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The perplexity of a ridiculous tale

Easter Sunday Common Lectionary Year C

Luke 24:1-12

©2013 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Audio file

“The perplexity of a ridiculous tale”
could be a quotation from one of the best-selling faith busters like
Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins, (though it isn’t)
and it is hardly a fit title for a sermon in a Christian Church on Easter Sunday morning, where surely the task is to say it loud and clear, without  equivocation “Jesus Christ is Risen Today! Hallelujah!”  So let me explain myself.
Let me assure you that you have indeed come to the right place
and the right time to hear the Easter proclamation of the resurrection.
I will not lead you down some faith-less blind alley of cynical skepticism,
because I am on the most solid of foundations possible for a Christian preacher on Easter Sunday.
I’m quoting Scripture.
I’m quoting the Lukan account of the
Resurrection of Jesus  by the power of God,
from death and from the tomb.

So Luke it is, not I,
who tells us that when the women –
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James,
Joanna, and at least 2 others –
went to the tomb in the early light of the post-Sabbath morning,
and found the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty,
they were ‘perplexed’.

Now that’s a rich word, perplexed.
Merriam Webster throws us a fistful of synonyms:
“bewildered, fazed, confused, befuddled, non-plussed, disconcerted,
to be “baffled” by something confusing or unaccountable.
The Germans have an even better word “verblufft”.

Where was I? Oh, right, those women
arriving at the tomb, finding it empty,
and being verblufft/ perplexed….

No kidding!!
Because let’s be clear here.
They weren’t expecting resurrection.
Not really.  Look at them.
They have spice jars and linens with them.
They are going to the tomb of their beloved Rabbi,
to give to him a decent burial.
If evil had conspired to torture and kill him
at the hands of complicit religious leaders
and Roman functionaries, then the least they could do
was straighten his twisted body, bathe its dried blood,
smooth the agony from its face, wrap it in clean linen,
and lay it gently into the earth, dust to dust.

They were not expecting  resurrection.
They were not expecting a heavy stone rolled away
(though the dear Lord knows how five women were going to move it by themselves).
They were not expecting an empty tomb.

“Perplexed” indeed.

Luke tells us that it took the sudden appearance of
transfigured men, glow in the dark messengers…..
supra-normal beings  in the not-yet light of dawn,
to signal that something more wonderful than foul play,
or a mis-tagged grave plot were to blame for this empty tomb.

Now who’s perplexed? Verblufft?
Confounded, befuddled, hard-put  we ourselves may be
at this part of the tale,
-being as how we’re scientifically sophisticated folk,
not easily given to belief in dawn-lit conversations
with angelic shiny people.
But then again, “perplexed” is what Luke expects of us
who read his tale.
He knows he’s telling mystery here,
he knows mere words won’t hold
the wonder he’s trying to convey.

But he presses on anyway,
calling from the women  -and from us -  the power of memory.
The shiny men say to the women,
“Remember how he told you…. Jesus….
more than once, about God’s Dream,
and about how the cost of his own discipleship to
the Dream of God
would likely be as high as death itself.
Remember how he told you more than once,
his conviction that even death couldn’t  stop
God’s Dream of bringing life beyond death… remember?”
“Then they remembered”  seems a bit choppy and short,
but Luke wants to get to the next part of the story….
He skips over the bit where they drop the spices, and
head back to wherever the eleven are holed up.
Five women, tripping on their skirts to get through the door,
all talking at once, as only women can….
“He’s not there!” He’s risen!”
“There were these two men, all lit up like Time Square,
flashlights in the tomb…!  And they told us to remember what Jesus
had said … and … and..”

The men, when they heard all this,
were they perplexed?
No, actually they started laughing at them.
Luke’s unique little word, translated in most versions
tamely and politely as “an idle tale.”
is a lot less Sunday-best than that;
it’s a word used to describe the addled rantings
of someone in the throes of a delirious fever.

The men apparently found the prattle of the women
deliriously ridiculous.

Do you really blame them?
The tale the women tell is ridiculous, preposterous.
It breaks all the rules of normalcy then and now.
The dead die. They don’t come back to life,
they don’t roll the stone of their tomb aside,
wander off to cook fish on the beach,
or break bread in Emmaus.
….Do they?
It is preposterous, ridiculous,
when you look at it through
the mortal lenses of human life.

But those may be the wrong lenses.
Looking through God’s glasses,
life, death, new life, transformation,
chaos turned to fractal beauty,
wildfires that explode the seeds of new growth,
five months of frozen ground that does yield to the snowdrop
and the warming sun,
the hidden plasticity of the human brain,
the supple dexterity of a human hand,
the miracle of recovery from illness…
Looking at creation as God sees it,
don’t we start to see resurrection everywhere?

Life does defeat death in God’s creation!
All the time!
Why not  then, in this ridiculous tale
of the life from death of Jesus?

It just takes looking at it with God’s eyes.
It takes remembering, and looking.
It took Luke’s men in this story longer to look and remember
than it did the women (which is typical of this Gospel,
where the outsiders, outcast and women
are always the first to see,
the crazy hand of God wrinkling time and death
with eternity  and life).

But think about it, good Christian folk
in this year of grace, 2013 or so, since.
They did remember, they did look through God’s eyes,
and they did keep telling their ridiculous, perplexing,
verblufft-provoking story enough so that we too,
can with newborn Easter eyes see this resurrection,
as ridiculously Good News!

Because,
uniquely in this tale of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen,
we get to see God bringing resurrection  to bear
on the most intractable of deaths:
some call it sin, or alienation,
or the death of faith,
or the death of hope.
The raising of Jesus, the Nazarene
who lived, breathed and died
the Dream of God in every fibre of his being,
is this ridiculous, joy and hallelujah- filled tale
of God’s determination to put forgiveness
in the place of sin,
hope in the place of despair,
humility and grace in the place of fear and aggression,
reconciliation in the place of alienation,
new life in the place of all deaths.
And this, we call Gospel.  Good News.
We call it Resurrection.
Hallelujah!

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