Sermon Easter Sunday 2022 Luke 24 An Idle Tale Rev. Betsy Hogan
Have you ever really wanted to say to someone "I told you so"?
I know it's kind of wildly unhelpful, but sometimes, seriously? It sure can be tempting. When we've been moved by circumstance, out of the goodness of our hearts and the breadth of our experience, to offer the priceless gift of our stunningly brilliant advice... and been ignored...
And things fall apart. As we knew they would. And we told them so – this person who ignored us. Out of the goodness of our hearts. But they did not listen.
It's really unhelpful. But oh my word, it sure can be tempting.
I've often wondered, for example, if Mrs. Pilate said "I told you so". Actually dared on Easter Sunday morning to look across the breakfast table at her husband and give in to that temptation.
Mrs. Pilate, who had warned her husband – "I told him, 'Pontius, don't go. Don't go,' I said, but he wouldn't listen to me. Stay out of this conflict over Jesus of Nazareth, I told him. It's not going to end well, I told him" --
And sure enough two days later, some terrified messenger, quaking in his boots, comes in to tell Pilate that despite all the guards, despite all the security, despite every precaution being taken, the stone's been rolled away from the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and the body's disappeared.
Honestly, if Mrs. Pilate looked across the breakfast table and said to her husband, "I told you so -- I told you it wouldn't end well" -- it might not have been exactly helpful, but it's pretty hard to blame her.
Because this is really NOT a good result, for Pilate. Because he hadn't stayed out of it -- he'd agreed to the sentence of crucifixion for Jesus. He'd agreed to condemn Jesus for a capital crime against the state: for inciting insurrection against the state – against the Roman Empire, against Pilate's own authority.
His job is to protect imperial power, peace, order, and good government, and so he's mustered all the forces at his disposal. He's had the body placed in a tomb so it wouldn't be turned into a rallying point for Jesus’ followers --
He's had that tomb blocked by an enormous stone – he's posted armed guards there around the clock – he's made absolutely CERTAIN the body can't be stolen.
And now the body's been stolen. Or at least, obviously, so it was assumed. The body's gone missing at any rate, and what other explanation could there be?
It's a mess. For Pilate, this is a major breech of some fairly major security tactics. It HAS to give him pause. It might even have made him panic a bit. Because what is he supposed to do? When the best security he has at hand to protect imperial power can obviously fail so spectacularly??
I can’t imagine, on that Easter Sunday morning, that Pilate didn’t panic. I suspect, in fact, that he probably panicked quite a lot. And immediately started trying to figure out ways to improve security going forward. Because what should he have done differently? What could have kept this from happening?
If the guards at the tomb of an insurrectionist hadn’t been enough, then maybe there should have been guards keeping an eye on the followers. Maybe the followers THEMSELVES should have been rounded up and imprisoned.
But then, how widely should he cast the net? There were twelve followers who were clearly close to Jesus, but everyone knew there were others too. There were a bunch of women, for example, who always seemed to be around him as well, and even some prominent citizens – Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea – should they now be kept an eye on too?
But how would Pilate ever know he’d gotten them all? Word of mouth, maybe? Maybe he could send in some spies to infiltrate and collect information… It had worked with Judas Iscariot – maybe others would be willing to be turncoats too for the right price.
Or maybe, in fact, he muses, maybe just EVERYONE should be watched more closely. More guards, more surveillance, more arrests. Maybe that’s the only way. Maybe that’s the only certain way to ensure security. To keep the peace. To make absolutely sure that no sneaky messy little rebellion can ever break through again.
“Because security must be ensured,” Pilate might have declared emphatically, on that Easter Sunday morning. “More guards, more surveillance, more arrests. Security must be ensured!” Which is maybe what he then sent all his staff out to make happen. Everything possible, to ensure peace and order and good government.
More guards, more surveillance, more arrests. That would definitely solve the problem, Pilate's certain of it, and peace would be restored. This Jesus of Nazareth breech of security had been regrettable, but such a thing would surely never happen again. Maybe Pilate even feels quite satisfied now that he's sorted it.
At least until someone – maybe Mrs. Pilate again? she does have a way with truth-telling – shakes her head and bursts his bubble.
Because, everything possible had been done. There'd been surveillance. There were guards at that tomb, and well-armed. The stone blocking it had been enormous. Security HAD been ensured. And really really well. Absolutely perfectly, in fact.
But the tomb had still been emptied. The body was gone. Security HAD been ensured – and perfectly. But the body was still gone.
For Pilate, it'd be a profoundly scary thing to admit. That all the very best weaponry, and the most violent enforcement, and whatever stones and walls and barbed wire fences that we can ever as a human family come up with, either to protect our positions or smash home our points -- all of them have a limit.
None of them assures security. None of them creates peace. And if that's a profoundly scary thing to admit, it doesn't make it any less true. All they do is ramp up the cycle of danger until we're always afraid and we live in perpetual and ever deepening suspicion of one another.
And on Easter Sunday the limit of those tools of empire is laid bare, inescapably. Because against Easter Sunday, all of them fail.
Every one. Against the sheer defiant unwillingness of God to allow them that pleasure, that triumph over – instead -- the way of love. The way of courage and solidarity and compassion and justice and mercy and grace. That Jesus embodied and manifested in everything he did and proclaimed to anyone who'd listen.
The way of love. The world can try to kill it, Pilate tried to kill it in Jesus who embodied it, we STILL look to our weapons and unleash our violence as though these are the keys to our security and peace -- but it will not stay dead.
It can't. And "I told you so," Mrs. Pilate says across the breakfast table on Easter Sunday morning.
And "Remember how he told you so?" the angels say to the women at the empty tomb.
But it's hard sometimes to believe. It's funny in a way that we spend quite a lot of time trying to get our heads around the unquestionably unscientific notion of the resurrection, while meanwhile I think sometimes it's probably HARDER to believe that the way of courageous love and justice and grace and compassion can't be killed, no matter how much violence and war may try, because it won't stay dead.
It simply won't. It'll keep rising up, out of the rubble and the ashes and the anguish, and that can be hard to believe in the midst of them.
Certainly the rest of the disciples don't believe it, when the women run to tell them Jesus is risen. They call it nonsense, léros, an idle tale – there is no hope, there's only despair.
But if maybe we kind of get that, on our own Easter Sunday looking back at that first Easter Sunday, maybe those women pointing at the empty tomb -- when the disciples finally agree to go and take a look – have one more thing to say to us.
"See. He's risen. Love can't stay dead: he's risen. Didn't we tell you so? We totally told you so."
And they did. Thanks be to God, who helps us believe it. Amen.