Saturday, April 17, 2010

Prepared to Believe

Luke 24.1-12

Very early on the first day of the week, in 'the deep dawn' - at first light - the women came to the tomb. In Luke's account there is no mention of their concern about how to remove the stone from the entrance so that they can anoint Jesus' body. Before they have chance even to think about it they have entered the tomb, discovered that it is empty and realised - almost as an after thought - that the stone has already been rolled away.

Of course they are puzzled, or 'utterly at a loss' as the Revised English Bible puts it, but straight away an explanation presents itself. Looking round they find two men in dazzling white are standing beside them.

Mark's account has only one man, wearing ordinary white clothes, so Luke has heightened the drama in more than one way. The dazzling clothes remind us of Jesus' appearance at the moment of transfiguration. Clearly for Luke this is a holy encounter and the women respond immediately by bowing their faces to the ground, whereas in Mark's account it's not quite clear who the young man is - he might even be an ordinary human well wisher, who has arrived at the tomb before the women and figured out for himself was has happened.

And why two messengers? Is Luke strengthening the evidence for the resurrection by telling us that two people, not one, and people who are clearly heavenly beings, were able to testify to the women about it? Or does he simply have access to a slightly different version of the story? The two men are also more emphatic than the young man in Mark about what has happened. The living one, they say, is not to be found among corpses. And then they go on to reveal that they somehow know about Jesus' teaching, before his death, that he must be crucified and on the third day rise again.

In Luke's version the women very soon get over their surprise. Of course the two men have placed beyond any doubt what has happened at the tomb. Jesus is not there. And have even linked the disappearance of his body to Jesus' own teaching. All that remains is for the women to announce this Gospel message to the other disciples.

And yet, even Luke chooses not to disguise the fact that the other disciples are unconvinced. The story of the two men in dazzling white doesn't impress the Jesus' other at all. In fact, they regard the whole account as nonsense. Only Peter, in a disputed ending to the passage which isn't found in the best manuscripts and may even be borrowed from John's Gospel, has the energy and enthusiasm to go himself to the Tomb to see if what the women are saying is true. He too finds it empty, and sees the grave clothes, and goes home marvelling.

So what are we to conclude from Luke's account? I think he means us to understand from this, and some of the other stories he tells, that Easter is always about faith and never about certainty. The women could have arrived at the tomb to find Jesus being raised. Instead, they're simply told - when they arrive - that they're looking in the wrong place. And, although Luke has the message conveyed to them by angels, nonetheless it's still only a challenge to go on looking for Jesus among the living - to meet him in friend and stranger, like the travellers to Emmaus. The angels don't say where these meetings will take place.

And the disciples too, not just the eleven special friends of Jesus, but 'all the rest' as Luke calls them, face the same choice that we face today. Are they prepared to believe the message that is being proclaimed to them or they going to believe something else - that the women are deluded, that they have gone, by mistake to the wrong tomb, that Jesus' body has been stolen, or that he somehow revived in the tomb and made good his escape? The story of the resurrection is marvellous, incredible even, but is it any more incredible than the alternative explanations?

That is what everyone of us has to decide for ourselves. But one thing is for sure, unless we are open minded, unless we are prepared to believe, we shall have great difficulty meeting Jesus among the living.

No comments: