, diseases cured, sight restored, bread multiplied, a dead man raised. They were obviously impressed, or they would have just gone home where they had more comfortable pillows.
They were impressed, and hopeful, and loved, and I can imagine that they hung on every word Jesus said. Repeated his parables and his other teachings to each other in the evenings around the fire, teasing out meanings, wondering together at the depth of their wisdom.
Three intense years. It’s not such a long time. Not really.
Which is why this exchange between the two dazzling men and the women at the tomb is somewhat perplexing to me.
The women are confused by the empty tomb. The bright shiny men show up and say, “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.”
“Remember how he told you . . . ” Remember? Of course they remember! They have been devoted to Jesus for three years. Walking with him. Learning from him. Listening. Listening.
Remember? “I will be crucified and then rise again on the third day.” That’s the kind of thing you would remember! Especially when Jesus is actually crucified. Those are words that would come back to you as you stood on the hillside, looking up at his body hanging on the cross. “I will be crucified and on the third day rise again.” How could they forget?
But the writer of Luke tells us that after the men’s pronouncement, “Then they remembered his words.”
Then they remembered.
They had forgotten. Seeing Jesus die on the cross didn’t remind them. Seeing the rolled-away stone, the empty tomb, didn’t remind them. It took the words of the shiny men saying “remember.”
Because people forget. We forget. We just do.
There are competitive memorizers, I learned this week; people who participate in the World Memory Championships. The record-holder in the names and faces event memorized 195 names with faces in fifteen minutes. In the “Speed cards” category, someone memorized the order of cards in a shuffled deck in under 22 seconds. And the current record-holder for memorizing the number pi can tell you the first 60,000 digits.
But most of us can remember about 7 digits at a time. A phone number. When I was in high school I would have to go to the office each year after Christmas break to have them remind me of my locker combination.
“Remember how he told you?” And they didn’t.
Words, stories, though. Those are different from impersonal digits and cards and even random faces and names. Surely we’re better at remembering the words we hear from the people we love.
I was blessed to know my great grandmother well. She lived until I was in Jr. High. And for many years of my childhood, we would pick her up each Sunday and drive her to my grandpa’s house where my Mom’s family gathered for lunch. On the car ride up to the next town, Great Grandma would always tell stories. Often the same ones. Cumulatively, I must have listened to this woman, who I loved deeply, tell stories for days. I remember how much I loved these stories. I remember that a lot of them were about her work with developmentally disabled adults. I remember the warm feeling I had just listening to her voice.
But I couldn’t repeat one of the stories.
“Remember how he told you?”
The last days I had with my dad before he died are precious to me. I want to remember everything. Who was there when. When he was moved to intensive care. What we watched together on T.V. That KU won both games he saw. What he said. Every word. How it felt to stand by his bed with the presence of God so heavy around us.
Right now, in the aftermath of everything, it feels like I will never forget. Like I could never lose any detail about those days. But I know that’s not true. I know the images and sounds and details will fade. I know I will forget some things–certainly not everything, but some things. And I so desperately want to remember.
That’s why, the first day I had to myself after Dad’s funeral, when I was home and the kids were at school, I sat down and typed up what I could remember about his time in the hospital. That’s why I’m writing blog posts and sermons with stories about those days. Because I don’t want to forget.
“Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee . . . ”
Barbara Yoder told me that she and her father wrote down things her mom said during her final illness. And then, on the one-year anniversary of her death, they were able to sit down together and read through those words.
“Remember how he told you . . .”
Somehow . . . because they were human, because so much had happened, because they were sad and scared and confused and exhausted . . . somehow Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women had forgotten some of the words of Jesus–important words. It took two men in dazzling clothes to remind them: on the third day, he will rise again.
It’s hard, really to remember the words of Jesus. Because they don’t sound like the words we’re used to hearing. Blessed are the poor, blessed are those who hunger. Turn the other cheek. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
It’s hard, really to remember the words of Jesus. Because some of them just don’t make sense–can’t even be true, can they? The last will be first. You must lose your life to find it . . . On the third day I will rise again.
These sacred words. These stories. We hear them and read them. But remembering . . . that’s different. Remembering when we are sad and scared and confused and exhausted and, at least in my world, there are no men in gleaming robes standing in front of me saying “remember”. . .
. . .
I know. Usually, Easter sermons focus on the women–their faithfulness, their witness. Or maybe on the men and their disbelief. Or, if we preachers just want to go for the obvious, we focus on the resurrection itself. The fact of real and true and eternal life no matter how real and true and eternal death might seem. It’s all true and important and holy.
But this year, I’m really struck by these men in glowing robes. To be honest, I’ve never paid a whole lot of attention to them before. But this year I’m haunted by their word: remember. Because it is at once so simple and so hard. To remember.
We are certainly capable of forgetting things we have heard and seen. And we are also capable of remembering things that never happened.
Remember. It seems simple and easy. But it is actually hard and complicated. And so, so important. Remembering is important for who we are now, in the moment. And it is important for who we will be in the future; for how our world is and how our world will be.
As people of faith, or even as people who think we want to try to be people of faith, remembering is essential.
Jesus participated regularly in the festivals of his Jewish faith that recounted the stories of scripture. Festivals including Passover, in which the story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt is remembered amongst the Jewish people.
It was at a Passover meal that Jesus spoke the words that Christians hear at the communion table, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
It seems that we all need help with this essential commandment. Because it’s not as easy as it seems.
Like what we do here, together. In many ways it seems a simple thing. What we do in this place each week. We gather. We read words from the scripture. We tell stories. We share pieces, small pieces, of our lives. We give each other blessing and wish each other peace.
We help each other remember.
Because when we are living real lives; when we are sad and scared and confused and exhausted, it is all too easy to forget. Easy to forget even the most important things.
That God is good.
That you are loved.
That light shines in the darkness.
That life has defeated death.
“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 Jesus’ words.”
Even standing in front of the empty tomb, as we are today, it can be hard to remember.
And, assuming no people in glowing clothes come walking through the door–or falling from the ceiling–might I suggest that we can be those messengers to each other. We can speak the words of life to each other. We can tell the stories. We can prompt the remembering.
On this Easter morning, I give thanks to God for the amazing, saving, life-giving power of the resurrection. And I give thanks to God that I have you–each of you–with whom I can gather to remember. Let us remember together. Let us remind each other: Christ is risen!