An Idle Tale
Luke 24: 1-12
That morning it was business as usual. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and James’ mother Mary take spices and go with other women to the tomb where Jesus had been laid. This is what women did women someone died: they anointed the bodies of the dead. No matter who had died that week, this would have been their duty.
But it wasn’t just any week or just any death.
When they get there in the early morning they see the boulder at the entrance of the tomb moved aside. They can look right into the place of death. Cold. Dark.
And empty! This is not business as usual.
Luke only tells us the women are “perplexed” (Luke 24: 4). But I wonder, do their mouths gape like the mouth of the tomb? Are they still holding their spices at this point? Or are those now scattered on the ground around their feet, a fragrant pouf wafting up as they land?
The women are frozen, perplexed, standing at the edge of death, still looking into that lifeless tomb for the One they love.
God sends some angels to help them understand what is happening. Well, this just scares them and they “bow their faces to the ground” (v. 5). These particular angels forget the standard angelic greeting: Do not be afraid! They just show up and launch right in: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen” (v. 5).
Now the women are perplexed, scared with faces still bowed toward the ground, and confused. I imagine them, heads still bowed, trying not to move but surreptitiously darting their eyes around to see if anyone else is getting this.
The angles are patient. Don’t you remember, they say. Remember when you were all back in Galilee how he told you all this would unfold? Remember? He said he would be “handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (v.7).
Oh, yeah! He did say that. We do remember. Oh! What he said is true! It’s true right here and now! Those scary angels are right – this is no longer the place to look for Jesus!
In a flash, the women have made it back to the rest of the disciples and they are telling the tale of their morning adventures. The disciples, sitting there in their grief, don’t believe the women and call their report an idle tale (v. 11). An idle tale. A flimsy story, “lacking substance, value, or basis” (The American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition).
The women have either come back with the same spices they left with earlier or they are back with spice-coated feet. I suspect they ran to get there. They seem a little agitated but not all that sad anymore. And they say the most incredible things – empty tomb, angels, everything he said was true!
I wonder if the disciples just can’t make room yet for anything but shame and grief. Ever since that long night Thursday and the even worse day Friday, they have been moping, dejected, running over every detail again and again. How did it end up like this? I wonder if they just can’t see beyond where they have been. In these life-giving words from the women they still only hear death.
Except for Peter. He hears the story, gets up, and sprints to the tomb. When he gets there it’s empty, the burial cloths are lying there, deflated. He doesn’t say anything and no angels show up this time. He simply goes home, “amazed at what had happened” (v. 12). Even after all that, Luke doesn’t tell us Peter believes, only that he is amazed. The angels aren’t there this time to ask why he’s looking for the living among the dead. So he looks anyway, finds nothing – which is amazing in itself – and so, goes away in that amazement.
That’s the whole Easter morning story from Luke’s gospel. Everything he felt must be said about that morning that changed the world forever. It probably still sounds like an idle tale to some ears. That’s ok. We tell it anyway.
I suspect if anyone back at the disciples’ house would have asked the women for a systematic theology they would still have only had their story to tell. I suspect that if anyone had asked them how it happened as they said, the women wouldn’t have been able to say. They simply told what happened – that Jesus was raised up just like he said he would be. They told what was given for them to tell.
And when their close friends, those grieving disciples, called it an idle tale that did not stop them either. They knew what they’d seen. They knew that death had no dominion over them anymore. They did not know where they would see Jesus but they knew never to look in that lifeless, useless, weak tomb again. And they knew that if death had been defeated – if it was no longer the final reality – then all of those little deaths we suffer along the way aren’t either. They were free to look for the living in the midst of life. And so are we.
Thank God for their story! Thank God that they were brave enough to listen to angels and to tell such a fantastic story until the ripples of that storytelling reached out to us today, on this mountain, under this glorious Easter sunrise. Because this is not a story that includes only those few people who were there on the first Easter morning. This is not a story about their salvation – it’s ours, too. And just as they ran out from the tomb to share the good news, we are called to share our perplexing, fantastic stories of the risen Christ. Whatever they are, however idle they may seem to anyone else at the time, they have been given to us to tell. So let’s go do it!
Thanks be to God!
© 2010 Deborah E. Lewis