Sunrise Service Reflections 2016
Rev. Dr. Peter Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, UCC
I have always loved attending and leading sunrise services. Since I was a very little boy, I’ve relished the excitement of rising earlier than usual and making my way to the seashore to greet the day and hear the good news of Christ’s resurrection. There is something especially hopeful about gathering with brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors at this hour to remember once again the promise of new life when we thought there could be none.
Just a couple of night ago, we remembered the story of Jesus’ last evening with his disciples. He knew his time was short and gave them a beautiful way to remember him in the simple meal of bread and wine. He washed their feet and told them to love one another. He prayed that, if there was some other way, some other avenue toward a new world, that God might let him avoid his fate.
But he knew. He knew that his very public criticisms of those in charge, his followers’ statements that he was their messiah (their king), and his relentless acts of love for the loveless would lead him to the cross. His moral authority was too great for the powers and principalities to tolerate.
And so he suffered the fate of the countless people who stood up to the authority of empire – not just in Roman times but in all times. They humiliated him. They abused him. They destroyed him.
Each of the four gospel writers has a different way of telling about what happens next. The group that goes to the grave is comprised of different people in each gospel. In Mark, they find a young man there, dressed in a robe. Could be an angel. In Matthew, it’s definitely an angel. In John, no angels, but the risen Jesus himself.
Here in Luke, there are two men dressed in dazzling white (probably angels). And the group visiting the grave to anoint Jesus’ body for burial is all female. Two Marys, a disciple named Joanna, and an unspecified number of other women as well. If you count the two angels, it’s getting pretty crowded in the graveyard!
But maybe that’s Luke’s point. This is a conversation between the angels and the core women of Jesus’ movement, amazing women who are not valued in that time and place simply because of their gender. Whoever wrote the Gospel of Luke had a special place in his heart for those who had suffered or who’d been left out.
These are women who had followed Jesus from the beginning of his ministry in Galilee. They are part of his nucleus and had participated in and witnessed all the wonders that Jesus had performed — as he healed the sick and cast out demons and fed the hungry. They had heard all of his wonderful stories and had a lot of stories to tell themselves.
The Gospel of Luke says that Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs to preach and heal and do all sorts of amazing things, and these women had likely gone out and done all of this and more.
Jesus was probably the fist spiritual leader they’d ever met who’d taken them seriously and empowered them for their own ministries.
But here they are, deep in their grief, expecting to prepare Jesus’ broken body with the spices they’d brought, and these two angels are telling them the he has been raised from the dead.
And the question these angels ask is really important and very challenging: Why do you look for the living among the dead?
Luke is the only gospel writer who reports this question. And I think I know why. If Luke has a particular concern for the lame and the lowly and the left out, the message is clear: The old world wasn’t for you. The old world ignored you, abused you. The new world, the world of God, the world that Jesus showed you, the world that he brought close to you, is your world.
I can imagine the angels taking turns telling the women that, in Jesus’ resurrection, we see a way forward. The old is passed away and a surprising new day is here for each of us.
Even us guys!
In the spirit of Christ, everything we thought could not change can change. Everything we thought was impossible is possible in some fashion or another.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? Let’s not look in a graveyard for the Living One. Let’s not look in our old habits and assumptions for the new way of life that awaits us. We can’t retool a rusted machine. We can’t rehabilitate a rotten house.
But the Spirit is offering us something new. And we can choose it!
Let’s look together to the sunrise. And to the risen Son of God, and embrace a new beginning.