Joanna’s Story: A sermon for Easter Day 2013

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Joanna’s Story:  A sermon for Easter Day 2013 [based on Luke 24.1-12 (and Luke 8.1-3)]

My name is Joanna and this is my story, my testimony.

I have followed Jesus for many years; I was with him in the early days in Galilee.

My husband was called Chuza and back then he was a very important man, because he was Herod’s steward.  We used to live in a magnificent house in the new city of Tiberias – it’s on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and we had lots of estates in the region.  In those days I was very much part of the social scene, there were always court officials in our house, and there was always political manoeuvring going on.  And we were wealthy.  Being part of Herod’s court didn’t make me popular with the locals or my people – most of them saw me as a traitor to our nation and religion.  That’s life though isn’t it; like they say, success always comes with a price!

That life was exciting in some ways and very glamorous, well for Galilee, anyway, if you know what I mean. But just as money can’t buy you happiness, neither can it always buy you health.  I became ill and nothing would help, no physicians could get me well again. I became weaker and more despairing.  That is how I came to go out to Jesus.  We had heard of him, of course, the travelling teacher and miracle worker, going round proclaiming the Kingdom.  He was utterly disreputable; touching lepers, eating and drinking with prostitutes, even being friends with tax-collectors.  It was that, that made me take the risk of going out to him. If he would befriend tax-collectors he might be willing to see me the wife of Herod’s steward.

So I went out to him when he was in town – along with everyone else it turned out – and he gave me my life. He welcomed me and restored me to wholeness and I have been one of his disciples ever since.  Like I say, I wasn’t the only one whom he healed, there was Susanna and there was Mary Magdalene who had been delirious with evil spirits. There were lots of us women who were his disciples. Some of the others like me were rather wealthy and we provided for them out of our resources.

That was my conversion to the Kingdom.  I went about with him, I risked my status and reputation and in a way I lost my old life, but I found a new one in a new community where I belonged for who I am.  I had no special status but I had a place in the new family of Jesus, those of us trying to practice the will of God.

We journeyed with Jesus.  I was part of that great company, there was Peter, James and John of course and the rest of the Twelve, there were the Seventy, and there were many others too.  We were quite a multitude by the time we had reached Jerusalem for that last Passover. We were shouting out at the top of our voices as we waved palms and followed him on that donkey into town.

We journeyed with Jesus all that week from triumph to tragedy. We were in the crowd on that Friday morning shouting at the top of our voices that he should be freed but our voices were drowned out by the thousands shouting for his blood.  No one ever seems to hear the voices of those who cry out for mercy and peace. At that moment I wished I still had some political influence, but those days were over and I knew enough about how these things work to know it was too late.

And so we stayed with Jesus on his last journey; me and the other women who had followed him from the Galilee.  We followed him on the way of his cross. We had to stand at a distance but we saw it all. And when Joseph from Arimathea came and took down his body and laid it in his tomb, we followed still. We saw the tomb and how his body was laid.  It was too late in the day by then, nearly sunset and it was time for Sabbath rest.  All we could do was return to where we were staying and prepare the spices and ointments. And we rested on the Sabbath according to the commandments for we still kept the law.

That Sabbath was a long day and we could not truly rest – we were in shock, despair and the darkest, most bitter grief.  It was with the same darkness and despair that we set off for the tomb early on the first day of the week.  As well as me there was Mary Magdalene, Mary – James’s mother – and others besides.  We all went in silence – to be honest we were too numb to be really afraid though if we had thought about it we would have been.  And we were silent as we stood before the tomb looking at the stone that had been rolled away.  We didn’t know what to think so we went in and his body was nowhere to be seen; we were stunned and perplexed to say the least.

Then suddenly there were two men dazzling bright beside us and we all fell to the ground – a bedraggled group of dread-filled women silent with our faces in the dirt…  they were angels they had to be.  But they didn’t say “Do not be afraid” to us; I thought angels always said that – I thought they had to say it – isn’t it in their job description.  But not our angels, oh no!  Though God knows we needed to hear it.  Instead, our angels almost told us off… but the question they asked us still echoes round my heart and mind and soul and has shaped me ever since:  “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

They said it like it was obvious – I suppose it was to them, but we hadn’t quite got it yet.  They told us he was not there but had risen!  They said, “Remember what he told you back in Galilee.”  Galilee seemed so long ago and so far away just then.

“The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again.” I remembered his words, I remembered Jesus saying that to us, I remembered and I understood.

Then we ran, we ran back through the burial ground, back through the streets, we ran through the half-light of dawn with a new realisation dawning in our hearts and growing as we ran.  We rushed into the safe house where the apostles were still hiding and we told them the great news.  It burst from us like a song.  But they didn’t believe us. Stupid men with their refusal to accept the evidence of women – but we weren’t just any old women we were disciples too they should have listened to our testimony.  They thought Mary Magdalene was delirious again. But we were the ones in our right minds!

Only Simon Peter got up and ran off to see for himself.  Poor Peter; he hadn’t stopped crying bitter tears since cock crow the day before. And now with roosters crowing at a new day he ran off in search of forgiveness and assurance and a new relationship with the man we all followed.  In the years to come that’s what made Peter such a great preacher and leader; he knew what it was to fail and fall, and to be forgiven and restored.

And now years later I still have echoing in my heart and mind and soul the angels’ question:  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Often I am still guilty of such a fruitless search.  I catch myself wanting to tend the corpses of long dead ideas and ideals; I still cling to former visions of myself, even to memories of those heady days following Jesus around the fields and lanes of the Galilee.  It is almost as if I believe that they might come back to life if I hold on to them.  And I still grasp my friends and loved ones too tightly sometimes refusing to let them change and grow.  Sometimes the things I know already – even the things I know to be dead and gone – seem safer.  But the angels’ words come to me again and again “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”   They are my challenge to keep on letting go into new life.  They are reminders that the Holy One dwells wherever new life bursts forth.

My name is Joanna and this is my testimony.  I follow Jesus, my Living Lord.