Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 17, 2022
Luke 24:1-12 Commentary
Comments, Questions and Observations
When we begin reading this account it might seem like it is an anonymous group headed to the tomb at dawn—the members of the group aren’t named until all the way in verse 10. But, we know from the close of the previous chapter, as they followed Jesus’ body to his tomb, that it was the faithful group of women that returned the morning after the Sabbath.
Luke’s resurrection account keeps us focused on the startling, confounding, mystery of the resurrection. For instance, along with keeping the women anonymous until they deliver the message to the mourning disciples, the women are “perplexed” or utterly confused by the empty tomb and rolled away stone. The women are further startled in the midst of their confusion by two sparkling angels appearing and talking to them.
These angels lead them through the “remembering” necessary to make enough sense of the mystery. Notice how it isn’t the mechanics or the science behind the resurrection that matters: it is the words of Christ that matters. “Remember how he told you…” the angels say to the confused women, and with each of the three promises Christ made about what was to happen to him, the women’s foggy confusion about the empty tomb clears as they remember.
Indeed, remembering Jesus’ words, seeing how the first two scenarios came to pass and how the third now seems to have as well, the women remember not only the words but the person that was their rabbi, whom they loved and trusted for the truth. They remember Jesus and trust the divine message to be true—they don’t even ask how it can be! Is this a moment of the Holy Spirit bearing witness to their spirits? (Rom 8.16)
It reminds me of the story in John 4 of the Samaritan woman at the well. She didn’t ask Jesus how he could know all that he knew about her, but her instinctual response was to go evangelize her community: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” The women at the empty tomb do likewise. Remembering the powerful words of Jesus, they don’t ask questions but return to the rest of Jesus’ closest companions to tell them the good news.
Ironically, the women are the messengers of the resurrection to the apostles. Apostles are the messengers, but the ones referred to as apostles are not the apostles in the story! Not only does the resurrection message get rejected by the appointed messengers, the apostles reject the women outright, deciding that they are “talking nonsense” and refuse to even consider to believe. Is this another example of Luke’s upside-down gospel narrative at work? It appears so, as those on the margins—far from the named authorities and those with official roles—are the ones most intimately aware of the good news.
Now, who knows what the deal was with the disciples. To be fair, they are dealing with a lot as they grieve and encounter their own sense of guilt at abandoning Jesus. They are likely overwhelmed and in a state of shock. And very likely, none in that room “among the eleven and the rest” were thinking of themselves as apostles in that moment. But they are given the same opportunity to remember as they women were given at the tomb. Though the women had the benefit of the angel messengers, the Holy Spirit is at work in them as they speak to the disciples: the truth is the truth, no matter who is saying it. And the way of God is to never force us to believe and accept the truth. (Just think of the rich ruler who walked away from Jesus because he was too sad about what living in the truth would cost him…)
I think that there is something here in this story about our willingness (or lack thereof) to receive the truth. It is difficult, for instance, to ignore the looooooonnnnnnnnggggggg historical (and personal to every woman I know, myself included) pattern of women being ignored, accused of “talking nonsense” or wasting time even though they are telling the truth. In this way, the story of the resurrection is descriptive of one aspect of original sin still alive and well today: something keeps men from being able to hear the truth and women suffer for sharing it. I also can’t help but think of the persistent debate about whether, how, when, to whom, and by who’s authority women can share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is worth noting that in every gospel account of the resurrection, the women (or a woman) are given the task of announcing the good news.
But along with the cultural bias and patriarchal mindset, the apostles are very likely in great inner turmoil: grief, shock, and guilt are a dangerous cocktail that can make us unable to accept truth—no matter the messenger and no matter if it might actually alleviate our suffering.
Peter appears to be a little more open than the others. He at least goes to the tomb, and takes his search one step further than the women: he looks into the tomb and sees the linen cloths lying there. (The implication is that if someone stole Jesus’ body, they would have kept him in the grave cloths while they moved the body.) But Peter doesn’t seem quite ready to receive the truth.
Commonly, translations say that Peter was “amazed” but we need to know that the nuance of the word is actually “wondering.” Amazing things usually come with an exclamation point, with shouts and sharing that cannot be contained. But Peter goes home by himself and wonders what is going on. It feels like a further denial of the truth he heard from the women, the proof he has seen with his own eyes hasn’t broken him for belief just yet.
None of this feels like the good news we want to proclaim on Easter Sunday!
But might there be some good news in these disappointments? First of all, there’s the good news that it doesn’t matter if we believe it or not: Christ is risen from the dead! (See the Textual Point below on how this built into the very way the story is told in Luke 24.)
Secondly, though the apostles do not believe them, what the women know and share cannot be taken away from them. The same is true for us today. For every resurrection story, everything that has been put to death in order for God to raise us into new life, every experience of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power, is true no matter who believes or accepts it. Like the women, we can become true apostles without need of title, we can hold fast to the truth we know in our bones, we can stick with hope and faith to what the Holy Spirit witnesses to our spirits. We can worship and praise God and remember him even if others tell us to be quiet and go home.
Thirdly, we see how the same Spirit that was at work to resurrect Jesus from the grave, that same Spirit who helped the women believe and trust what they remembered from Jesus’ words, that same Spirit will persistently and patiently work at and on those who are in denial of what we know to be true.
I think this is what we can make of Peter’s response. He may have felt the most guilt out of all of the disciples: he promised he wouldn’t forsake Jesus, and yet he denied Jesus three different times that Good Friday night. Peter needs a resurrection of his spirit. Through repentance, he needs to put to death his betrayal so that he can experience the new life (yet again) of Jesus’ love for him. As he goes home to wonder about the resurrection and what that might mean, does he dare to believe that it is true? Does he dare to believe that Jesus will accept and love him again? He too will need to remember all that Jesus told him in order to be able to trust that the impossible is possible with Christ.
So, in Peter we see a fourth good news reminder: we see that not all resurrection stories are instantaneous miracles. In fact, for most of us, it’s a long process of coming to realize that God’s love and promises have been there—true all along.
In verse 12 Peter goes and sees the scene for himself, and then he goes home, wondering (most translations use the word “amazed”) about what had happened. Of course, we know what happened: Jesus is risen! The verbal form of “happened” is in the perfect tense, which denotes a one-time action with lasting consequences, so even if Peter doesn’t understand what has occurred, Luke is giving the occurrence theological significance: Jesus rose from the dead once, and the repercussions of his resurrection will last for eternity—both for Jesus and for us. Likewise, in verse 2, the stone is “rolled away” – also in the perfect tense. The resurrected one is not going to return to the burial tomb.
The excuse that the women seemed to be “talking nonsense” reminded me quite a bit of the recent Netflix movie Don’t Look Up starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Randall and Jennifer Lawrence as Kate. The two are astronomers who discover that an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth, and they try to get the government and the general public to do something about it. From the beginning of their attempts to share the news, Randall gets listened to and respected more than Kate, and she is painted as being too emotional and crazy. Later on, the as the general denial for the seriousness of the situation grows, Kate and Randall team up to start an information campaign online when the asteroid becomes visible from earth, telling people to “Look up!” so that they can believe (by seeing for themselves) what they are being told. The politicians start their own campaign, “Don’t look up!” At every turn, the people who know the truth are made out to be hysterical and it’s maddening to watch. I can’t help but wonder what the women felt and did after the men rejected them and the resurrection message…
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