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While most versions title this pericope “Jesus’ Resurrection,” this is a Monday-morning quarterback viewpoint. The Message more accuratelycalls this “Looking for the Living One in a Cemetery.”The women are looking for Jesus’ body to finish what they couldn’t before the Sabbath. They find the body gone and they are “perplexed” (NRSV). This sounds like a puzzle that leads to reasoned consideration in an easy chair with your pointer finger by your mouth, but the Greek means they are thoroughly perplexed and at a complete loss.
While in this state, the women are confronted by two men in blindingly white, glowing clothing. Like all meetings between humans and God’s messengers, the encounter makes them afraid. They bow down, and the two messengers remind them how Jesus spoke of his resurrection. And the women remember Jesus’ words. The women then tell those words to the disciples. The term for the “words” of Jesus and the “words” of the women about their encounter is the same (rhema, v.8 and v.11). Thus, the Greek appears to indicate that the women used the same words as the two messengers did–that they spoke as Jesus spoke and they tell what Jesus had said.
The reactions of the women and the disciples are, of course, quite different. The women appear to believe the messengers, going forward to share this nascent Good News. The text specifically reports that the disciples do not believe the women, thinking their words (rhema) an idle tale. This disbelief is in accord with the legal and cultural norms of biblical times when women were not accepted as witnesses in court and life.
In this part of Luke 24, there are not as yet any eyewitnesses to the risen Christ himself. Jesus does not appear to anyone. The eyewitnesses have only, as of now, beheld the absence of Jesus’ body. The women find that the body missing and are perplexed. Peter finds the graveclothes empty and is amazed. What we have are eyewitnesses to the sharing of the news. We have messengers (the two men and the women). We have the word of the two messengers reminding the women of Jesus’ words. We have the word of the women telling the disciples what happened. What we have is words about the Word.
This is in some ways just the beginning of the story. The Word is told, it is shared, before it is experienced. It is heard before it is understood. Jesus’ followers have been told the Good News; and shortly they will see and experience the resurrected Jesus themselves. They have been telling Good News and soon they will be living into (but not solving) the mystery of the resurrected life, of new life. But in this passage, the words predicting and proclaiming the resurrection and the absence of the body are what they have.
Since the Resurrection, we too are witnesses who share words about the Word. Since the Ascension, while believing in the Resurrection, we too are witnesses to an “absent” Jesus with regard to his body. In the Church, we live out the words about the Word through the preaching of the Word. In the Church, we participate in the absent, ascended, resurrected Jesus through sharing in the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. And, in the world, we live out our witness to the Word and to the resurrected Christ by speaking of God’s selfless love and by acting in selfless love as the body of Christ.
This year’s Working Preacher commentary is at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/resurrection-3/commentary-on-luke-241-12-7. Further WP commentaries on this text can be found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/?s=Luke+24%3A1-12+E
For other ways of looking/thinking about this passage (themes with links expounding on them), see https://bjhlog.wordpress.com/2021/03/25/narrative-lectionary-themes-and-resources-for-easter-luke-24-1-12/
- What does it mean to look for the living among the dead?
- How do we use Jesus’ words when we tell the Good News?
- Where do we see legal and cultural disbelief of groups of people today?
- What does it mean that Jesus’ body is absent but present?
- What are the next steps in our own journey to knowing the resurrected Jesus?
- How can the church more fully witness to that journey?
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Barb Hedges-Goettl is a Presbyterian pastor and liturgical scholar recently moved to Rehoboth Beach, DE. She works with middle school special ed students in between writing liturgy, spending time with her husband Len, and training their new puppy, Cocoa.