Sermon preached for Easter Sunday at Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church.
Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Human One must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words. When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.
I will never stop being amazed by the women who came to the tomb.
Partially it is because, I admit, I’m not a morning person. And every time I read that first line—very early in the morning on the first day of the week—I get a little shudder.
But also because theirs was a faith that extended beyond death. A faithfulness to Jesus that went beyond any hope of reward, of healing, of a miracle. They stayed loyal to Jesus when they knew they would get nothing for it.
Early in the morning—very early in the morning—they crept out with their jars and ointments to anoint the body. I imagine they met in silence, out on the dark roads, to make their way into the graveyard. Their Lord was dead and there was nothing to be done about it, but they could follow their rituals of compassion. They could stay by his side even when there was no prestige to be had there.
Jesus was dead. They loved him anyway.
That word, anyway, has been playing around my mind all through Lent, as I’ve glanced forward to this Easter text. We have been looking in the past season at challenges to our faith—truths and situations that make it hard to see God’s goodness, or hard to know how best to be faithful, or hard to follow in Christ’s path. We have tried to determine how it is that we have faith anyway—even when it is hard, even when it’s complicated.
And because I am a music person, and there is always some song or other playing in the back of my head, that word anyway comes with a tune attached.
Some of you may know the singer Martina McBride. She’s renowned for music that covers the whole breadth of human experience—joy and hardship, hope and frustration, stubbornness and sorrow. And on an album from a few years ago she sang a small song, not long, not famous, but it has stuck with me. It’s called Anyway.
You can spend your whole life building
Something from nothin’
One storm can come and blow it all away
Build it anyway
You can chase a dream
That seems so out of reach
And you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway
The music swells, and she reaches the chorus:
God is great
But sometimes life ain’t good
And when I pray
It doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
I do it anyway
The women reached the tomb, and they found it empty. I’ll never not be amazed by that either—that moment of utter shock, utter confusion. The one thing the women could count on in their world was death—that the dead stay dead, that they do not rise. I’m sure they had buried many in their time, and each beloved neighbor and parent and sibling and child stayed in their graves. But not this time. Not this morning.
Angels appeared to them, as angels had appeared to another Mary before, again with good news: he is not here, but he is risen!
Don’t you remember? The angels say. Don’t you remember, when you listened to him, when you followed him these three years? The things he said. That he would be killed, but after three days would rise again? It wasn’t a riddle. It wasn’t a metaphor. It was the truth.
And they remember.
Grief does funny things to a brain. Grief fog is real. But that morning, that early morning, the fog lifts and they remember. And they believe. It seems so impossible—the crucified do not survive, the dead do not rise, and common people do not get miracles of this scale—and yet they believe.
I give them all credit for it, but I cannot help but wonder if I would have had the faith. Because they believe sight unseen. Sure, the angels are there, but Jesus is not. The women believe on the strength of their faith alone. They do not see the risen Jesus. They do not touch his side. They do not hear his voice. They only remember that he said he would rise, and they trust the truth of it. They don’t see, but they believe anyway.
Not everyone’s faith is so strong. The women return to the rest of the disciples, and they say Christ is risen! the tomb is empty and the miracle has happened! God has come through for us.
And the other disciples think they’re nuts.
An idle tale, the hysteria of women. Their own grief, their own certainty in the power of death is too strong.
I have to imagine the women weren’t shocked not to be believed. They have traveled with Peter and his brethren for three years, and they know that he is hard-headed. And they have lived in a culture for decades that easily dismissed the testimony of women. I have to think they saw this coming, that no one would believe them. But they told their story anyway. They sang their praises anyway.
Martina McBride is a singer. It’s in her soul, it’s who God created her to be. It’s how she shares herself with the world. And at the end of Anyway, you can hear her vulnerability, her fear. What she has to give is song, and not everyone will accept it.
You can pour your soul out singing
A song you believe in
That tomorrow they’ll forget you ever sang
Sing it anyway
Now Martina is a global star, and when she sings, people do listen. But for the women at the tomb, they knew the odds were against them. No one would believe the good news of the gospel. But they preached it anyway.
What examples of faith we are given!
Some of you in this room are not convinced that Jesus lived, died, and rose for you. I’ll tell you it’s true anyway. Some of you in this room are not convinced that your sins are forgiven. I’ll tell you it’s true anyway. Some of you in this room are not convinced that you are worthy of love, and loved by God without a caveat or second thought. It’s true anyway. Some of you in this room are not convinced that you have gifts the world is desperate for. It’s true anyway.
And some of you in this room are not convinced that anyone would believe you if you sang the song that is in your heart, if you preached the good news of what God has done for you, if you tried to put into words half of the joy and faith you have known.
Tell it anyway.
You may not convince anyone. The women certainly didn’t, that first Easter morning. But Peter ran to the tomb to investigate for himself.
He didn’t believe. He didn’t hear a message from the angels. He didn’t meet Jesus there. But he saw the empty tomb, and he left wondering.
And wonder, my friends, is the door to all kinds of things. Faith, hope, curiosity. Wonder is where we start our journeys with God.
You can pour your life out telling the Easter story. You can show love like Jesus did, with no holds barred, without prejudice or fear. You can feed the hungry, comfort the sick, study the scriptures, pray without ceasing, tell everyone you know how much God loves them and loves them and loves them.
I can’t promise you that you’ll convince anybody the truth of your faith. But you may crack open the door to wonder.
To wonder where you get your strength, to say the word love in a world of hate. To wonder where you get your hope, in a world that’s gone crazy. To wonder where you find your peace, in a world of rancor. To wonder how you keep believing, when there’s so many reasons—good, strong reasons—to doubt.
And once you have them wondering, who knows what miracles God may work?
You may not convince anyone when you tell them that the risen Christ is your guide and grace in this life. Tell them anyway.
Peter didn’t believe the women. Not right away. But I hope word got back to those women, some months later, that he was preaching Christ resurrected, and that hundreds were believing, and being baptized.
This is our Easter story: the God of love has shattered death. The God of hope has won the day. The Lord of life is here, among us, even now, and we are never alone.
It’s a hard story to believe.
Tell it anyway.