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Sermon: Idle Tales

April 2, 2010

Luke 24:1-12

On the third day, after Jesus had been put to death on a cross, some of his disciples—some women—went to the tomb to anoint a dead body.  A short while later, they arrived back in town telling a very odd and unbelievable tale.  Some people thought it was an “idle tale,” a story full of gossip and drama, driven more by a desire for attention rather than grounded in reality.

In fact, it was a strange tale, and if somebody interrupted your breakfast on a Sunday morning with this story, you would dismiss it as nothing more than misunderstanding and delusion.  Here is what they said.

At dawn, we got up and went to where Jesus had been buried.  You may remember that we followed Joseph of Arimathea when he took the body of Jesus and put it in a tomb carved out of the rock, so we knew where to go (Luke 23:50-56).  We took spices with us to anoint the body.

We got there, and the first thing we saw was that the big stone that had been rolled up to seal the entrance to the tomb was rolled away.  The tomb was just open.  So we went in, but there was no body.  That confused us.

But as we stood there, we notice that two men in bright, dazzling clothes were standing beside us.  Now that scared us.  These were clearly very powerful, important people, so we hit the ground.  We buried our faces in the dirt and hoped that they wouldn’t hurt us.

And they said to us, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”

The first thing we thought was, “We’re not looking for the living.  We came for our dead friend.”  We didn’t say that out loud, of course, because that’s not the kind of thing you say to such people.

They said, “Remember what he told you in Galilee?  ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

So we were there on our knees, and we started thinking about all the things Jesus said, and sure enough, we remembered he said something like that.  We couldn’t remember exactly what he had said, but it was close.

We got up and came back here right away.  (I couldn’t tell you what happened to those men in the strange clothes.  I suppose they are still there.)  Once we got back into town, we started to go around to the eleven remaining apostles—it was really a shame about Judas—and we told them and the rest of Jesus’ disciples that we could find about what happened.  And we’re having a hard time finding people who will take us seriously.

That is an idle tale.  It is confused.  It lacks important details, including any about the body—living or dead—of Jesus.  The only thing the women could say for sure was that the body wasn’t in the tomb.  And that isn’t proof of anything.  I mean, I often lose my car keys.  That doesn’t mean they have risen from the dead.

The only person who seemed to act on the information was Peter.  You remember that when Peter last saw Jesus, it hadn’t gone so well.  Peter, afraid for his life, had just denied knowing his friend for the third time.  A rooster crowed, and Peter went out and “wept bitterly” (Luke 22:54-62).  Peter had a personal reason to be interested in the story, and so he ran to the tomb and looked inside.  He saw the linen clothes there, but no body.  Then he just went home, amazed and probably as confused as everyone else.

That’s it.  That is the end of the story for this morning.  The muddled and awkward story from Luke’s gospel doesn’t match any of the music we are singing here on this glorious Easter morning.  The women were perplexed and terrified.  Their friends thought the women told an idle tale.  Peter was amazed, but not much else.  There are no “alleluias!” in this story.  No trumpets.  No choirs.  We sing with certainty; Jesus’ friends were wondering what in the world was going on.

I’ve got to say that if I were going to sell this story, I’d tell it differently.  I’d have Peter and the other apostles waiting at the tomb with a cast of thousands.  Just as the sun came over the top of the hill, there would be an overwhelming crack of thunder, and the stone would roll away before their very eyes.  Jesus would stride out triumphantly, his hair fluttering in the wind, and flanked by a choir of angels singing their praises.  Maybe he’d give a little fist pump.  “Yes!”  Everybody would swarm around him with shouts of delight.  Maybe they’d pick him up on their shoulders and carry him away.  Now that’s a resurrection.  But our story this morning…not so much.

The truth is, we don’t really get anything the first time—wedding, the birth of a child, a baptism.  We don’t fully comprehend traumatic events such as a car accident or 9-11 as soon as it happens.  We don’t even understand little things like a geometry lesson or a Bible study the first time around.  It takes a little time.  We watch the videos.  We think about what happened before we drift off to sleep at night.  We do the practice lessons and re-read each chapter.  We hear what the so-called experts have to say on television, or we talk about it with a friend over coffee.

We human beings have to process in our minds the things that happen to us in our lives.  It is only after some time that events take on real meaning.  You may enjoy the novelty of marriage on your honeymoon, but after 60 years of being together—and we have some of you who have been together that long—that you really begin to understand the value and importance of your relationship.  Reflection is important.  We cannot understand right away.  And that’s why everyone in our story this morning simply went home.  What else were they going to do?  They needed to figure out just what happened.

We need to figure out what has happened.  One Sunday morning doesn’t do it for us.  We need opportunities to ponder what the resurrection means in our real lives, to figure out what God was up to and why.  We need prayer, reflection, conversation, more reading—and singing.  Only as we begin to take it further can the idle tale of the empty tomb have an impact on our lives.

The disciples of Jesus would go on to meet the risen Jesus.  The story doesn’t end for them in confusion.  Jesus will appear to them, teach them and break bread with them.  If the resurrection is to be real for you and for me, we will have to have an encounter with the risen Lord, too.

Easter Sunday is an offer of hope and new life.  It reminds us that “there is a persistence in the universe of life and hope in the face of death” (Mark Sturgess, Riviera United Methodist Church, Redondo Beach, CA.).  It calls to us and says, “The future does not have to look like the present.  The power of God is active and alive.”  It is a promise for each one of us, but how can it become real unless we spend time in the presence of Jesus, who lived, suffered, died and was raised for us?

Spend time with Jesus.  Let him lead you into a life where the empty tomb is much more than an idle tale.

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