Luke 24: 1-12
April 21, 2019; Easter
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. I can tell you that it’s daunting to have to talk about it every year in front of you all; to have you looking at me, expecting me to say something meaningful about this central story of our faith. It’s kind of terrifying actually.
This week I was struggling through an essay on this passage that was written in Spanish and I came across a word I didn’t know: acontacimiento. I skipped over it once, but there it was again. So I looked it up. I’m not sure what I expected—some English word as beautiful and complicated as its Spanish counterpart: acontacimiento. So I was disappointed when I found out it just means “event.” So many undulating syllables for such a little, plain word: “event.” The Spanish seemed unnecessarily showy.
Except that when I started working on this sermon I found myself wishing that we English speakers had a better word than “event.” I mean, I’m supposed to talk to you this morning about the “Easter event.” That label is too blunt. Too matter of fact. Too brief. Too prosaic and normal. I would much rather talk about “el acontacimiento de la Pascua de Resurrección.” Now that takes some time and effort to get off of your tongue. As it should. You know that, whatever “el acontacimiento” is, it’s something special.
So I’ll admit, I covet my Spanish-speaking clergy siblings their rolling r’s and luxurious vowels this morning. All of us preachers are struggling to explain the Easter event without it sounding like wild talk and utter nonsense. But I somehow imagine it all sounds a little more respectable and holy in Spanish.
Yet, I’m sure that, even in Spanish, I still wouldn’t be able to capture the true meaning. Even a phrase as beautiful as “el acontacimiento de la Pascua de Resurrección” doesn’t come close to the 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. We don’t have the words in English or Spanish or any other language to actually articulate what happened on that first Easter.
So we try to use symbols. We have symbols of new life—like I talked about with the children earlier. We sometimes get new clothes at Easter to represent newness of life. We like to welcome new members on Easter Sunday. We have flowers on the front table this morning to remind us of spring and the renewing life of the earth. Some of you may look for Easter eggs—whether hard-boiled and dyed or plastic and filled with candy—which represent new life. But, of course, the newness brought about by Jesus’ resurrection goes so, so far beyond new clothes, new members, blooming flowers, candy-filled eggs.
We also like butterflies as a symbol of resurrection: one creature going into a cocoon (like a tomb, right?) and then coming out the same creature yet somehow new and beautiful. It’s a nice symbol, lending itself to a lovely metaphor . . . but that still doesn’t quite get it.
Earlier this week, I told my preaching group on Facebook that my sermon this week was basically: “Easter is too much. You can’t honestly expect me to preach a sermon on this.” What words can possibly capture the humanity and the divinity; the death and the life; the emptiness and the fullness of the Easter event? Of the “acontacimiento de la Pascua de Resurrección”?
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 feel it when I hear your prayer requests on Sunday morning, when I talk with you during the week, when I get texts about emergency trips to see ailing family members. I feel it when I do research work for the jail alternatives team, when I sit in on court watches. I feel it most every time I listen to the news or accidentally read a news headline at the gym when I’m trying to focus on Chip and Joanna Gaines’ fixer-upper. I feel the heaviness of the world. The grief. The injustice. The death. A lot. Maybe you feel it, too.
If so, I hope you also feel what I have felt in trying to prepare for this Easter Sunday sermon. I hope you also feel the other kind of being overwhelmed. Yes, Good Friday is a lot. But Easter– Easter is too much. That 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.
I know the world is often overwhelming. But the resurrection life of Christ is even more overwhelming. I know the world can feel like too much. But the incarnational love of Jesus is too too much.
The Easter event sounded like nonsense when the women tried to explain it, it sounds ridiculous when we try to explain it, because there are no words—in any language—to fully articulate it. There are no symbols that capture it. Easter is so far beyond anything we can verbalize or even imagine. And Easter is within us. Easter is within us as the nonsensical words of the women echo through our hearts: Jesus is not in the tomb. He is risen.
Thanks be to God.