An Idle Tale

Rev. Dr. David D. M. King, OSL

Sunday 17 April 2022
Easter Sunday

Luke 24:1-12

Doubtless nearly everyone here has heard the story of Easter before. In fact, it is such a familiar story that we hardly even take note of it anymore at all. Early in the morning the women come to the tomb. They find it empty. The angels tell them that Jesus has been raised from the dead. It’s not surprising. It’s not shocking. We already know how it’s going to end. It’s familiar. It’s expected. It’s comfortable. After two thousand years, resurrection seems quite run-of-the-mill.

But it wasn’t that way when the story was new. The Gospel of Luke tells us that the women who first heard the good news, after composing themselves, went and told the story to the eleven apostles and to the other disciples, and they found the news to be incredible. Absolutely incredible.

It had been about forty hours since Jesus had died on the cross. Many of them had been there to see the sad ordeal. They saw him hung up there with those two criminals, saw him suffer, heard the crowds making fun of him. And they saw him die after only three hours. He was the first of the three to go. It was pitiful. He died up there like a weakling.

And with him died all of their hopes and dreams. They had had such high expectations for Jesus. They thought that he was the one who would come and deliver them, the one who would set Israel free. But now the Roman officials that they hoped he would overthrow had crushed him in the wheels of their brutal political machine. Just another of so many failed revolutionaries and agitators, now dead and forgotten.

So when the women came scurrying back from the tomb, light in their eyes, excitement and joy in their voices to tell the others what they had seen, that Jesus had been raised from the dead, that he was alive, that he had not been defeated after all, but was now greater than they had ever imagined—well, of course they thought it was incredible.

And when I say they thought it was incredible, I don’t mean that they thought it was amazing or miraculous or stupendous. No, they thought that it was not credible. They thought the women had lost track of their senses and had made the whole thing up. Either they were just delusional, or they were inventing stories because they couldn’t deal with the cold, hard reality that Jesus was dead and gone. They didn’t believe them. It was ridiculous after all. Raised from the dead? Who ever heard of such nonsense? Why can’t they just face the truth and accept that it was all useless? Everything they had done, everything they believed—it had all failed. It was all for nothing. It had made no difference whatsoever.

Fast-forward two thousand years. We aren’t living under the thumb of the Roman Empire any more, but our world has its own problems. Top of mind for me is still COVID. More than two years in, and it’s still not over. Things aren’t too bad at the moment. Masks are starting to come off. It feels like we might be nearing the end. But of course, we’ve been in that place before. Last summer I was sure that things were just going to keep getting better. And then we had the Delta variant. And since then there’s been Omicron. And we have no idea what might be coming next. I checked the statistics again last night. Case numbers aren’t going down any more. They’re beginning to creep back up.

And of course, COVID is the only problem we’re facing. Poverty and hunger. We live in the most affluent nation in the world and we still can’t manage to feed all of our citizens and give them a descent lifestyle and a living wage. Problems like disease; cancer, Parkinson’s, heart disease, TB, and AIDS. Even something as simple as malaria kills millions of people every year. Problems like war and violence. Not just in Ukraine, but all over the world people are being killed by other people. Problems like global climate change. All over the planet there are signs that we have tinkered too much with our environment and that the results could end up being disastrous.

And with all of these problems in the world, it is easy to get discouraged, to feel like nothing will ever be any better than it is right now, to lose hope, and to give up. It’s easy to be overwhelmed, to become pessimistic and jaded about humanity and the general state of our existence. COVID especially has made me suspicious of anything that might seem hopeful.s

So when people come to us with tales of hope, so often they seem to us to be idle tales, delusions, or even lies. And certainly we have been lied to about the state of things. We even lie to ourselves to cover up the ugly bits of life that we don’t want to deal with. So why not just face reality and realize that it’s all been a big failure, that nothing works out for the best, that it’s all just a useless game?

And especially when we come into a place like this, a church, and hear those words, “Jesus Christ Is Risen!” doesn’t it seem just a bit incredible? Either because it is so familiar that it has lost its power or because it is so implausible that it just couldn’t be. It must be just an idle tale, just a bunch of nonsense.

After all, who ever heard of life coming out of death, of hope coming out of despair? Who ever heard of love so great that it would lay down its own life for others? Who ever heard of a light that darkness could not overcome, of a truth that could put away all strife and violence? Who ever heard of wounds that could heal? Who ever heard of faith that could carry you through the greatest of struggles, the worst of disappointments, the most perplexing of questions?

And who ever heard of a God who loved humanity enough to actually become human and live among us? Who lived through all of the hardships and temptations of life, not born in a feather bed but in a feed pen… Who shunned both earthly power and divine spectacle in favor of a ministry of love, servanthood, and humility… Who ever heard of a God who was willing to die… willing to be sacrificed so that we could live in love?  And who ever heard of a life lived with such love that it could actually kill death?

Like those first disciples, if we only hear the words, only listen to the witnesses, we might never believe. But for those who have seen, there is no going back. For those who have experienced the resurrection of God in their own lives, or have seen it first hand in those around them, there is no denying.

Because even now, Christ is not dead; Christ is alive and working in the world. Christ is knocking on the door of our hearts and asking only to be let in. Christ is out in the world, leading the struggle for true justice, true peace. Christ is risen. So why do we keep looking for the living among the dead, in darkened back rooms and dusty old books. Christ is alive, and goes before us into the world, ever leading us forward into a better way of living, into a fuller way of loving. It is not an idle tale. It is not nonsense. The God of the universe has become one of us, has lived a life of love and humility even to the point of death, and is risen, having defeated death once and for all time.

And that same God is ready and able to work a resurrection in you. To take that part of you that is broken now, and make it whole. To take that part of you that is wounded now, and make it healed. To take that part of you that is dead, and make it come to life again. And once God gets ahold of you, once God makes you whole and calls you out into the world to help heal others, there will be no doubt. Christ is risen. And Christ is rising in you. Thanks be to God.