Several years ago, when the film Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring came to theaters, a friend’s family asked me to join them. I had no idea what the film was about, let alone ever heard of the book, but was happy to go to the movies. The story captivated me. I was completely drawn in. Nearly three hours went by in a flash. The next thing I knew, Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee had left the fellowship, for fear the ring might corrupt Frodo’s friends, and they wandered over a mountain on their journey to destroy the ring in Mordor.
As the closing credits came on screen, and my friends got up to leave the theater, I was a bit indignant. How could this be the end of the movie? Good had not overcome evil in a happy ending. This is when my friends broke the news to me that this was just the first of three films that would be released over the course of three years. But I didn’t want to wait years, so they suggested I read the books, which I promptly did.
We count on great stories to teach us about good overcoming evil. We seek out J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Madeleine L’engle’s Time Quintet, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter to discover how good overcomes evil. How love overcomes fear. How light overcomes the darkness. It’s not easy for us to discern in our everyday lives, but these authors tell us stories that can open up the possibility within each of us, within the story of our own lives. In many ways, these authors draw the arch of their story, from what I would argue is the story, the story we are here to celebrate today: the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Except much like my viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring, we don’t get our happy ending. We don’t get to close the book and move on. Not one of the gospel writers ended their story, “...and they lived happily ever after.” Easter is remarkably good news, arguably the best news of all, but it’s not the end of the story. Instead, what we see is how Christ overcomes death and the grave, how good is overcoming evil, how love is overcoming fear, and how light is overcoming the darkness. We live thru Good Friday to find the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. But the Good News isn’t over, because we are still only in the middle of our story, act two in a three act play. Like those who’ve gone before us, we a part of the story. Characters that come on mid-scene, and our ancestors were characters in the chapters before us. Our role in the story began with Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, and Salome when they went to anoint Jesus’ body within the tomb.
The women worried as they walked towards the tomb--who would roll that very large stone away? Yet when they arrived and looked up, the stone had already been rolled back. Instead of Jesus’ body, they find a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side of the tomb. Understandably, they begin to freak out. But the young man tells them not to be alarmed. After all they’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, and he has been raised. He’s not in the tomb.
The young man instructs the women to go and tell the other disciples and Peter that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee, and there they’ll see him, just as Jesus told them. The women fled the tomb, seized by terror and amazement. But a bit surprisingly, they don’t seem to follow the young man’s instructions.Because the last line of the gospel is, “...and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
“...they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
I’m sure we can all relate to that experience, locked in our own fear, unable to proceed forward or return backward, stuck in our own fear. Yet if the women had never told anyone, we might not be here today. Just like those great pieces of literature, the story continues, just not on paper. It continues with the women’s choice, after the written story has already ended. Something happens for them, something encourages them, to dig deep and share with their fellow disciples that Jesus is indeed risen. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here right now.
Unlike a good book, we don’t get to put it down and walk away, having enjoyed a good story. We have a job, a role, a part to play in good overcoming evil, in love overcoming fear, and in light overcoming the darkness. Because no matter what anyone may have told you, following Jesus is not a spectator sport. It is a full body, mind, and spiritual experience that defines our very existence.
We have a choice to make: Are we going to remain paralyzed by our own complacency, our own doubt and uncertainty, our own fear, our own anger, our own darkness? Or will we dig deep to find the Christ within us, and embrace our role in the story as followers of Jesus?
Just like that cold winter day in December of 2001, when I indignantly left the theater, frustrated that we didn’t get to see the end of the story, we leave here today without seeing the end of the story. We know, we believe, we affirm like those who have gone before us that…
“On the third day [Jesus] rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the [Creator].
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed, BCP 358).
We know that “We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come” (Nicene Creed, BCP 359).
But as we look ahead, we are not sitting on a park bench, twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the Jesus train to show up. We don’t see the end of how this story plays out in our earthly life, but boy does it matter that we play our part during our lives. That we live into our baptismal promises so that in our daily lives we are joining Christ in the work of good overcoming evil, love overcoming fear, and light overcoming the darkness. When the women discover the empty tomb, what they realize in fear and trembling, is that their work is not over, it has just really begun, and so has ours. At first they were afraid, but in Christ overcame their fear, or we wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t know about that empty tomb.
So I wonder, as we engage in this work of overcoming, what are you afraid of? What are you called to deal with, work thru, take on, or embrace? How might we together as a united body of Christ join in helping good to overcome evil, love to overcome fear, and light overcome the darkness? Amen.
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The Rev. Jane R. Dunning, Priest Associate
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