Summary: Luke's account of the resurrection raises the issue of the struggle the early church had to believe the women's witness to Christ's resurrection. We too struggle to believe, yet ultimately, do because we trust in the validity of the women's Easter sermon
Easter Day Yr C, 4/04/2010
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“An idle tale or Gospel Truth?”
You have likely heard or even witnessed stories where reality is stranger than fiction. After hearing or witnessing such stories, we might give our heads a shake and say: “This is too good to be true!”
I recently visited the Ripley’s Believe It or Not website. Here’s a couple of stories that claim to be true and real, yet seem stranger than fiction.
Violinist plays during brain surgery: Roger Frisch, a solo violinist from Minnesota suffered from a tremor in his hand, impairing his ability to play the violin. Doctors performed an “awake” surgery where they used an experimental deep brain stimulation technique. Keeping the patient awake during surgery allows the Doctors to interact with the patient, to make sure they are hitting the right part of the brain. This isn’t a new concept. Back in 2008 Eddie Adcock had brain surgery to control a tremor in his hand. Doctors had Eddie play the banjo while they performed the same deep brain stimulation. You can actually click on videos of these surgeries to see them.
Here’s another one from Ripley’s: A car got trapped under a truck. This is amazing! A large truck didn’t realize there was a car wedged sideways in front of the truck’s front wheels. A video, taken by a motorist, captured the truck as it continued to drive at high speeds down a highway in West Yorkshire, England. The female driver of the car was thankfully uninjured.1
Yes, sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, too good to be true, yet it is true. Take, for example, today’s gospel. On that first Easter Day long ago, the women, in accordance with Jewish burial customs, came back to Jesus’ tomb expecting to see his dead body inside and to perform their last burial duties with their spices. After all, dead people are dead in a graveyard, aren’t they? I know, if I go to a cemetery, I expect that the dead bodies will still be in their graves. Dead people stay dead, don’t we all believe that? So far I’ve never seen a dead person come back to life. The women on that first Easter morning arrived at Jesus' grave expecting to see his dead body lying there inside.
However, that is not what they saw! Rather, they saw an empty grave. Jesus’ body was gone. Where could it be? No sooner had they started to feel anxious about this than two men arrive to tell them that they should not be looking for the living among the dead. Jesus was no longer dead, he was alive—just as he had predicted to them before he had died. Now they remembered his prediction and, believing this surprising Good News, went back to tell the eleven apostles and all the other followers of Jesus. These women, in a man’s world, were the first preachers of Christ’s resurrection.
Luke goes on to tell us the response of the apostles when they heard the women’s Easter Sermon. Here’s how Luke describes their doubt and scepticism: “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” A couple of other translations employ the word “nonsense,” instead of “an idle tale.” According to Dr Wm. Barclay: The word used is one employed by Greek medical writers to describe the babbling of a fevered and insane mind.2 In other words, the truth to them seemed stranger than fiction, it was too good to be true. The poor women had lost touch with reality. Were they out of their minds? We know that dead folks in cemeteries stay dead—such news had to be unbelievable, an impossibility.
In the patriarchal society at that time, one also wonders if the scepticism and doubt of those who heard the Easter Good News was because the information was coming from women. Too many people failed to take women seriously for far too long. Back then, according to Jewish law, they were not allowed to be legal witnesses. Even today, many men sadly fail to take women seriously and listen to them. Mary Lynch tells the following story:
I remember one time in particular when I took my car to the mechanic. I described the problems clearly and accurately. The mechanic half-listened to me. The whole time he kept looking past me toward the entrance. When my father approached, the mechanic turned from me, walked over to my father and asked what was the problem with the car. Now my father had never even driven my car. My parents were visiting from out of state. My father had simply offered to drive over in order to drive me home when I left my car there. When my father explained that he knew nothing about my car, the mechanic reluctantly listened to me while I again explained why I was bringing my car to him.3 So, yes, it is quite possible that because the news of Christ’s resurrection was coming from these women the audience failed to hear and believe them.