Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
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Sermon for Easter Sunday, March 27th, 2016: More Than An Idle Tale, Luke 24:1-12
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
More Than An Idle Tale: Luke 24:1-12
We might not be here if it weren't for the women. That's right. We might not even be sitting in this room, thousands of miles away from Jerusalem, if these women had not shown up to care for Jesus' body. Had they not been willing to follow the mournful customs of preparing the body of the newly dead with spices and ointments, who knows when the rest of Jesus' followers would have found out that he was no longer in the tomb. Jesus' body had not been stolen. He was simply not there. The angels reminded the women that he had foretold this just days earlier. Remembering that he had said these things and recognizing them to true, the women ran to tell their brothers in the faith. These women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several more, were all the first witnesses to the empty tomb. Luke tells us that Jesus appeared to his male followers several times after the women found that he was no longer in the tomb. Who knows if the disciples would have believed what they had seen if they first had not heard from the women that his body was gone from where it had been laid.Were in not for these women, would the men have been able to believe? Would we even be here?
While all four Gospels describe Jesus' women followers being present through his torture, and execution, Luke is the only Gospel in which Jesus' male followers actually stay with him to witness his death. They did stumble a bit beforehand, falling asleep when he asked him to pray for themselves. Even Peter, the one who has been so sincere in his faith, stumbled. He denied knowing Jesus once he was arrested. However, despite their faults, these men did not abandon him in his final hours in this Gospel as they appear to have in others. They were described as having have been among the witnesses who stood a ways off with the women and watched as the Romans killed Jesus. There's even a chance that Peter was there. He was definitely present when the women arrived to share what they had seen. In fact, Peter seems to be the only one who took the women seriously. Maybe the painful memory of his earlier bout of fear helped him be ready to fearlessly trust the women, even if the story they shared seemed impossible and even though women were not often considered to be trustworthy witnesses.
As scholars remind us, even in this country within the last 100 years, women of all races and men who were not white were not considered credible witnesses in court cases. It was only in 1975 that women were allowed to serve on juries in all 50 states. To this day, when people on the margins offer witness, when women, people of color, children, people with histories of addiction, mental illness, or incarceration, LGBT folks, Native Americans tell true stories that run counter to the commonly accepted narrative, people often don't believe them. The disciples were not immune to this societal pattern. Even though the men know that Jesus was capable of great miracles, even though they had watched him defeat death and illness and poverty time and again, even though they had seen Jesus repeatedly do the impossible, when the men heard the women tell a story that ran counter to what they deemed possible, most of them did not believe the women. In fact, Scripture tell us that they considered the testimony of the women to be an idle tale, what one scholar says would be comparable to the wild, exaggerated speech of someone who was delirious, or, put even more simply, hysterical nonsense.
Only Peter is able to hear Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, and the other women and take their testimony seriously. Through his own mistakes of the last few days, he has been reminded that sometimes the last thing that you think can happen does actually happen. Rather than dismiss the women's tale as hysterical horse-pucky, he ran to the tomb to witness this most recent miracle for himself. He ran because he remembers what it is like to be in the place of the women, what it is like to be in the presence of the Divine when Jesus once again stretches the limits of what is possible. Peter recognizes God once again at work in their story. He, like the crowds who have followed Jesus throughout his ministry, has to go and see Jesus' latest acts of powerful love for himself. He runs to the tomb and he sees that all is left in the tomb is Jesus' burial clothes. Scripture tells us that he is amazed. Jesus has surprised him once again.
What the other male disciples forgot, and, I think we can forget, is that Jesus was giving them hints and clues to the Resurrection all along. They should have not been surprised when the women came and told them their story. It was just one more sign in a long list of signs of New Life in Jesus' ministry. Maybe they were present when he said that he was coming to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, to bring good news to the poor and the captive and the wounded and the sinful. Perhaps they had seen his of abundance where thousands could be fed with just a few piece of bread and fish. Had they forgotten that he once healed an enslave man who was very near death? Had they also forgotten that he once raised the dead son of a woman who had no one else to care for her? In the midst of their grief, did they not remember that he loved everyone... even tax collectors... even Judas? Had they forgotten that they taught them how to repent and give back to the world some of the grace that he had offered them? It sure seems like they didn't remember. Maybe they were so deep in their pain that they had forgotten that they had already seen bits and pieces of new life beginning to sprout all around them, so they couldn't recognize that this empty tomb was actually New Life, that is, the Resurrection in full bloom.
The women remembered. And, Peter did, too. The remembered what new life in Christ felt like and recognized it again, with a little angelic help, when they saw this empty tomb. They recognized that this new way of life that Jesus had called them to, a life of repentance and reorientation towards service of the poor and oppressed, a life he modeled for them with such unwavering loyalty that he would eventually be killed for it. They finally recognized that this kind of life was ultimately even more powerful than the murderous empire of Rome and her collaborators. They saw this empty tomb as a culmination of a divine life lived with compassion, mystery, loyalty, and surprise. They might not exactly have known what it meant, or have understood how it happened, but they knew it was good. They knew that it changed things. They knew that it changed them, and through this resurrection, they would work with Christ to change the world.
That is the only reason we are sitting here today... someone experienced the Resurrection in their lives and was so changed by it, that they had to tell us. Maybe we believed them and showed right up, like Peter did. Or, maybe, like the rest of the disciples, we needed a little extra help believing. We'll learn more about that in the coming weeks. Either way, we are here because we have learned about Resurrection and realized that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, Resurrection means that death and oppression cannot/ will not/ does not have the last word. We may not understand how or why Resurrection happens. But we are willing to keep showing up and peering inside the tomb. We are willing to tell the story of the Resurrections in our life. We are willing to work with Christ to make Resurrection keeps happening.
Let us leave here today remembering and recognizing, just like the women and just like Peter. Remember Christ who died just like we do. Remember Christ who cared for the ones no one cared about, and entrusted them with his witness. Remember that death did not have the last word in his story and doesn't have to have the last word in ours. Recognize that Christ is here with us when we work at the food pantry, when we drive someone to the hospital, when we advocate for kids in the juvenile justice system, when we pray together, and weep together and dance together. Recognize that Resurrection is more than an idle tale. Go be a part of it.
Pastor Chrissy consulted the following resources when writing this sermon:
Greg Carey: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/lukes-interpretation-of-jesus-death_b_9517668.html
Craig R. Koester: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=558
Karoline Lewis: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=4571&utm_content=buffer8aa9e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
Michael Joseph Brown: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2819
Arland Hultgren: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1581
Jane Schaberg, "Luke" in The Women's Bible Commentary, 3rd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998).
Fred. B. Craddock, Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).
Helpful history regarding women's ability to serve on juries in the United States:
David Lose: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1576
Anna Carter Florence: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2249
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Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.