1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 24:1-12
How we view Easter depends on how we tell the story. Each gospel writer has their own particular way of remembering and re-telling what happened on that resurrection morning long ago. We hear these ancient accounts and they help us understand what we mean today when we say Christ is risen.
In his telling of the Easter story, Luke uses three words that do not appear in the other gospels. They point to how he understood resurrection, and how we might, as well.
First, the women are perplexed when they enter the tomb and there do not find a body. The other gospels present the women as terrified or in tears, and the women in Luke get frightened eventually, but that’s not where they start. They start with perplexed. Only Luke uses that word to describe the initial response to the empty tomb.
We may have a similar reaction to Easter. Perplexed. The ancient Greek here conveys at a loss for what to do or (what to say, or, as one translator puts it: “I know not how to deal with you.”https://biblehub.com/greek/639.html)
What a great way to start Easter, to say to the risen Jesus: I know not how to deal with you.
It’s perplexing to the women. Mysterious. Why should it be any different for us?
Then there’s anotherLuke-only word: dazzling. The women would later say they saw two men in dazzling clothesinside the tomb. The ancient Greek here meanssomething like lightning flashes. The othergospels simplysay they were dressed in white. Luke wants to add to the mystery and wonder of the Eastermoment by reporting they were dressed in sparkler suits.
Luke uses one otherword that appears only in his gospel to suggest how he views the Easterstory. The women goback and tell the men the tomb is empty, and that two mysterious sparking figures told them Jesus had risen. At this point Luke slips in a little first-century misogyny when he says the disciples dismissed it all as the folly ofwomen that wasn’t worth hearing.
But Peter is curious. He gets up and runs to see forhimself, and sure enough, the “idle tale” of the women turns out to be true. He then returns home –and here’s the third word – amazed at what has happened.
I’ve given Peter a hard time in Easter sermons over the years for simply going home. If he’s that amazed – and this is the Type A approach to Easter – shouldn’t he go do something about it instead of simply going back home? Has he missed the point entirely?
But the Greek here is subtler, more like he wondered within himself. Peter has gone internal at this point in the story. He’s marveling at something extraordinary, and there’s nothing he can do about it. It’s the stuff of wonder at this point in the story. No action needed. Peter wants to go home, probably to take a nap and dream. Dreaming may be the best first response to Easter.
Like the women, Peter is perplexed and is so filled with wonder he has no words. Resurrection can hardly be expressed or understood or explained.
Theologian Belden Lane says of language about God:
“We must speak, yet we cannot speak without stammering…(It) stalks the borderland of the limits of language, using speech to confound speech, speaking in riddles, calling us to humble silence in the presence of mystery.” (Quoted by Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, p. 70)
There was no risen Jesus when the stone is rolled away that day. There was no sighting of a completed resurrection in the graveyard. There was no Jesus-come-back-to-life-and-talking outside the tomb, as Luke tells it. Only mystery. Perplexity. News so dazzling, so outside human experience, that it was hard to make sense of it.
At memorial services we often use this prayer: Show us now your grace – and we hear that word repeatedly in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth – that as we face the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity. The women who think they’re about to face the finality of death when they get to the tomb instead catch a glimpse of the mystery of life beyond life. The light of eternity. Maybe those two dazzlers had brushed up against it and it stuck to their clothes.
Luke doesn’t need us to see Jesus outside the tomb, as do Matthew and John. He’s signaling there will be more to Easter than the perplexing emptiness, but we shouldn’t rush to get there. Luke has more to tell, but not yet. Let the wonder of it sink in first. Let’s not overthink it or try to work our way through the physics of miracles or the mechanics of resurrection. Let us simply pause and make room in our shadowed hearts and our troubled, gloomy world for the light of eternity.
Can we linger long enough there to hear Easter as Poet Jan Richardson imagines?
“This is an invitation,
This is your life calling to you
From a place you could never have dreamed,
But now that you have glimpsed its edge,
You cannot imagine choosing any other way.”
(Jan Richardson: https://paintedprayerbook.com/2019/04/21/easter-sunday-where-resurrection-begins/)
Luke will step over the threshold soon when he tells the story of a fleeting appearance of the risen Jesus later that same day in the village of Emmaus. And then the work of Easter begins – once Jesus is out in the world. It continues today.
Millions of people around the world are opening their homes and communities to refugees – more than one million in Poland alone over the last month. Members of our own church are supporting Afghan refugees. Why? To care for the most vulnerable members of the human family. That’s the power of Easter love.
The great mystery of our faith is not that resurrection happens, but that it happens over and over again. We fail at Easter if we leave it there at that empty tomb hewn in the rocky hills outside Jerusalem. When the dazzling men ask the women why they’re looking for the living among the dead, they’re saying that resurrection is not done. It’s been let loose among the living, wherever the love of God goes to work to save lives and change unjust systems.
Last week a church member emailed me after a really grim Westminster Town Hall Forum on climate change. He told me he and other employees of a local company are working on their on their own time after hours to develop new carbon-capture technology to show the corporation how it could help make a difference in slowing climate change. Why? To protect life on this earth. That’s the power of risen love. Easter love.
The Apostle Paul, like us, is among those who never had a chance to stand at the grave, but he experiences Easter. He receives, by the grace of God, the good news of resurrection and passes it on, and we’re still sharing it today.
For more than two decades, one of our church members has served as the chef for FEAST, Westminster’s monthly meal for those who are hungry. He has prepared some 50,000 meals that other volunteers have served. Why? To feed those who need a good meal. That’s the power of love the grave could not contain.
The great mystery of our faith is the power of God’s love to overcome death, to refuse to let injustice go unchallenged, and to show up when despair threatens to undo us. It’s been there in hospitals and nursing homes and care centers throughout the Covid pandemic.
How does it happen, that something so ineffable and inexpressible – love that won’t give up – can be present in every age and in every place?
A tornado strikes a small town in southeast Minnesota, destroying homes and wreaking havoc. In short order, people begin checking on others to see how they can help. Why? To reach out to neighbors in need. That’s the power of living love.
Resurrection didn’t merely happen at the tomb and then stop. The love that broke free continues to show up. It dazzles, and perplexes, and causes wonder. We can’t pretend to know how Easter happened then, or how it happens now, but love is on the move.
“Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous to be understood,” Poet Mary Oliver says.
“How grass can be nourishing in the mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.
Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.
Let us be content with the great mystery of our faith. Easter needs no explanation. It is as close to us as the love that rises from the tomb and lives among us still.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!