Who’s Afraid of an Empty Tomb?

Emilie Bouvier, "Springing"(Cowling Arboretum; Northfield, Minn.)Image © Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

Dear Working Preacher,

Do you ever wonder whether we would have believed the report of the women returning from the empty tomb?

Today, we’re so used to talk about Jesus’ resurrection that the empty tomb seems like no big deal. But think about those first disciples….

That’s what I love about Luke’s Easter account. All four evangelists record the doubt, wonder, and fear of the disciples, but Luke is, perhaps, the most honest. When the women return with the news, it’s not just that the disciples aren’t sure, they regard what they hear as “an idle tale.” Actually, the word Luke uses — leros — is a little saltier. It’s the root of our word, “delirious,” and it was used to describe something utterly unbelievable, even a little mad. If we were to be a bit more colloquial, but perhaps more faithful to the earthy speech of fishermen, we might describe leros as the stuff farmers use to fertilize their fields. That’s right, the first disciples thought the Easter proclamation was b*&l sh$#.

And who can blame them. To their mind — and maybe ours when we’re not in church — the dead don’t come back to life. The testimony of those women, you see, was frightening, even threatening, before it was comforting. As my friend Anna Carter Florence has said,
if the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on? Resurrection breaks all the rules, and while most of us might admit that the old rules aren’t perfect, at least we know them.

Plus, I suspect this news sounded to the disciples just a little too good to be true. Think about it. After all they’d been through, it was probably too much to entertain thoughts that Jesus might come back. I know, I know, Jesus had tried to prepare them for this, for all of it. But who really is ready for death, let alone new life after death.

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.

Truth be told, I think we’re all a little like that. Maybe that’s why we’ve domesticated the empty tomb, why we’ve become almost numb to the word “resurrection.” Maybe we know, deep down, that we’re dying, and so the promise of life is frightening. You know what I mean? 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.

Which is where you come in, Working Preacher. We need you to tell us the truth — both the truth of our human condition in all of its glory, shame, and fragility — and the even greater truth of God’s tremendous love for us, a love that will go to any lengths and depths — through death itself — in order to bring us life. And we need you to tell us this truth not just once, not twice, not even the three times of the Easter greeting, but again and again and again. So little in this world beckons us toward life. So little hints at resurrection. And so tell us, dear preacher, tell us of our doubt and fear, tell us of God’s love and life, tell us so that we might also experience the wonder and joy of Easter.

What you do matters, Working Preacher, on this day more than ever. Thank God for you. And Blessed Easter, for Christ is Risen!


PS: If you have 3 minutes, watch this New Easter Video we put together on resurrection faith inspired in part by Luke 24.