|Community in Lexington, KY.|
When you look back through the events of your life can you see how some things prepared you for what was next. During the days that I was a teacher I remember saying that teaching prepared me to be a better parent and that parenting helped be be a better teacher. But what prepares us to believe the unbelievable? When the women in the gospel story find the empty tomb they move from believing that Jesus was dead to believing that Jesus was alive.
It is tempting to look down upon the male apostles who did not believe the women. We are tempted to say “they just didn't believe them because women were spreading this news.”. Even though there are many times in history and in the present when women are treated unjustly by men, I do not think this is an example of sexism. If you really think about it the story the women were telling was pretty far fetched. They probably said “We went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body and the tomb was empty and then these two men who were glowing asked us why we were looking for the living among the dead.”
When was the last time you saw two glowing men? And how could Jesus be alive when they all saw his horrible crucifixion? The day became dark and there was an earthquake when he died just two days before. How could he be alive?
What else happened to the women at the empty tomb? The two men in dazzling clothes asked the women to remember what Jesus told them before he died. The oddly dressed men wanted them to remember what Jesus said about what was going to happen to him in his last days. This very well written story in the Gospel of Luke asks the women to remember and invites the reader of the story to remember things that happened before this account in the gospel of Luke.
What other story comes to mind when we read these words in this story: “suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground”
How about the story of the transfiguration? What is similar in the two accounts? Listen to this part of the transfiguration story: 9 And while he(Jesus) was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Both stories have an appearance of two men. Both stories refer to dazzling clothes. A key word mentioned in the transfiguration story is the word glory. It says “they appeared in glory.”
Peter witnesses this glory and has two responses to what he is seeing in the transfiguration account. He first wants to erect booths to contain this sacred moment on the mountain with Jesus and these prophets of the Old Testament. But just as he is expressing this idea a cloud of God’s presence envelops them and the passage says “ and they (Peter, James and John) were terrified.” Both of these scripture passages in Luke of the transfiguration and of the women at the empty tomb are describing human experiences with God’s glory (Greek word doxa). They are encountering mystery. They are in the presence of the Holy One. The women and the male disciples experienced a moment of fear or terror when they were in God’s glorified presence. Their human brains did not understand the experience so at first they were afraid.
Going back to the women at the empty tomb we see that their fears were transformed into belief. The two men in dazzling clothes jogged their memory of what Jesus told them about being raised on the third day. Notice the two men did not say “ you need to go back and tell the others that Jesus was raised from the dead.” All they did was ask the women to remember. This became a personal experience for the women when they were seeing the empty tomb and were asked by these angelic men to remember what Jesus told them. What do the women do next? They go back and tell the others that Jesus is alive. Do the others believe them? No. Does the response that they receive from the others change what they say? I don't think so. They experienced God’s glory at the empty tomb. They don't have a very believable story but they have experienced an amazing encounter that there really are not appropriate words for. Do they stop talking about. To the contrary they can't stop talking about it. And even more amazing when we fast-forward to the present time, a little over 2000 years later, this is why we are still talking about it.
This gospel story points to the powerful use of remembering as a method for helping the women in the story and the readers of the story to come to a deeper understanding of Jesus as the son of God.
I love the stories in scripture because of all the powerful ways that God’s glory is revealed. These very old stories that were first passed on orally and then were written down resonate with my own experiences in living life. I can look back over my life and see how God prepared me for what came next. I can read scripture stories of Jesus’ life on earth and see how he prepared his friends for what came next. Then well after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the stories were written down. The writers of the stories prepared readers for what came next.
What comes next can often be unbelievable and it can bring fear into our human hearts but when we remember what Jesus taught through his life, death and resurrection we are able to move past fear to a place of believing the unbelievable and then we will stop looking for the living among the dead. We will live our life in a way that shows our belief in the Holy One, the One who makes all things new, the One who is present in our suffering and leads us to life.
Sharing our beliefs and personal encounters of the sacred is often received by others as unbelievable stories. When our beliefs lead us to unbelievable actions like offering unconditional love to those who are homeless, sick, disabled or marginalized we will be questioned and not understood by many people. It can get discouraging when we are met with coolness and inhuman rules and laws that become hurdles and roadblocks for us to continue. But we must persevere and we must hold on to our empty tomb transformations that motivate us to share unbelievable stories that lead to unbelievable ways of living our lives. When we do this we will not look for the living among the dead we will be part of bringing the dead back to life.