“Not an Idle Tale”


March 27, 2016


Text: Luke 24:1-12; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26


          Early on that Sunday morning following Jesus’ death on the cross, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of James, and other women who were among Jesus’ followers went to the tomb with the fragrant spices they had prepared to anoint Jesus’ corpse. When they got there, they discovered that the stone used to seal the tomb had been rolled back, and when they looked inside, they saw that Jesus’ body was gone. As they wondered what to make of this, what Luke describes as two men in gleaming bright clothing (which we can assume to be angels) stood beside them. As the frightened women bowed down to the ground, the angels said to them, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”

          The women didn’t go to the tomb intending to look for the living. Their intent was to look after the dead, to offer their final act of love and devotion to Jesus by lovingly tending to and caring for his dead body. Instead they were jolted with the stunning news that Jesus wasn’t dead at all: “He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Human One must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered—and suddenly the things Jesus said about this that had once sounded strange and unbelievable started making sense.

          The women went back to Jerusalem, where the eleven remaining members of the Twelve were gathered, and told them and Jesus’ other disciples what they had witnessed. But the apostles didn’t believe what the women told them. It struck them as nonsense—or in the wording of some translations, “It seemed to them an idle tale.” Luke tells us that only Peter bothered to go to the tomb to check out their story. He found an empty tomb with only a linen cloth remaining in it. But that was not enough to lead him to believe the women’s story. Instead we are told that he went home wondering what had happened.

          To many in our world today, the idea of someone rising from the dead still seems an idle tale. Death, after all, is all around us. We experience the deaths of our own mortal bodies and of those we love. Some of us have known the pain of having a loved one complete suicide. We learn daily of people dying of medical conditions, in accidents, in natural disasters, or through intentional acts of violence. And every day in many parts of the world substantial numbers of people die of hunger or of diseases that could easily be treated if they had the medicines readily available to do so. Depending on the circumstances, we may see death as a tragedy, especially when it happens to a young person, or as a blessing when the person went through a lot of suffering or was deeply incapacitated.

          Death is all around us. Resurrection, meanwhile, is exceedingly rare. Past generations found resurrection a difficult concept as well, which is why they tried to explain it using analogies such as the coming of new life in spring or the hatching of chicks out of eggs. But winter dormancy and the fetal development of poultry are not the same thing as death. Today some people might say resurrection is similar to dying and getting a new life in a video game. I don’t think that analogy works, either. “Dying” in the video game world causes no real suffering to the game player beyond the irritation of losing and no real death. Getting a new life in that context simply involves pushing a button on the game controller. But Jesus really suffered and died, and surely his resurrection involved far more than a reset to the game.

         I submit that there is nothing in our everyday human experience that can really serve as an analogy to resurrection. It is no wonder that Jesus’ followers thought that the women’s story was nonsense. We should not be too hard on them. Had I been in their place, I probably would have reacted in the same way.

          The apostles finally came around when they started having encounters with the Risen Christ. Then they finally acknowledged the Resurrection to be real and true, although they were still amazed. It is because of their testimony, which became the testimony of the early church, that we proclaim even today that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. It is a testimony that has survived persecution, execution, and ridicule, because the Resurrection is about more than a corpse that came back to life. Resurrection is about Christ living in us, creating new life in us, life lived in relationship with Christ, not only so that we may have life forever with God, but also so that we may share that life with others in Christ’s name through our loving service to the least, lost, and left out.

          The bottom line for me is this: without the Resurrection, Christianity makes no sense. Without the Resurrection, we have no hope, no assurance of God’s forgiveness, no promise of eternal life with God. Without the Resurrection, we would not have the life of Christ living in us, giving us the power to serve others in his name. Without the Resurrection, Jesus is nothing more than another great teacher and prophet who got killed. The Resurrection is not an idle tale. It is the very heart of our faith.

          That does not mean I can explain how it happened. To me that remains a mystery, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Often people look upon a mystery as something to be solved, like a murder mystery. But the Greek word musterion, from which we get our word “mystery”, actually has to do with secrets that can only be known if God chooses to reveal them to us. Thought of in this way, mystery serves as a reminder that I do not and cannot know everything. Some things are best left as marvels and wonders that are beyond my comprehension, reminders of the sheer greatness of God. I believe the Resurrection is one of those things.

          In Jesus’ rising from the dead, the Apostle Paul tells us, God has placed every power and authority in heaven and earth under Christ’s control. That includes the power and authority of sin. As Peter told Cornelius and his household, “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Because Christ has taken control of the realm of sin, that realm no longer has any authority over us—he has set us free from sin’s death-dealing power. Christ has also taken control of the realm of death, the final enemy. Although our mortal bodies still die, because Christ has taken authority over death and defeated it by rising from the dead, we have the promise of eternal life in him.

          But if that’s the case, why is the world as messy as it is? The short answer to that question is that the world rebels against Christ’s control and refuses to submit. The powers of this world are all about their own self-preservation and self-aggrandizement, about dominating others, and are all too happy to resort to violence and oppression to get their way. They live in opposition to God’s way.       Some of these powers even claim to represent God, but their behavior often seems not to comport with how Christ wants us to live.

          I find that there are also places in my own life where I rebel, where my submission to Christ’s authority is incomplete—there are certain parts of my life where I struggle with wanting my way rather than God’s. When this lack of submission happens, the symptoms are similar—seeking to dominate, to oppress, to belittle, to do violence. You may recognize similar tendencies in yourselves.

          We cannot go back 2000 years to witness what the women observed in person. But we don’t have to. The clearest evidence for the Resurrection, it seems to me, is when the life and love of Christ is evident in the lives of those who belong to him, including you and me. If we let the new life in Christ that lives in us shine forth in our love and service to others in Jesus’ name, that will be the most convincing evidence we can offer that the Resurrection is real.

          Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!


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