Commentary on Luke 24:1-12
These words seemed to them an idle tale …
It was quite the crowd that burst in on the disciples who were hiding behind locked doors: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the other women. We don’t know how many women there were, but I would imagine that they were babbling excitedly. Luke tells us that “they told [the disciples] all this.”
What all did they tell them? Did they talk about how frightened they were when they saw that the stone had already been removed? Did they describe the men in dazzling clothes? Did they repeat the “sermon” the luminous men preached to them? Did the women, and would the disciples, really remember what Jesus had told them—that he would be “handed over to sinners … crucified … and on the third day rise again” (Luke 24:7)? Jesus had taught them so many things over the years, can we forgive them for suppressing that terrifying lesson?
And can we forgive the disciples for thinking that the women were babbling about “an idle tale”? Mark’s gospel tells us that the women themselves couldn’t make sense of it. Even though they were told to go and tell the disciples what to do, they “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement … they said nothing” (Mark 16:8). Nothing.
Easter is not the day on which we are to say nothing. We are here to proclaim that, just as Jesus told us he would, “Christ the Lord is risen today.” But we also should not be surprised when people continue in the footsteps of the disciples, receiving that message as “an idle tale.” We find ourselves living in an age of idle tales, filled with many questions. What are we to believe? What is the truth and what is a wild conspiracy theory? Who are we to believe? I suspect many think that the Easter message is just one more message that is, “a tale … full of sound and fury signifying nothing” (Shakespeare, Macbeth, V.v).
An empty tomb? What did that mean? Men in dazzling white: who were they? Early in the morning, carrying spices, the women were there to do the final preparations of their teacher’s, their friend’s body. This was not what they expected to discover at the end of their sad journey. I would suggest that the entire story of God’s relationship with us, God’s creatures, is a story of the unexpected, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55: 8). As you reflect upon today’s unexpected news and idle tale, do what those “dazzling men” told the women to do. Think back, not just to what Jesus told them, but on all the things that God has done.
From the beginning we have been challenged to see the unexpected, the bewildering and impossible. God is always doing new things. Out of a formless void came light, water, dry land. From the clay on a riverbank God formed creatures in God’s own image. We are told that wolves “shall live with the lamb” (Isaiah 11:6), people walk through the sea on dry land (Exodus 14:29), and the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us” (John 1: 14). “Do we not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19). Are we willing to believe that “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37)? We see God do impossible things every day; unfortunately we ignore or dismiss them. We look the other way, or we search for a plausible explanation. Easter is not the time to offer a scientific, plausible account. Once again, God has done the impossible, death had no dominion over the holy one.
We need to take Easter courage to proclaim this news, first from Jesus. He continued to teach and proclaim the good news despite the thick headedness of his listeners. Peter refused to listen when Jesus told his friends what was going to happen. “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23) Over and over Jesus had watched them ignore what they saw happen before their very eyes. They had watched Jesus feed an enormous hillside of people, walk to them through a storm, and still, “their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:52).
We need to take our encouragement and follow the example of that excited crowd of women. They burst into that locked room telling everything to their friends. They didn’t care about the looks on the faces of their listeners. They didn’t wait for a chorus of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”! They had amazing news they had to share, even if those in the room thought it was an “idle tale.” Finally, we need to turn away from what is not there, focusing instead on the good news. As the men asked the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land with a church group. My husband was telling our eldest son that I would be going. “Why?” he asked. I think my husband was a bit confused. His response was, “Well, you know, Jesus.” I have long recalled my son’s response because I think he understood the angels’ admonition. He told his father, “Tell her he’s not there.”
He isn’t there; he is risen. He has burst the bonds of time and space, yet we continue to focus on the unexplainable empty tomb, looking for him among the dead. The tale of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection can seem like an idle tale. It is the story of a “king” born in a stable, an innocent man arrested and executed, and a tomb that is empty, astounding from beginning to end. He is not there—he is risen.
God’s ways are not our ways. God is always doing a new thing, every day! We who have met the risen Christ are to join the women in telling “all of this” on Easter Sunday morning. And may we be emboldened by the reminder that has been woven throughout the gospels: “Do not be afraid,” tell all that you have seen.