Is the Resurrection an Idle Tale?

An Easter Sermon

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

I discovered the Charles Lenox mysteries this winter, reading a couple of chapters each night before heading to bed. The novels are written by Charles Finch and set in the late Victorian era of England. Lenox hails from a wealthy family, his brother Edmund serving in Parliament, and Lenox has a penchant for solving crimes much to the surprise of others in his social stratum.  The most recent book, Home by Nightfall, takes place primarily in the country town that Charles and Edmund grew up in, and where Edmund now lives in the manor house of their childhood. The novel begins by disclosing a significant loss in Edmund’s life, and so Charles travels out to be with him. Countless times in the book Charles worries about his brother, asking how he is doing.  Each time Ed slowly drifts back from the place his grief has taken him and responds with what amounts to, “I’m fine, fine.  Thank you.”  Charles, of course, recognizes that Ed is anything but fine, and so continues to try to support him.

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It seems that the obscuring intended by responding with “fine” when asked how we are is not a recent invention.  It’s our auto-pilot answer, regardless if we’ve hit the lottery or been hit by an emotional freight train.  “I’m fine, fine.  Thank you.”

Luke begins our reading by telling us that the women who had been standing at a distance and watching all the things taking place Golgotha head out early on that Sunday with the spices they had prepared.  They intend to go and anoint Jesus’ body, finishing the hard task of his burial.  The previous day, the Sabbath, had been spent in mourning and in following the commandment to rest on that day.  So, after a fitful night’s sleep, they make their way to the to tomb.  When they get there—and Luke explicitly informs us that they watched where the body had been laid, so they know exactly where that rock hewn tomb is—they discover the stone rolled back from the entrance.  Upon entering it, they find nothing.  It’s empty. 

Immediately two men appear—presumably messengers from God—who say, “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.”  At that point the women do remember all the things Jesus had told them, and they rush back to tell the others all the amazing things that’ve happened.

They arrive at the place, and tell their story recounting everything to the disciples.  When the women finally finish, the apostles look at them and say that it’s just an idle tale.  At least that’s the polite way our Biblical translation puts it in an almost Victorian sort of way.  “Well, I say, isn’t that an idle tale.”  In reality these salty fishermen were exclaiming, “That’s a load of bollocks!” (Or at least that’s what they would say if they knew their words would be uttered by a priest on Easter morning, and they cleaned them up a bit. You can take it further if you’d like, and you’d be on the mark.)  In the Greek it’s leros, the root for our word “delirious.” Completely unbelievable, a bit crazy.  These women have more than a couple of screws loose; they clearly have no idea what they’re talking about.

You’d think the disciples would be jumping up and down, right?  You’d think they’d be ecstatic because they’ve just had all their wildest dreams come true.  Instead they don’t buy it.  They know that your wildest dreams don’t come true even if you vote for Pedro, he of “Napoleon Dynamite” fame. Just like we know they don’t if we vote for Hillary or Donald or Bernie or Ted.  It appears that we don’t have the market on cynicism here in the 21st century. “You found the tomb to be completely empty?  Yeah right.  You’re delirious.”  It was all way too good to be true.

Theologian David Lose writes, “Imagine the possible disappointment if the women weren’t being honest, or were just plain wrong. It’d be like a terminally ill patient being told of one more miracle cure, or an abandoned child that his parents are waiting for him. Precisely because this news is what we want more than anything in the world, it’s terrifying. Already wounded by the loss of their Lord, the disciples fear getting cut once more by the shards of their broken dreams.” 1

What’s interesting is that many of us don’t believe it either.  We’ve gotten used to the empty tomb.  “Oh yeah, Jesus rose.  That’s nice.  Now pass the ham, please.”  We show up on this glorious morning in our Easter finery with a stilted view of what’s happened too.  We join them in thinking it’s just an idle tale, that it doesn’t really matter in our lives.  Jesus may have been resurrected, but that is little consolation in the face of the many hardships in our lives.  David Lose continues, “Maybe we know, deep down, that we’re dying, and so the promise of life is frightening… Despite all of our protests to the contrary, despite all of our pretending, despite our ubiquitous ‘fine’ to the daily question, ‘how are you?’ we know that we’re not fine. We know that we’re fragile, wounded, in need of saving. But we’re just afraid enough that no one will be able to save us that we can hardly admit our fear.”

We’ve so domesticated this story that it becomes just another tale to us as well.  But what if it were true?  What if Jesus did actually burst from the tomb early on that Sunday morning and because of that everything has changed?

Why, then, we’d have to believe that we don’t need to fear the possibility of death.  We’d have to believe that the recent diagnosis isn’t the end of our life as we know it.  If Jesus actually rose from the dead then we’d have to see that the apprehension of a job loss or a wayward teen doesn’t have to paralyze us in fear.  If the tomb was actually empty then we could live in hope.  We could pull down the protective walls of distrust and open ourselves up to the possibility of love and life.  If that tale isn’t idle, then everything in our lives could be different.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of living in the soup of cynicism and doubt.  I’ve become weary about the way fear creeps in to every corner of our society so that our anxiety hovers constantly at DEFCON 2.  I know that by deciding to believe in Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t instantly give us the prosperity that some preachers are promising this morning, but I also know that it can significantly alter the course our lives take.  The power of the resurrection offers us a chance to be free of the things holding us back from the life God has always intended for us.

With God’s help, you can decide to no longer live a life that is being crushed by doubt and fear.  Don’t allow this day to slip by as just another Easter, another holiday marked by your own hiding behind the reply of “I’m fine, fine.”  The dream we have of a life flourishing with joy and peace and love is here within our reach.  I know that Jesus Christ is risen today and the he has overcome death and the grave.  We have nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing whatsoever to fear because he is risen and promises to be with us even to the end of the age.  This is not an idle, worthless or frivolous tale.  These are the words of life and healing and joy.  May you hear them anew this morning and allow them to penetrate deep into your soul.  And may we all truly live as Easter People who intimately know the profound and life changing power of the resurrection.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Notes:

  1. David Lose. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1576  Accessed March 22, 2016. I’m grateful for the direction of the sermon from Dr. Lose.