The women go to the tomb with spices, the stone is already rolled away, and suddenly two men in dazzling clothes show up, say “Jesus is not here, but has risen,” and the women blunder off to tell the apostles “all this.”
The men regard the women’s talk as—it’s usually translated “an idle tale” or “nonsense.” But that Greek word—leros—is really strong language. Some translators like to outdo each other trying to get across the full impact of the Greek. I’ve seen it translated as: folly, wild talk, hysterical nonsense, BS. The Greek phrase really does warrant a swear word.
The bottom line is that the women sound ridiculous. And it’s no wonder. I mean who could expect this story to make sense? Sure, we think it makes sense to us because it’s written in nice grammatical language and we read it every year. But it’s a crazy story. And it’s no wonder that the apostles thought the women weren’t making any sense.
How could their story not have sounded like utter nonsense?
I wonder if we make any more sense today trying to talk about this resurrection event today. There is no way mere words can reflect the power and beauty of the event itself. Mary and Joanna and Mary couldn’t adequately explain it on the first Easter Sunday, and we can’t fully capture its meaning today.
But we try, don’t we?
“Resurrection”—that’s what we call this event. That’s what we say happened to Jesus. That’s what we say caused the empty tomb. The Easter event is the basis, the grounding of our faith. “Resurrection” is the word we have to explain it.
But I’ve heard the word “resurrection” this week in a couple of contexts that have nothing to do with Jesus. Perhaps you’ve heard? Tiger Woods’ golf career has been resurrected because he won the Masters—the biggest sports comeback of all time, apparently. So they say. It’s a resurrection.
Maybe you’ve also seen the hopeful headlines emerging from the tragic fire at Notre Dame: the cathedral will rise from the ashes; it will be resurrected.
Someone who lost an ability gets it back. A magnificent structure was destroyed, but will be rebuilt. We use the word “resurrection” for these events just like we use it for what happens to Jesus on Easter morning. But this Jesus event–it’s not the same thing. The resurrection is not just that Jesus lost an ability—the ability to breathe, to be alive—and then got it back again. Like Tiger Woods lost his ability to play golf well and then got it back again. It’s not just that the physical structure of Jesus’ body was destroyed and rebuilt, like the cathedral will be rebuilt.
There’s something else—something so much more–going on with Jesus’ resurrection. But we don’t have a better word.
What words can possibly capture the humanity and the divinity; the death and the life; the emptiness and the fullness of the Easter event? In Jesus’ resurrection, all of these forces—humanity, divinity, life, death, emptiness, fullness—they’re all working together even as they’re contradicting each other, and it should be a mess but it’s really, actually, astonishingly beautiful. And there’s no reason for it to be. It just is.
And the women are there. And they’re terrified. But they’re there. And they have to go and tell—except there’s no way. There’s just no way. So it all comes out as nonsense. When really it is all that makes sense in the world.
I know the world is often overwhelming. I often feel the heaviness of the world. The grief. The injustice. The death. . . . Maybe you feel it, too.
If so, I hope you also feel this other kind of being overwhelmed. Yes, Good Friday is a lot. But Easter– Easter is too much: the resurrection of Jesus holds together our humanity with God’s divinity, eternal life with the reality of death, the empty tomb of grief with the full heart of joy, in ways we cannot possibly understand or articulate.
That is the overwhelming good news of Easter.
This post is excerpted from a sermon preached at Peace Mennonite Church on April 21, 2019. You can see the full sermon text here.