Empty Tomb or Idle Tale

Luke 24:2, 12

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Priest-in-Charge

March 27, 2016

"But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb but when they went in they did not find the body. They returned and told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale and they did not believe them."

Introduction

Can you imagine such an ending to the Gospel on Easter Sunday? Did you hear what I just read?

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of our Lord, had just been to the grave where our Lord was buried. They had come to anoint his body with spices. When they got there they found the stone to the entrance had been removed and the tomb was empty. Suddenly, inside the grave, two men appeared, dressed in dazzling white robes. These men told the women that Jesus was not dead as they had thought, but rather that he was alive, he had risen!

What news! What tremendous news. Surely this called for rejoicing, this was a moment for celebration. But that was not the reaction of these women. St. Mark tells us that they fled in terror.

Isn't that just like silly women one might say, here they were given the most significant message in the history of the universe and instead of celebrating or proclaiming the good news, they fled in fear.

But what about the disciples? Surely their reaction to this news would be far more appropriate for this momentous event. Today’s gospel tells us, however, that when the women finally gathered their wits about them, and told the apostles, their "words seemed to them to be an idle tale and they did not believe them.” The first news of our Lord's victory found his disciples to be just as skeptical, just as fearful, just as filled with disbelief as had been the women.

I.

Why? Why did the disciples respond so negatively to this momentous news? Why did they not believe? First of all, we must remember that the first Holy Week which we have just relived was a time when the disciples’ hopes had been completely shattered. They had become, so they believed, victims of disillusioned dreams. After all, had they not left everything to follow this man? Their careers, their homes, their families, their friends? Even now, on resurrection Sunday they remembered, with just a trace of irony, how it was when they had first met him. How their hearts had glowed when he talked to them. When he looked into their eyes, it was as if he had looked into the very windows of their souls. He knew them. He understood them. They were filled with hope. They would do anything and go anywhere for this man.

Jesus made them believe in themselves. He called forth within them dreams, aspirations, feelings, hopes which they had not even realized that they were capable of possessing. They had followed him gladly. They listened in wonder at his teaching. They watched in awe as he performed his miracles. They were humbled yet thrilled when he told them that they would do even greater works in His name.

His words had kindled their hopes and inspired their dreams. When he spoke about His coming kingdom, they knew, or thought they knew, about what he was talking. Their nation, now under Roman occupation would be free again. With Jesus as their king they would eventually rule the world. And so they built their dreams.

They did not listen when Jesus told them He must die and that they must follow in his steps. It did not fit into the vision of the world which he had called forth in them. The hopes that had been called forth in them were their understanding of the kingdom, not His. And though they seemed to be so meaningful and so real, their hopers were imperfect, self-centered, needing to be crucified.

II.

And so they had come to Holy Week. It started off well, just as they had anticipated. Our Lord entered Jerusalem triumphantly. The crowds had recognized him and proclaimed him to be the Messiah! He strode boldly to the temple and threw out the bureaucratic hacks who he had caught red-handed on the take.

The disciples stood with Him, knowing that at his signal the people would rise up, join their ranks to overthrow the hated Roman government. Then the kingdom of God would be established on the earth.

But such was not to be. On the night of the Passover, the soldiers came to the garden to arrest him.

Our Lord did not resist. Judas sought to force his hand but ended up betraying him instead. Peter, who had so boldly proclaimed his loyalty and had promised to fight with him to the death, denied that he even knew him. Three of the disciples had fallen asleep when Jesus agonized alone in prayer. All of them had fled when Jesus was arrested. In his hour of greatest need, they had deserted Him.

But had he not also let them down? For all his talk about his coming kingdom, despite his miracles, and profound teaching, when the chips were down, He went meekly like a lamb being led to slaughter. Had he lost his nerve? Had he been exposed as a false impersonator? Big talk, but in the end powerless?

As His hands and feet were nailed to the cross all the hope which had filled their breasts slowly ebbed away. Devastated, the very meaning of their existence lay like ashes on the ground.

III.

JESUS IS ALIVE! HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD! At first the women were terrified. But the angles told them: "Why seek ye the living among the dead? "Do you not remember what He told you while he was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be delivered to sinful men and be crucified and on the third day, rise?

Then, they remembered, and for the first time they began to understand his words. The terror which had initially filled their hearts was replaced by wonder. Despite themselves, a new hope was born within. They ran back to tell the disciples. But the disciples were not all that impressed. Their hopes were still shattered, dashed on the rocks of despair. The women's words of faith and joy meant nothing to them. As the gospel records these words seem to them an idle tale and they did not believe them. Only later, when our Lord appeared to them when they had hidden behind locked doors in the upper room would they believe.

Can you understand the disciples’ initial reaction? Is Christ alive for you? Does he dwell within your heart? Have you experienced the reality of Easter faith? Like the women, I can share with you how Christ came alive in my life after years of disappointment and despair. I can tell you how He transformed my thinking, how he quickened my understanding and awakened new hope within me.

But in the end, it is He, the Risen Lord who must walk with you even as he walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus and began to tell anew those words which had been empty and meaningless of all that the Messiah must do. Words which he had tried to express to them before, but which they could not hear. It is the Risen Lord who must come in the breaking of the bread before any of us can say: Did not our hearts burn within us on the road as He opened to us the scriptures and when he broke bread with us. It is then, and only then, that we will be able to say with conviction. THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED