Just in case… Matthew 28: 1-10

28 The Sabbath was over, and it was almost daybreak on Sunday when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 Suddenly a strong earthquake struck, and the Lord’s angel came down from heaven. He rolled away the stone and sat on it. 3 The angel looked as bright as lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards shook from fear and fell down, as though they were dead.
5 The angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid! I know you are looking for Jesus, who was nailed to a cross. 6 He isn’t here! God has raised him to life, just as Jesus said he would. Come, see the place where his body was lying. 7 Now hurry! Tell his disciples that he has been raised to life and is on his way to Galilee. Go there, and you will see him. That is what I came to tell you.”
8 The women were frightened and yet very happy, as they hurried from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and greeted them. They went near him, held on to his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid! Tell my followers to go to Galilee. They will see me there.”
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It was almost daybreak. But still dark. Mary and Mary took a chance, under cover of darkness, to go to the tomb, to see—just in case—to see if Jesus had followed through on his claim that he would rise from the dead.

The Jewish authorities and the Roman authorities had prepared for such an eventuality. Only they framed it differently. They did not think Jesus would rise from the dead; but they knew about Jesus’ teachings and they feared that the disciples would steal his body, so they prevented that by placing a huge boulder in front of the opening to the tomb. And, just in case enough disciples showed up for the deed, Pilate was convinced to place Roman soldiers at the tomb as well.

Why was Pilate worried about a dead peasant? That dead peasant, when alive, had stirred up a lot of excitement among his followers. Those followers, for the most part discontent with Roman rule, had heard Jesus’ claims about a new kingdom. If Jesus followed through on resurrection, surely he would follow through on a new kingdom and that would mean rebellion and riots and disruption of the Pax Romana, the peace that Rome harshly imposed on all its subjects. So…just in case…Pilate, supported by the Jewish Sanhedrin, was taking no chances.

Yet, the women went to the tomb. Just in case.

These women, Mary and Mary, and a group of other women, had paid attention. They were not newcomers to the Jesus crowd. They had been with Jesus, maybe from the beginning of his ministry. Matthew chose the Greek verb, diakoneo, to describe the women’s actions. This word can be translated as “providing for” or “serving” or “ministering to.” I am speculating that the women who followed Jesus had been providing for Jesus for as long as they had known him.

We know that Jesus chose twelve male disciples, but we also know that he choose more than that. Luke tells us that (Luke 10:1) “Later the Lord chose seventy-two other followers and sent them out two by two to every town and village where he was about to go.” Surely among those disciples were some of the women named in the gospels.

All four gospels name at least one woman who went to the tomb on that Sunday morning.
Mark 16 :1-3 After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James bought some spices to put on Jesus’ body
Luke 24:8-10 Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some other women were the ones who had gone to the tomb. When they returned, they told the eleven apostles and the others what had happened
John 20:1
On Sunday morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.
Matthew 28:1
28 The Sabbath was over, and it was almost daybreak on Sunday when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

The women did not head for the tomb just before daybreak because they wanted to be the first ones there. They did not leave the safety of their Passover lodging to so that they could beat the male disciples. It wasn’t a race or a contest. They went to the tomb because they’d always served Jesus, for as long as they’d known him. Because Jesus was executed on the Sabbath, they hadn’t had time to embalm his body with oils and spices. They were just doing what needed to be done. Depending on which gospel you read, they may not have known that Pilate had made it impossible for them to enter the tomb.
But anointing the dead body was not their only motive.

Luke 24:8-10 Then they remembered what Jesus had said:

Luke 9:22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law,nd he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
They didn’t know what they would find, and they didn’t expect to get their names written down in a book for being the first ones there.

This is a good time to review the status of women in First Century Palestine.

In the first century, women were not allowed to testify in court. They were not considered reliable witnesses. [Keener (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew) writes:]
Most of Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries held little esteem for the testimony of women; this reflects a broader Mediterranean limited trust of women’s speech and testimony also enshrined in Roman law. By contrast, the guards’ report that the disciples had stolen the body (28:11-15) might command much greater respect then, and in an antisupernaturalistic culture like much of modern academia as well. [pp. 698-9]
A little later he notes: “In view of the prejudice against women’s testimony in antiquity, no one would have invented the testimony of the women attested in all four Gospels; indeed, Paul even omits it” [p. 702]. http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt28x1.htm

So, these women could have not had any other purpose than to continue to serve their beloved teacher. They were not thinking beyond their precious Jesus being resurrected. They would have had no expectation of telling the other disciples about what they had found, because who would believe them? They were women.

And yet, there was something about Jesus, something about the way he had treated them, something about his words, something about his actions, that empowered them. Jesus was a radical in so many ways: he empowered disenfranchised people, like rough, uneducated fishermen, and smooth-talking tax collectors; he welcomed the sick and the sinful, even as he schmoozed with the rich and powerful.
And there was something about Jesus that made the other disciples listen to those first witnesses, those women who had paid attention, who had believed, who had hoped, that they understood him correctly. Death would not take him away forever.

There is still something about Jesus.

I follow Jesus for a couple of reasons. I think his teachings help the world to be a better place and I think that his teachings cover every situation. When I follow Jesus, that is, when I love my neighbor, my family, the stranger as much as I love myself, by treating them the way I wanted to be treated, my life is better. I am happier. I am content.

The other reason I follow Jesus is because he has beaten death. I know that I will die and that everyone I love will die. What gets me past the suffering is the knowledge that it is temporary, that I will not disappear into some limbo but that I will live—actually have a life!—in the perfected Kingdom of God.

I will be honest with you. There are ideas in the Bible, ideas in religion, ideas in The Church, that I question. But the one thing I cling to with all my heart is that Jesus loves me so much that he willingly accepted death, not so that he could experience what I will experience, but so that he could conquer death. I cling to the resurrection as my hope for the present and the future. I know, and it’s important to me to know, that this body, and everything about it, will become a new creation in the presence, the eternal presence of God, God my Creator, my Savior, and my Strength.

Those women were the first witnesses to the greatest event to happen since the Creation. Because of those women, we know that God raised Jesus from death.

Yes, Jesus soon appeared to other disciples, but those women, the Mary’s, Salome, Joanna, and the others, are my role models. They paid attention. They took a chance. And they believed. Amen.

Eulogy: Anita Phyllis Stange Davis 1920-2019

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To leave the world a bit better, whether by healthy child, a garden patch, or redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you live—that is to have succeeded.” Anita achieved all those goals, leaving the world so much better through her all her efforts, which, in retrospect, seemed effortless, because she lived with such grace. Loving, creating, encouraging: she left the world a better place.
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To some of us she has always been Nitzi. Steve is the oldest of us twelve cousins. According to family legend, his pronunciation of “Anita” came out “Nitzi.” Eventually, eleven more babies were born over the next dozen years and thus began Nitzi’s career as our summer camp counselor and activities director at the best bed and breakfast in the world, complete with a little chicken house and chicken yard and a cattle tank complete with giant (to us) goldfish.
What did we do all day? I know we didn’t watch television, although there must have been a TV somewhere for Burdette to watch football. There was a railroad track right behind the house and whenever we heard a train coming, we ran to the fence to wave at the engineer and the caboose man. I know we were never bored.
In front of the house stood three giant pine trees. The rest of the yard was filled with a garden the size of this sanctuary.
Each year, the garden served as a test plot for new varieties of flowers and vegetables and for new techniques to combat bugs and weeds. She was famous for her flowers and her prize-winning flower arrangements. She was a guest speaker at numerous garden clubs and other organizations; perhaps her favorite topic was “Flowers of the Bible.” She was also superintendent of the Louisa County Fair Flower Department and co-superintendent of the Antique Department.
Flowers received a second life as she skillfully dried them and arranged them in bouquets. She arranged single leaves and petals into two dimensional bouquets and set them in gold frames.
The farmhouse itself overflowed with activity. The stairs in the farmhouse resembled a bookcase, with books stacked on each step. In the basement was the cream separator. Upstairs, besides the two bedrooms, were the plant room and the store room. The store room held memorabilia from Nitzi’s teaching days.
Teaching was her calling. Following her education at Wartburg, she taught elementary school in Muscatine. After taking a break to give Bobby and Randy a good start, she returned to the classroom to teach special education. Perhaps her skill in the classroom was nurtured by her special relationship with our cousin, Irene. Irene was a quiet person, and Nitzi was Irene’s closest friend. Nitzi had a heart for the marginalized. In our own family, she was the first to nurture relationships that might otherwise have faded away. She was the one who stayed in contact with Aunt Hun. She was the one who advocated for our cousin Chris through his childhood challenges. Nitzi drew out the best in her students. She was a confidant, an inspiration, and an advocate for her students, and after they left her classroom, she remained a loving friend.
You might not have thought of her as sophisticated. The dress she wore to Randy and Cindy’s wedding was scored off the sale rack for $16. She found her false teeth annoying. She wore plastic bags over her shoes in place of snow boots. Her fingers were often stained with paint or ink. But she taught us a sophistication that went beyond appearance to experience.
Did you know that her wedding bouquet was composed of red anthurium flown in from Hawaii? She introduced us to hors d’oeuvres. She arrived at every holiday meal with large platters filled with cheeses, liverwurst, and olives as well as more exotica like kiwi and starfruit. And pickled herring.
And her flower arrangements. She would pull up to the flower pavilion at the fair, open up the trunk of her car, and there, nestled among cardboard boxes and crumpled newspaper were exotic arrangements made with the most common flowers. Gladiolas, zinnias, strawflowers, cockscomb, combined with stems that others might call weeds.
If you didn’t like real flowers, she could decorate a wedding cake with frosting flowers. Or she could paint pictures of flowers.
She was an artist of many media. My first memory of her artwork is the metal trays she would engrave. She enjoyed ceramics. She painted pictures of whatever was in her life, chickens, flowers, trees. She wrote children’s books. She won as many prizes for her paintings as she did for her flowers.
She was both generous and frugal. To every family gathering, she brought gifts—scarves she had knit, cat pillows, sachets she had made. She never let an apple go to waste; every apple went into apple sauce and the apple sauce was shared with us. Come to think of it, she never let a flower petal go to waste. Besides the flower arrangements and the flower pictures, she stirred together fragrant concoctions of potpourri and sold it by the quart at craft fairs.
Her hands were never still.
Her faith was never still.
She was always aware of God’s presence in every aspect of her life. She loved Jesus, something we took for granted in those young years, but that love for Jesus imprinted itself on our young hearts and it remains to this day. She loved each us of as God created us and in the words’ of Luther’s Small Catechism, she put the most positive construction on all that we did.
NItzi had plans for heaven, too, you know. When Nitzi was in Castle Rock visiting Dean, she marveled at the foot hills and the mountains. She mentioned how she would enjoy seeing them formed… she would go to the library in Heaven when she got there. I suspect she will spend a lot of time in the library.
So. Here we are. The four siblings are reunited in heaven today—which is probably a fairy tale, because Jesus implies that earthly roles will mean nothing in heaven. But I hope they are brothers and sisters together again, fiercely independent and fiercely loving each other.
I can say this because we believe in the resurrection of the dead and in life everlasting.
1 Corinthians 15: 35-38 Some skeptic is sure to ask, “Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this ‘resurrection body’ look like?” If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a “dead” seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.
39-41 You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!
42-44 This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we’re raised, we’re raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that’s planted is no beauty, but when it’s raised, it’s glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!
Thanks be to God for the life and resurrection of our dear Nitzi.
Amen.