160327 – An Idle Tale (Easter)

Luke 24:1-12

I frequently find it fascinating to read our gospel stories very closely and carefully, because I think what tends to happen is that we conflate all the unique versions of a story into one.
We see this at Christmas when we have shepherds and angels and 3 wise men at the stable when that is actually an amalgam of stories. Cross-Empty-Tomb-mystery
We saw it last week when we read Luke’s Palm Sunday text and discovered there were no palms in that version!
And today, on this glorious Easter morning, we dig deep into the text and discover something truly astounding.
There’s no Jesus!

In Luke’s telling a group of women (not just Mary) come to the tomb to perform their customary burial rituals and discover the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Two men in dazzling white appear and ask the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

And then they say the line that keeps me employed!
Verse 6, “Remember how he told you…”
Well, no, they don’t remember. We seem to keep forgetting the things Jesus teaches. My job is to remind us! (and me in the process!)

Why do you think we can’t remember?
Why do you think those women, who had apparently very recently heard Jesus himself speak of wondrous things, can’t remember?
Or is it that we (and they) remember but we just don’t quite believe it?

Verse 8, “Then they remembered his words…”
After they were reminded of Jesus’ teaching, while experiencing something quite wondrous (an experience of the Presence of God in the form of two dazzling white-as-lightning figures) they remembered, lit up, and ran to tell the disciples.

Notice they didn’t actually encounter Jesus!
That’s in some of the other gospel accounts. In this one, in Luke’s telling, Jesus doesn’t appear – but they experience the Holy and they remember his teaching and they are sure in their hearts that Jesus is somehow, mysteriously, wondrously alive.

Off they go and tell their tale and what happens?
Picture the scene.
Imagine you were one of the 11 disciples.
How would you react to this news?

Luke 24:11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

An idle tale. Nonsense. Silliness.
That was the reaction of Jesus’ closest followers upon hearing the indescribably wondrous experience those women had.

Do you see the problem? They’re trying to describe an indescribable experience!
Those women didn’t just hear about Jesus’ rising, they didn’t just remember what they’d once been told or read in a book somewhere, they experienced an inexpressibly wondrous spiritual thing and were transformed by it.
Of course it sounds like an idle tale to those who haven’t had a similar experience. How could it not?

For those of you who have had children, imagine trying to explain to someone what that experience is like such that they’d fully understand it. Good luck!

Now think about us today.
Here we are in church this blessed Easter morning.
Here we are celebrating something wondrous and mysterious and frankly inexplicable.
Here I am trying to make the tale seem less idle.
But that’s impossible. I can’t do it. I’m sure there are some folks here today who may not be regular church-goers and they’re probably thinking this seems like nonsense. For all I know some of the regulars do too.

So what shall I say or do?
I know that I can’t explain it to you.
I know that I can’t put into words what I’ve felt, what I know in the depths of my being about this mystery.
I know that my experience has transformed my life and it’s utterly real and inexpressibly wonderful.
All I can do is try to let the light I know shine through me like those two glowing dudes at the tomb, and to invite you to remember.

And if you have no frame of reference for remembering, and for many people who think Easter is about bunnies and eggs that’s the case, then I invite you to catch a glimpse of the mystery.
That’s what Peter did.
empty_tomb11Peter heard the tale and instead of judging it to be idle verse 12 tells us he “got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves…”

In other words, he was moved by the look on the women’s faces, intrigued by their experience, opened himself to the possibility that he might be able to experience it too, and went and had an experience of the mysterious, mind-blowing, brain-baking resurrection for himself.

And then, being Peter, the lead disciple, he obviously went back to the others and set them straight about believing this idle tale, right?
No! Verse 12 says, “then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”

That word amazed means “in wonder, marvelling, awestruck, astonished, and pondering” all at the same time.

So he went home, overwhelmed by an awesome mystery, because all he had to offer in that moment would have seemed like an idle tale.

There is no resolution in Luke’s telling of the Easter morning mystery.
It begins with mystery and ends in mystery.
And that’s exactly where we should stay.
Just because something is amazing, wondrous, astonishing, and indescribable doesn’t mean it’s not true. It simply means it’s a mystery.

If you leave this place moved by the experience please go ahead and share it with people with light in your eyes and wonder on your face, but don’t be surprised when the person you’re talking to doesn’t get it. It’s very possible they have no frame of reference. Like Peter, a person has to “see” – and by that I mean have a spiritual experience of the Presence of God – for themselves.

No one in Luke’s story encounters Jesus until the road to Emmaus – but they do encounter sacred mystery.
Such is Easter.
That’s what’s going on here this morning.
We’re celebrating the wonderment.
There’s no explaining the inexplicable.
I am not trying to convince you of anything, or argue a theological point, or even try to make you see it as I see it.
There’s plenty of time for that stuff. Today, I’m simply inviting you to not insist on answers but be open to the mystery.

It will always seem an idle tale until we peer into the empty tomb ourselves and become awestruck by the incomprehensible, astonishing, amazing, bewildering, marvellous, wondrous truth that somehow, someway, “he is not here, but has risen!”