Whoever wrote the Gospel of Luke employed a nifty narrative trick. He loved making the beginnings and endings match up, kind of like bookends. You’ll see this in the individual stories. You’ll see this in the arc of the Gospel, so if you were to sit down and read the whole book from before Christmas until after Easter, you’ll hear the endings and beginnings come into splendid harmony. And if you want my advice —keep your eye on the angels.
Today our story begins with Joseph of Arimathea. The Bible says, this guy, Joseph, was good and righteous. He was waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God that Jesus had promised…
Now even though Joseph was a member of the council, he knew —something was wrong. Even though he was in the room when Jesus was on trial… Even though he did not speak up to stop the crucifixion… There was some kind of shimmering trouble in his spirit. So after the world cried out in hate and executed the Lord, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Jesus’s body.
It was Joseph who wrapped the body in linen. It was Joseph who provided the tomb. It was the women who followed Joseph to see what he was doing…
Of course, it was the women who came back after the sabbath to finish preparing Jesus’s body. What happened next —some will say was a vision induced by the trauma, others will say it was more real than life. Some will say heaven came down and crashed into the earth. Others will say, right there in the tomb, earth got itself mixed up with heaven.
The women have come looking for Jesus, and he’s not there. Only angels are in the room. Once the angels say: Remember what he told you… That’s when the women believe what happened!
Believing is funny like that. Part of it is our choice; it takes effort to believe what you believe. Part of it happens to us! We can’t make ourselves believe what we don’t any more than we can stop ourselves from believing what we do. The women listen, and remember, and believe. They flee the tomb and rush back to tell the others, but now the other disciples don’t believe them, and you’ve got to wonder whether we would…
Then there’s Peter. Even though he didn’t speak up to stop the crucifixion… Even though he denied even knowing Jesus… There’s some kind of shimmering trouble in his spirit. So when he heard what the women were saying, he had to go check it out for himself.
The scripture that Ron read begins with Joseph; it ends with Peter. Both of these men failed Jesus when he was counting on them, but that’s not what is shining today. In today’s story, Joseph steps aside from the council and chooses to care for Jesus’s body. Peter steps aside from the other disciples and entertains the possibility that the women could be right.
What if the church could learn something from Joseph and Peter? What if there’s some shimmering trouble in our spirit that makes all the difference…
These days in our world, there’s a rising zeal to put the pandemic behind us. On the news, we see images of crowded parties. I remember one neighborhood was holding a mask-burning celebration. More and more of us are getting vaccinated. As we’re feeling the winter turn into spring, we’re feeling like the end is in sight, we’re feeling a collective impatience. I know, we want things to get back to normal. We want to travel and eat in restaurants. We want to come to church in a sanctuary full of people! If you’re tired of staying home and staying apart, you are not the only one.
One reason why this is so hard and why we are so tired is — we’re grieving. All of us. And grief is exhausting.
In this past year, in what feels like an act of searing cruelty, the covid pandemic exposed what might be our most visceral human fear. As it turns out, it’s not dying. That’s not what we’re most afraid of.
It’s not even the experiencing the death of the person we love.
It could be, our deepest human fear is having a loved one who is dying and not being able to be in the room with them.
These are the stories that cut us to the quick. There was the family who kept vigil in the parking lot outside the facility where their father and grandfather was dying. Even though they couldn’t be in the room with him, they believed he knew they were there. We’ve seen doctors and nurses trying to get cell phones to patients in isolation, and when that fails, stepping in as surrogate family, holding their hands while they died, blue latex gloves pronouncing the blessing.
First: If you are not beside your loved one when they die, that is not your fault. Not even a little bit. That is simply how it goes sometimes.
Second: Let me make you this promise. No one is alone when they die. The angels are already in the room. I can’t tell you whether it’s heaven pouring into the earth or earth getting itself mixed up with heaven, but I’ve been in hospitals and hospices enough times to know this.
I can tell you for sure: No one dies alone.
And. It could be, that doesn’t help enough. That doesn’t solve the problem of needing to be beside your sister when she takes her last breath, of needing to hold her hand. And maybe you’ll get to be, but now we’ve seen— maybe you won’t. There’s something shimmering in each of us that needs to be in the room, and maybe it’s our trouble or maybe it’s our truth, but I have come to believe it.
And so it is. I know you are weary from the grief of this year. We’ve not all had the same horror or the same heartbreak, but whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, I know you are carrying grief. I know there’s increasing pressure to get over the pandemic and reclaim our old lives. And I get that.
I also know. Right now, there is something the church could learn from Joseph of Arimathea and from Peter. Whatever was shining in Joseph that made him step aside from the crowd and wrap Jesus’s body in a linen cloth… Whatever was shining in Peter that made him step aside and believe the women…
What if there’s a shimmering impulse in the church that lets us step aside from the peer pressure in order to recognize, somebody is grieving, Lord, come by here.
Because here’s the thing. We could bless their grief with our own hands. We’ve already made this our practice. We already reach out with cards, and casseroles, and Facebook comments. Already I can promise you that when you are grieving, Church of Peace will not ask you to get over it. Instead. We will believe you.
Already this is our jam, so you don’t need me to tell you how. You might need me to point out that right now, our world is desperate for this. Right now, there’s a vivid yearning for people, who are not going to swoop in and fix the grief, but who will believe it and bless it. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is that when you try this, when you listen to someone else’s anguish and decide to stay with it for a minute, what you have done is you have put yourself in exactly the position to behold its turning.
One of our church members who survived covid told me that these were the Bible verses that brought her back: “May those who sow in tears, reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves” (Psalm 126:5-6).
In case nobody has warned you somebody should, when you go and believe those who are weeping, you will see. It’s tears that sprout into gladness. The mourning ones are about to get up from the dead, and here’s the thing. You just might be in the room when we do.
Whoever wrote the Gospel of Luke employed a nifty narrative trick. He loved making the beginnings and endings match up, kind of like bookends. Right at the beginning of the book, we meet a man who was getting ready to die. The Bible says this guy, Simeon, was devout and righteous. He was waiting to see the promise of God, the restoration of Israel. In the song coming up next, it’s Simeon we’re talking about when the lyrics name “those who wait to see salvation’s dawning day.”
So all of us reading the story are watching Simeon. We know that he will not die until he gets to see the Messiah! But while our eyes are on him, you know what Simeon’s looking at? That baby. He’s bending over Mary who’s holding baby Jesus. Those teeny little baby fingers wrapping around his gnarled spotted old man finger!
Now maybe it’s heaven crashing into earth or earth getting mixed up with heaven… Maybe the baby is holding onto the dying man’s hand, or maybe this dying man is holding God’s promise of new life, or what’s the difference. And what are all the angels doing here? Some’ll say they’ve come to usher the dying ones into heaven. Others say they’ve come to startle the shepherds and sing the world back to life, or what’s the difference.
Oh my friends. When you choose to believe somebody who’s grieving, when you bless their grief with your own hands, all I’m saying is you’ll be there when the weeping turns. In the shimmering of your own heart, you might find yourself believing the resurrection! You might find yourself getting up from the dead…
And you know what. Now it’s not just the angels who are singing. Oh Hallelujah!