Scripture: Luke 24:
Have you ever watched a mystery movie with a bunch of people? You know, a movie that gives you clues over time, but doesn’t reveal the solution until the very end? And the characters all experience bits and pieces, but don’t see what is really happening?
That’s a little bit what it feels like reading the book of Luke. As Chapter 24 opens, there is confusion and chaos and unexplained phenomena and death and grief and tears. Remember that Luke has been telling us for 23 chapters how no one really understands what is going on. Why should chapter 24 be any different? Once again, no one really understands what is going on. And now, for 12 verses here, there is no appearance of a Resurrected Jesus, and no real clarity about what is happening. Again, this is a brilliant move for Luke, who probably wrote this Gospel several years, if not decades, after the events of that Sunday morning. Because his first hearers likely had a similar experience: not eyewitnesses to the Resurrection itself, not even eyewitnesses to Jesus and his ministry, these people were living in their own moment of confusion and chaos and death. They were trying to chart a way forward without knowing exactly what was going on.
And let me suggest that while Luke wasn’t just writing to the Baptists of Kansas in 2021, his Gospel is especially appropriate for us today. Just like those first readers, we don’t understand what is going on either. We weren’t eyewitnesses to Jesus or his Resurrection. We still struggle with what his teachings and life means for us. And if that weren’t enough, we are living in a time that for many of us is the most confusing, most chaotic, most grief- and death-filled time of our lives. We are just as clueless as the women who showed up that morning, expecting one thing and getting something completely different. And just like the women, we come with hearts of grief and pain and tears of sadness, watching the death toll from COVID-19 still rise in our country and around the world. And just like the women, there are moments when we just wish we could go back to the way it used to be. Like them, we try and chart a way forward, without knowing exactly what is going on.
So, the women show up and receive the word of these two men, the text is unclear but likely suggests that they are angels. Again, still confused and afraid, they return to the apostles to tell what they have seen…and the apostles tell them they are nuts. “It was to them as an idle tale.”
Biblical scholar Kathryn Schifferdecker says that in today’s parlance they told the women, “Fake News.” And her assessment is so apropos! They did not trust that the women were reliable news sources. Both Romans and religious scholars of the day suggest that the witness of a woman was not to be trusted. So in their chaos and confusion and grief, their first reaction was to reject their words. They must not be correct. Peter will go check it out for himself.
And do we not still do the same thing? In the midst of our chaos and confusion and grief, how often are we are skeptical and cynical and untrusting? “Fake News!” We heard this phrase of shared distrust before the pandemic, but it seems like the less we understand about what is happening around us, the less trusting we become. We insulate and isolate and fortify ourselves in our silos and engage in this shared distrust. I am convinced that is why we have seen this crazy rise in conspiracy theories. Election conspiracies and vaccine conspiracies and Q Anon, and it is all a crystallization of distrust. I am struck by the fact that there is now a booming market for conspiracy theories…an institution built on the distrust of institutions. l There is an institutionalized market for conspiracy and distrust. Evidence and testimony and the personal experiences of others are all dismissed, with a wave of our hands like “idle tales.”
But, again, Luke tells this story of the truth peeking through the confusion. Just like it would for his first readers. Just like it does for us. And it comes as a moment of remembering. Pay attention to what the men in front of the tomb say. First, they ask the women why they are looking for the living among the dead. And then they tell them, “don’t you remember when he was in Galilee that he told you how this would happen?” “Remember.” The Gospel of Luke seems to hinge on this idea of shared memory, and the simplicity of this word: remember.
- The genealogy at the beginning of the Gospel is meant to help people remember the story and family from whence Jesus came.
- Anna and Simeon look at each other and remember the story of the Messiah foretold.
- At the Transfiguration, Peter and James and John have a chance to see these amazing figures from the past—Elijah and Moses—and remember their legacy.
- Jesus tells the lawyer who asks how he might inherit eternal life, “remember the law and the prophets.”
- And in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, he does the same thing about his brothers, “They are fine if they remember the law and the prophets…it’s all in there.”
- They come together for the Passover, a festival of remembering God’s rescue.
- And at that Passover meal, Jesus looks his disciples in the eye, gives them bread and wine, and tells them, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
- Now, the angels stand and say to the women, “Remember,” and Luke tells us “the women remembered Jesus’ words.”
Scholar Michal Beth Dinkler talks about the importance of this word to the text, and to the Resurrection story. The life of faith is lived forward, but the tools needed for it are claimed from the past. When we face chaos and confusion and unpredictable moments, Luke and the Gospels and the Biblical witness as a whole remind us to remember. This act of shared remembering, what Dinkler calls a “redemptive remembering” is how we must live the life of faith forward. Just like the women, we recall the moments in our lives when Christ transformed us, changed us. The call from the doctor that we are in the clear. The reconciliation in that relationship with our family member. The Easter symbol of walking in newness of life. And we get it in bits and pieces, just like the women. In that moment, they still didn’t understand it all. But they—and we—get that we are a part of something big and transformational and redemptive.
But Dinkler suggests that that memory must be shared, must be a part of a process not just of recalling, but of re-membering. Of re-gathering. Of restoring community. Of trusting in voices that we might otherwise be doubt. Imagine how the disciples must have started to piece together these memories, clues, transformational moments, until eventually they begin to understand. For Luke’s hearers, and for us today, even if the Risen Christ is not physically in our presence, we still participate in the shared community that gathers in his name.
And again, it feels like the experience of watching that mystery movie together. Someone recalls a piece of information, and then someone else another: “remember when…” that thing happened and “remember when…” and someone says, “oh yeah…” And sometimes it gets loud, as emotions rise and people get excited. And together, you start to piece together the mystery and what really happened.
Which sounds a lot like the life of faith. You may not know all the answers on your own. You might not be able to give a convincing theological explanation for the Resurrection. You might not have an airtight systemic theology of the atonement of Christ that you can publish. You might not know all the answers about what the Church and our congregation are supposed to do, or look like, or become, in the months and years after the volatility of this pandemic.
But you are here today because you have an experience of Christ! You have an Easter story to tell! A story of transformation. A story of redemption. Even if you don’t understand it all, you have an experience and a voice and a story to bring to bear. This season, let us enjoy the shared experience of the hope and truth of Christ’s presence in our lives! This Easter, let us become an Easter community in new and glorious ways! Let’s open our eyes to the Resurrection community that God has created!