Scripture Reading: Luke 24:1-12
The Resurrection of Jesus
24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.[a] 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women[b] were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men[c] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[d] 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.[e]
- Luke 24:3 Other ancient authorities add of the Lord Jesus
- Luke 24:5 Gk They
- Luke 24:5 Gk but they
- Luke 24:5 Other ancient authorities lack He is not here, but has risen
- Luke 24:12 Other ancient authorities lack verse 12
Sermon: “Fake News”
I’d like to start this morning with a quiz—about Christmas. Let’s name every character in the Christmas story that we can think of. Now, let’s turn to the Easter story and name the main characters there.
Not as easy, is it? At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the Savior. The manger isn’t empty, of course. There’s a baby in it. At Easter, though, we celebrate Christ’s resurrection by, first, going to an empty tomb. How do you make yard decorations out of that? Frederick Buechner put it this way:
The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. You can’t depict or domesticate emptiness. You can’t make it into pageants and string it with lights. It doesn’t move people to give presents to each other or sing old songs. It ebbs and flows all around us, the Eastertide.
“When it comes to just what happened,” Buechner says, “there can be no certainty. That something unimaginable happened, there can be no doubt.”
As often happens, we try to tame what we can’t explain. That’s how we end up with Easter traditions like this.
I’m not above asking old Elmer Fudd for an extra helping of hassenpfeffer myself. I know, I sound like an Easter version of the Grinch.
When you get right down to it, though, Dr. Seuss made a powerful point in his Christmas story.
And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. “How could it be so?
[Christmas] came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”
He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!
Maybe Easter, perhaps, means a little bit more than fake eggs, fake grass, and fake Christians unwilling to grapple with the mystery and saving power of Christ’s resurrection.
In some ways, it’s too bad that Easter comes in the spring for us. We fall into the trap of thinking it’s as natural a thing as lilies blooming, chicks hatching out of eggs, and butterflies splitting open their chrysalises before flying away.
It’s a beautiful coincidence, but there’s nothing natural about the resurrection. No one expected it and no one, honestly, believed it, at least not at first. That’s true across all the Gospels, and certainly true in Luke. The women came to the tomb expecting to anoint Jesus’ dead body. They had no hope that he’d been raised. In fact, they remembered Jesus’ promise only after being reminded of it by those “two men in dazzling clothes.”
And what happened when they ran back to tell the rest of the disciples? With a nasty mix of first century sexism and hardheaded skepticism, the disciples thought what the women said was nonsense.
Honestly, who can blame them? Resurrection breaks all the rules. The old rules aren’t perfect, and can even be downright awful, at least we know them.
Resurrection upsets the apple cart of our neat, orderly lives. If you don’t find the resurrection at least a little hard to believe, you aren’t taking it seriously enough.
The only logical response to the news that the women brought that first Easter was disbelief. Disbelief doesn’t mean people don’t believe anything. It just means that they believe something else more.
That’s where the Easter message gets to work. It challenges our certainties. Experience teaches us that death wins. Experience says that life is what you make it, so get what you can while you still can.
And Easter says, “Really? How can you be so sure?” Preacher and author Martin Copenhaver wrote:
The place to begin in the life of faith isn’t necessarily with those things we never doubt. Realities about which we hold no doubt may not be large enough to reveal God to us. And so we say without apology or hesitation: what we proclaim at Easter is too mighty to be encompassed by certainty, too wonderful to be found only within the borders of our imagination.
The great theologian Karl Barth once said that the gospel “isn’t a natural therefore but a miraculous nevertheless.” It’s that “miraculous nevertheless” Luke stresses. He does so with what Theodore Wardlaw, writing in The Christian Century, called a “defiant conjunction,” the world “but.”
Let’s back up to the last verses in Luke chapter 23. They tell how Joseph of Arimathea claimed Jesus’ body and laid it in a freshly cut rock tomb. Luke then adds:
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23:55-56)
After that, we come to this morning’s reading:
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. (Luke 24:1-3)
In the twelve verses we read from Luke this morning, the word but shows up six times.
Luke reaches out, grabs us, and, as my mother used to say, “shakes us until our brains rattle.” No matter what we’ve heard, Luke says, we haven’t heard the whole story.
Luke wants us to know that because there’s another storyteller loose in the world. He preaches a half gospel, one that never makes it past the suffering and the death of the crucifixion.
We’ve heard him at work. He talks about death, not life. He tells us that the world is a place of scorn, doubt, contempt, and cruelty. He eagerly undermines resurrection faith with supposed certainties about “the way things are.” If we listen to him long enough, we’re persuaded there never was an Easter at all.
But—if Jesus Christ rose from the dead, that means he’s loose in the world with power to raise us up from whatever is dragging us down, power to make whole everything in our lives and world that’s broken. That means the story of a hopeless, cynical existence peddled by that other storyteller is nothing but Good Friday talk, best left in Christ’s empty tomb along with the graveclothes that he no longer needed.
The resurrection takes every body blow that the world’s hatred, selfishness, and all-too-sure-of itself-certainty dishes out and says, with the angels at the tomb, “Yeah, but…”
“He isn’t here, but has risen! Now get going, and share the news!”