I don’t know what pastors did before the internet, but this year a colleague asked a group of pastors on Facebook, “What gimmicks do you use to add that little extra something to Easter?”
Most of my life wasn’t spent in the pulpit, but in the pew, like you. So I’m here today to confess that there is something about Easter that makes pastors search for that little extra something. Pastors do the same thing at Christmas. I guess we pastors think those big church days need some help.
Maybe someone being raised from the dead isn’t enough, or maybe it’s the fact that pastors have to stand up at the front and try to explain in a way that makes sense this story of someone being raise from the dead… a story that, if you think about it too hard or too long doesn’t actually make all that much sense.
Now lucky me, I am the one at the front who gets to figure out what to say and how to make sense of all this.
But being uncomfortable with this story and who gets to preach it is not something new. In fact, Luke tells us that discomfort with the resurrection story and the ones telling it is as old as the story itself.
Three women have gone to the tomb early Sunday morning. It was only Friday, three days ago that they watched Jesus die on the cross. And because of the sabbath (on Saturday), his body hadn’t been properly prepared for burial. They were on their way to do this last thing, one final act of love for Jesus.
But they arrive at the tomb, and the stone is rolled away. Jesus’ body is gone. Luke says the women were perplexed, but perplexed hardly seems to describe what these women were probably feeling.
And then a couple of guys in dazzling white clothes show up and tell these “perplexed” women that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
This isn’t an “Aha” moment. This is more of a “Holy (you fill in the blank)” moment.
And in that “holy” moment the women are snapped out of their grief, their perplexity, their terror and are reminded of what Jesus had been telling them the whole time.
And they go racing back to tell the other disciples.
And it is at this point that Luke really starts to get interesting.
The women go back to tell their news to the male disciples. But the men think it is nonsense. Now what the english translation says is that the men think it is an “idle tale.” You know, the kind of inane chit chat of no importance that men think they can just tune out because it’s the womenfolk talking. But that is not what the greek says. The greek says the men hear the story as nonsense or crazy or nuts. The kind of story you hear some one tell and you respond by saying, “No way, that’s not possible, that didn’t happen.”
And then the english translation says the men didn’t believe the women, as if the men considered the content of their story. But the greek says the men didn’t trust the women. The story wasn’t believable because of who was telling it.
And then there’s this last bit about Peter. Peter runs off to check the tomb for himself. Why would he do that if he didn’t trust the women to trust the women and their idle chit-chat in the first place? Well, in most bibles there is a little footnote that comes at the end of this verse about Peter’s “checking” on things at the tomb.
The footnote that explains that verse 12 (this whole bit about Peter verifying what the women had reported) is not included in other ancient manuscripts. Or in other words, the verse is likely an addition to the story.
So here we have this story of the resurrection that is hard enough to make sense of on its own but the real problem with this story seems to be not with the story itself, but with the people who have been chosen to tell it. The disciples think the women’s story is nonsense because they are untrustworthy women. Recent English translators, who still have a problem with the fact that women are the first ones to tell the story, try to turn the nonsensical report into an idle tale – something not even worth being listened to by the men.
And to top it off, the early Christian community added this bit about Peter verifying what the women reported so that somebody credible would be the one telling the story of the resurrection. Because Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Jesus’ own mother Mary weren’t credible witnesses on their own?
Oh how things haven’t changed.
As much as it’s hard to makes sense of somebody being raised from the dead, our real problem is still with who gets to tell the story.
Christians have spent a lot of time and energy in the past 2000 years telling people who can and who cannot tell the story of Jesus. And it’s not just women. Christians at various times have told people of colour, LGBT people, poor people, uneducated people, and even lay people that they are not among God’s chosen story tellers.
For some reason our issue has been less with the content of the resurrection story itself than character of the ones chosen to tell it.
Because it’s hard to believe that of all the people to find the empty tomb, God sends the very people who were considered untrustworthy, and unreliable as witnesses.
But how would this story have been different if the disciples simply trusted the women?
When the women arrive at the tomb, early on that Sunday morning they were expecting to find the body of Jesus. Mary’s son, Mary Magdalene’s and Joanna’s friend and teacher. They expected to be anointing a body with spices and oils. They were expecting to finish the Jesus story for good, one last goodbye to the one they loved.
They most certainly did not expect that all that crazy talk that Jesus had been going on about for 3 years to be true. Betrayal, trial, crucifixion… and now resurrection. They did not expect to find the living among the dead, that Jesus had been raised.
But even more so, they would not have expected that of all the disciples that they would be the ones called upon to deliver this news – Jesus has risen. They weren’t the leaders, the gifted ones, the talented ones, the respected ones. They weren’t even considered trustworthy by the disciples who knew them well. They were just women. They were forgotten, unimportant, unworthy. They were not the kind of people anybody would expect to be called upon to carry out such an important task. They were the wrong people.
But just like everyone else, they forgot that Jesus was going to be raised from the dead… they also forgot that the “wrong” people are exactly the kind of people that God likes to work through. They forgot that God has been constantly using the ill-suited, unexpected, unworthy, wrong people to do God’s work in the world. From cowardly Abraham and laughing Sarah to stuttering Moses and dancing Miriam, from lustful David and foreign Ruth to stubborn Mordecai and vain Esther, from unmarried teen mom Mary and Mary Magdalene to bull headed Peter and self-righteous Paul. Throughout the biblical narrative we have story after story where God calls the wrong person after the wrong person.
And yet, even with all these ill-suited and ill-equipped people God establishes a pattern for how God will act in the world: through unexpected people, doing often unexpected, unpredictable, nonsensical things.
Now these women at the empty tomb were witnesses to God using all the wrong things to completely change the world. Betrayal and angry mobs to usher in salvation. A cross to forgive sins. Death to bring new life into the world.
And these ill-suited and ill-equipped women were being called to tell that crazy, nonsense Jesus-has-been-raised story.
And now we are the people hearing the story and being sent to tell others. And maybe we feel ill-equipped or ill-suited. Maybe we ARE ill-equipped and ill-suited.
Maybe, just like the women at the tomb, we are the “wrong” people being called to tell the story of God.
The story of God that completely changes our world and our reality, the story of death and resurrection that turns everything and everyone upside down. Because this is the story that tells us that God’s love is just as much for the wrong people as it for the right people, just is much for us as it is for anyone. This is a story that isn’t for the right people or the wrong people – it’s for ALL people.
And maybe that is crazy nonsense in a world like ours.
But it is not crazy nonsense for the God of New life.
*This sermon was co-written with my wife, Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker who you can follow on twitter: @ReedmanParker