“Then They Remembered His Words”
by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
Easter Sunday, 2019
After supper, Jesus and his inner circle went to the garden. There, the authorities arrested Jesus and his disciples fled. They abandoned him. They forgot all that he had told them. They forgot his assurances. They forgot his amazing parables. They forgot his powerful sayings. They let their fear get the best of them.
They forgot who he was. They forgot who they were.
They were the first ones he had collected from the lakeside in their backwater region of Galilee — the fishermen, the tax collectors, the ones who had to sell their bodies to survive, the ill and the injured, the drifters, the ones the world had misunderstood and trampled upon.
Later on, they became the ones he healed and empowered. The ones whom he befriended. The ones to whom he entrusted his ministry.
And yet they ran away when it really counted.
They were Jesus’ core followers, his helpers and representatives wherever he went, whether it was a village square or a city or a synagogue or a street corner.
They left him. Even Peter, his best friend and the head of the disciples, denied he even knew Jesus when it was risky to do so.
We understand why, right? We know that it was because they were afraid.
Fear always makes us forget who we really are — forget our roots, our commitments, our moral compass, our convictions. Fear has a way of robbing those important things from us. Fear of death, most of all, but also fear of loss, fear of change, fear of having to face danger or deprivation, criticism or rejection.
And then, they found themselves in a very gloomy place, a place full of despair, both the men and the women who loved and followed Jesus. The center of their lives, Jesus, was gone, tortured and humiliated on a cross, executed, and buried in a tomb.
And then… a not so very surprising thing happens. The women in the movement go to his grave early on Sunday morning to tend to his body. This was the usual custom. What is unusual is that, in a time when women were deeply under-appreciated, the gospel writers tell us that they are the first to discover his resurrection. Not some seemingly important man, but the women.
Yes, Jesus was dead and gone. But… instead of a dead body, Mary and Mary and Joanna and the other women find an angel who assures them that Jesus is alive. He reminds them of what Jesus had said.
As Luke writes, they remember his words. That he would rise again.
When the women report Jesus’ resurrection, the men don’t believe the women. (What a surprise, right? Men not believing women!)
In all seriousness, it is not surprising that the men have a hard time believing. Their life experience, their hurt, and their doubt cloud their ability to remember Jesus’ promises and to believe.
And then Peter has this moment, like in the cartoons, a lightbulb above his head. The light goes on and he remembers Jesus saying that this would happen. And Peter trusts the women’s report. And he runs to the tomb to see for himself.
Peter remembers. And his memory changes everything. Memory empowers him to have faith.
For all of you skeptics out there — and we are all skeptics to some degree: I am not going to try to convince you that it’s possible for someone to rise from the dead. I’m a believer, but my purpose this morning is to explore together the power of this story for our lives today. And we need this story right now, don’t we?!
And Luke’s version is a story about memory as a redemptive force. Remembering helps the disciples to have faith and to seek new life.
I have known many folks, some in my own family, who have lived with addiction — and died from it. Those who have been able to live in a healthy way with their addictions have been able to do so partially because they have remembered whom they were, whom they had always wanted to be, and whom God wanted them to be. They thought: I used be be healthy! I used to have relationships where people trusted me! I used to have faith! I want that back — in a new and life-giving way.
Therapists will sometimes help their clients who are debilitated by depression to remember times in the past when they were able to move out of that terrible place. These therapists help their clients to recall those times when they had good days, good weeks, even good months and years, times of productivity and happiness and connection; and this gives them hope that it’s possible to find that again.
There’s a well known story earlier on in Luke known as the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac. We don’t call people demoniacs anymore, but in those days, they thought that people suffering from epilepsy or severe mental illness were possessed by demons. This man’s behavior was out of control.
But Jesus helps him and he is able to calm down and be still and eventually to talk about his experiences with his neighbors. Luke says that, after Jesus cares for him, he is “in his right mind.” I think that being in our right mind means that we remember who we really are — that we are of value, that we are children of God, that we are members of a community.
Addiction and mental illness can feel like that stone that seals Jesus in his tomb before Easter morning arrives.
Racist systems and homophobic laws and economic unfairness can feel the same way: Like unmovable boulders blocking our way.
And yet, if we remember the past, we remember that our forbears and their neighbors overcame all sorts of personal problems and public injustices. And we can, too.
Sometimes that means remembering the bad as well as the good.
One of the reasons we remember the cross of Jesus is so that we keep in mind the ruthlessness and destructive power of any empire — and resist it. We remember the holocaust so that we can make sure it will never happen again. We remember slavery and Jim Crow so that we will have passion and energy for today’s ongoing struggles.
But today is Easter, and I’d like to emphasize the way that memory can open our eyes to the light that is all around us and how it can play a part in shaping a beautiful and liberated future for each one of us.
When we think back, each of us had parents, grandparents, teachers, and mentors who taught us how to do life. And we should remember them.
OK, so maybe our grandmothers’ saying, feed a cold, starve a fever, wasn’t accurate medical advice. Maybe our fathers’ ideas about sexuality were really off. Maybe our mothers’ words about how to be a real man or a proper lady turned out to be kind of messed up.
But many of those from our past set an important example as they pursued their dreams, cared for their families, stuck to their convictions, kept the faith, stood up for the weak, and served their communities.
And just as the disciples remembered their time with Jesus, as we think back on our interactions with the good ones, the helpful family members and mentors, we realize that those memories can clear away the despair of the present and open up new pathways for the future.
I am not one of those people who lives in the past, the good old days. They weren’t so good for a lot of people. And it’s a different world now and we have to be ready for it. But memories are important. Just as the disciples remembered Jesus’ promises, we too can remember those same words: The son of man will rise again, and gain hope from them. Jesus rose again and so can we.
And we can remember the words of others, and put their hopes and their wisdom to work now, and start living that new life we have been wanting to live for a long time.