Text: Luke 24: 1-12
An Easter Sunday Meditation
English is a complicated language, perhaps one of the most difficult languages to learn because it has so many special rules. I imagine that each of you while growing up and attending school learned about grammar. We learned about all the different parts that form a sentence. We start with the subject, which is a noun, the person, place or thing in our sentence.
Then we have the predicate which says something about the subject. Often these are verbs, our action words. This is followed by the object of the sentence a noun or pronoun which receives the action of a verb.
Here is a sample sentence:
Subject: The church
Predicate: at work
Object: in the world.
So our sentence would read: The church at work in the world.
Nice and simple as sentences go.
(Note: I have since been told that this is not a proper sentence. The lesson here is, do not take grammar lessons from the preacher!)
Now not only do we have parts of sentences, but we also have parts of speech or word classes. Our nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, conjunctions etc. In other words our sentences can get a whole lot more complicated.
This morning I want to talk about one of the parts of speech and focus on conjunctions.
Conjunctions are joiners, they connect two parts of a sentence together. I am not sure if you noticed this morning, but in Luke’s gospel he uses conjunctions to great effect. The conjunction I want to focus on is the word ‘but’.
In our reading this morning from the Good News the word ‘but’ is used four times. The NRSV uses the word ‘but’ six times in this passage. This all breaks down to how you translate the word from the Greek to English as the word in Greek can also be translated to almost any other conjunction in English, but this morning I want to focus on the three instances we heard read to us earlier.
The first instance occurs in verse three where we read, “…but they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” Now the they in question is some of the women who were friends with Jesus and the disciples. Some of these women are named and others are not we know that Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James. To me the detail of who discovered the missing body is important, it was women who provided the first witness to the resurrection. The body is not there, remember all the things he told us. He has risen!
The women didn’t think they were going crazy and when they heard the words of the two angels everything clicked and made sense. Of course, Jesus told us all of this, but we weren’t listening.
This is the importance of our first ‘but’. The women find the empty tomb, they witness these events to the men who doubt what they have been told. The disciples thought that what the women were saying was nonsense. What is also important about this first instance is that the women didn’t realize what was happening at first. They didn’t know why there wasn’t a body. They didn’t leap to the conclusion of the resurrection by themselves. How often is it that we also miss the obvious of what we see and read in scripture? How often do we allow our own problems, concerns and cares to read too deeply into scripture forcing us to miss a vital clue about how God is trying to speak to us today?
The second instance of the word ‘but’ is found when the apostles hear what the women share. We read, “But the apostles thought that what the women said was nonsense, and they did not believe them.” We give Thomas a hard time because of the story in the upper room where everyone else sees Jesus, but Thomas wasn’t there and so he doubts. We even have an expression ‘a doubting Thomas’ which relates to that story in scripture. Thomas says I won’t believe it unless I see it.
Well here we have all of the disciples gathered together and the women are telling them he isn’t there and do you remember what he taught us. All eleven disciples say to the women you are talking nonsense, leave us be. They do not believe the women, they doubt the account which has been shared with them.
The second instance of ‘but’ tells us that doubting the story of the resurrection is a very real part of the testimony we find in scripture. All the disciples doubted what they heard. These are elven men who travelled with Jesus for three years. They were there when he taught in synagogues and the temple. They were there when he performed miracles. They received private instruction from Jesus that no one else benefited from.
It is easy to doubt this account. This is where the mystery of Jesus and God’s work in creation manifests its divine element. You mean Jesus, God, let’s himself be killed, buried in a tomb and then three days later he’s alive again? It sounds ridiculous, but it is a part of our mystery of faith. That this did in fact happen and that Jesus is much more than alive again. He has conquered death for our sake.
If the disciples could doubt what they were being told, we too can have our doubts. Doubt is not the antithesis of faith. In fact doubt is a healthy partner in faith. In a recent article Michael Coren writes, “An authentic relationship with God is a dialogue, involving questions, arguments and even doubt.” Doubt is a healthy part of our faith, it is what leads to our questions, leads us to scripture and leads us into prayer with God. Don’t be ashamed if you have doubts about part of the story, instead ask yourself questions about those doubts and explore your faith.
As I was preparing for this morning I came across the following stanza:
Keep your ears open.
Honour the hunger within you.
Seek until you find.
Treat the doubt and the questions you have this way. Honour your questions and seek for answers. God created us as rational beings capable of reason. Use those gifts to discover more about God.
The final instances of the word ‘but’ this morning comes immediately after the last. “But Peter got us and ran to the tomb; he bent down and saw the grave cloths but nothing else. Then he went back home amazed at what had happened.” But Peter. For Peter there is something nagging at his mind after the women share their story. Something prompts him to go and find out for himself. Of course he discovers an empty tomb, the grave clothes are there but nothing else.
Two things are of interest here. First Peter wasn’t able to take at face value what the women had shared. Did this show a lack of trust in their words, is this something that culturally we do not understand because it is out of context for us? I don’t know, but it is interesting that he needed proof. How often do we hear something and say that can’t be true only to go and discover it for ourselves? I think this speaks to the human condition and our need for proof. Our need to know things in a highly intellectual and tangible way.
However, it also speak to our desire to search things out. To discover more of God’s mystery for us and to live in knowledge that the tomb was empty. Theologian NT Wright puts it this way, “Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.”
Our passage from Luke this morning says to us ‘hold on, there is more going on than what appears. Just wait, look, listen there is more!’ Luke continually reminds us that there is more, that something else is happening!
Luke tells us to listen and remember the stories we have in scripture, they will inform us. That doubt is a healthy part of our journey of faith. Finally, that we should search out the empty tomb for ourselves, but don’t stay there. God has more for us to do, God calls us out of the tomb to share in life abundant. To declare to all people that Christ is Risen! Amen.