What They Did When They Didn’t Find The Body


Luke 24: 1-12     Easter Sunday     April 21, 2019

 

The women had done all that they were supposed to do, after Jesus was crucified.  They had been faithful: The women who had come with [Jesus] from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid.[1]  They had been obedient to religious custom: Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.[2]  They had been obedient to religious law: On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.[3]

Think of how hard that obedience to the sabbath commandment would have been!  Joseph of Arimathea had placed Jesus’ body in the tomb as the sabbath was beginning – that means as the sun was going down on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, on Friday.  The sabbath ended at sundown on Saturday, but then it was dark.  The women had had to wait for the sun to rise the next morning, Sunday, before they could return to the tomb to complete the proper burial of Jesus’ body.  How hard it must have been!  What anxiety they must have felt, as they waited, in their despair, spices prepared.

            But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.  They did not find the body!

Here’s what I want to look at: What did they do when they didn’t find the body?

*  *  *

            What do you do when you don’t find the body?

Oh, of course I don’t mean that literally.  I mean, what do you do when something happens that demolishes and overturns everything you expected to happen, even though you’ve been following all the rules and doing all that you were supposed to do?  Padraig O’Tuama puts it this way: “[T]he complication is that life comes with no trigger warning.  Things happen out of the blue.  Something happens, and suddenly, with no preparation, you find yourself in the middle of something that you didn’t wish to happen.”[4]   What do you do when the stroke hits you or a loved one?  What do you do when you’re in the hospital after the accident or crash?  What do you do when the job ends, suddenly?

What do you do, when it is abruptly, painfully apparent that you are not in control, and all of your rule-following has been worthless?  Do you remember resurrection?  Do you remember that God is the source of the new life that will arise from this catastrophe?  Do you remember to respond “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ?”  (Those are the liturgical words we say in the face of an empty grave: “sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.”)

Recently I was talking with a woman who is journeying through a significant health crisis.  She has been a person of faith her entire life.  As she contemplated death, she said that she is afraid.  I said, “Don’t you think God is a God of love and grace and forgiveness?”  She said, “I don’t know.  Do you?”  I said, “Yes, Ma’am.”  She said, “Why?”  I said, “Because that’s what I’ve been taught, and that’s what I read in the Bible.”  I found that I had been given the job to tell her that; in other words, to remind her of what she has known all her life.

*  *  *

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.  While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.  The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.  Remember… (ah, there’s that word!)  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that “the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”  Then they remembered his words, …

One chief reason why we gather in this place is to remember.  It is important for us to gather together so we can remind each other to live “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[5]

If you need to be reminded of that over and over again, that’s ok.  It comes with our humanity.  One thing that impressed Martin Luther about the Easter stories is that Jesus’ followers are so helpless when they don’t find the body!  Luther points to “the weakness of the human witnesses….In telling the story of the angel’s appearance to the women, Luther emphasizes that strength of the angels and their message and points out that from the very beginning of the resurrection nothing happens apart from the external Word.”[6]  There is great grace in this!  It’s not up to Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them to figure it out.  God creates faith when the story of resurrection is told!  The women hear the story from the angels.  The story creates faith.  They are compelled to tell others!

But the story is open-ended.  It includes us, too.  Helplessness and weakness abounds!  What did the men do when the women didn’t find the body?  Well, they exemplify skepticism, an inability to be open to what God is doing when something happens that demolishes and overturns everything they expected to happen, even though they have been following all the rules, doing all that they were supposed to do.  Something has happened (out of the blue, it seems to them, because they haven’t remembered what Jesus told them).  Something has happened, and suddenly, with no preparation, they find themselves in the middle of something that they didn’t wish to happen.   Is it be painfully obvious to them that they aren’t in control?  The men are trying to adjust to the disaster that has happened with Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.  They are trying to figure out how to carry on, when all of their hopes have been crushed.  When Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them burst in with the news of resurrection, the men are cynical and unbelieving.  They’re not open to the story which would create faith.  It’s an idle tale, they think, useless female chatter.  After all, in that culture, which women were disqualified as reliable witnesses.  (Do you see how God overturns our every assumption?!  Women – in that culture! – are the first apostles: those who are told of resurrection and then tell others!)

This story in Luke is open ended.  It includes you and me: how do we respond?  Does the story create faith in us?  Consider Peter, as an example.  In his weakness, he retraces the steps the women have taken: But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.  Peter is “amazed.”  He’s not there yet, is he?  But it seems that he’s open to the good news that Christ is risen.  And we will read, in the next stories in the gospel of Luke, that Peter and the others do come to live in the resurrection when the risen Christ reveals himself in the breaking of the bread, when they experience the risen Christ feeding them, when they experience the risen Christ giving them work to do.

Well.  That’s true for you and me, too, right?

Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!

In the name of God, who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Pastor Andy Ballentine

 

[1] Luke 23:55

[2] Luke 23:56a

[3] Luke 23:56b

[4] https://onbeing.org/programs/padraig-o-tuama-belonging-creates-and-undoes-us/#transcript

[5] Evangelical Lutheran Worship graveside liturgy

[6] Timothy J. Wengert, ed., The 1529 Holy Week and Easter Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther (St. Louis, MO, Concordia Academic Press, 1999), page 25.


About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine loves being a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!