Sermons

Sun, Apr 21, 2019

The parable of the women's proclamation

A sermon for Easter Day
Series:Sermons

The resurrection of Jesus––

what are we to make of it?

 

Many Christians, of course, accept the whole story quite literally…

perhaps tooliterally:

massive stone miraculously rolled away…

neatly folded grave-clothes…

empty tomb…

and Jesus’ physical body somehow magically reanimated.

And, therein, lies the problem––

when understood literally, what’s usually imagined is simply the resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse.

And yet, that doesn’t fit with the accounts that we have in all of the Gospels…

where the resurrected Jesus is barely recognisable…

and suddenly appears and disappears…

and walks through walls.

Far from a bodily resurrection–– 

let alone a resuscitation or reanimation––

perhaps what we’re really left with are simply accounts of the experience of the resurrected Jesus.

Regardless of what happened to Jesus’ physical body…

perhaps what we know as the resurrection…

was––

in the words of Marcus Borg––

the disciples’ experience of Jesus as “a divine reality of the present”.

Taking that line of thought further…

there are other people, of course, who find this literal understanding of resurrection difficult to accept––

indeed, unintelligible––

especially in the modern world.

And, as such, perhaps it’s better to interpret the resurrection as a foundational myth;

or, in the words of Bishop Spong, as “ultimate truth and literal nonsense”.

So, for those of us who would understand the resurrection in mythological or metaphorical terms…

perhaps we would resonate with the disciples’ reaction to the women’s report…

which we heard in Luke’s resurrection account:

“These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them”.

And yet, before we start nodding in approval, it’s worth noting how problematic this statement is.

For a start, that translation doesn’t do justice to the original Greek.

It misses many of the nuances.

Rather, it would be better to translate it like this:

“These words seemed, in their opinion, nonsense––

or humbug…

or drivel…

or delusional ramblings––

and they gave the women no credence”.

But, even then, we still don’t get the full sense of what the author suggests the disciples’ reaction was.

We miss the distinct note of sarcasm in their response.

They didn’t just dismiss the women’s words…

they dismissed the women.

They put them down.

They treated them as a joke.

They reacted to them as if they were a bunch of raving ‘loonies’.

You can almost hear them saying:

“Oh! So, you went to the tomb did you…

and he wasn’t there…

and a couple of blokes, whom you didn’t know, said you wouldn’t find him there…

because he was risen?

You stupid women!

Are you sure you went to the right tomb?

I mean, they all look pretty much alike.

Did you even see where you were going because of all your blubbering and balling?

Perhaps you inhaled too much of your scented oils;

or did you just stop off for a few drinks on the way?”

You could almost hear it––

spat out with all of the derision… 

condescension…

and latent misogynist malice of René in “Allo Allo” or Basil in “Fawlty Towers”.

The disciples in the story didn’t simply dismiss the women’s report––

treating it as just an “old wives’ tale”––

they dismissed the women as gullible, emotional fools.

 

Of course… 

in the world of the first century Mediterranean, that’s not altogether surprising.

After all, theirs was a male-dominated world––

men ran the show…

and only men could be trusted.

Women were marginal.

They were considered to be–– 

and treated as––

rash, trivial, lightweight, empty-headed, lacking in wisdom and understanding.

In other words, then… 

the author portrays the disciples as behaving like other first century men would have expected:

they dismissed the women as gullible, emotional fools;

and they regarded their story as nothing but nonsensical drivel.

In so doing, the male disciples were simply living out their cultural conditioning…

and reinforcing the women’s marginal status.

 

And yet, in this wonderful little vignette––

which we only find in Luke’s Gospel…

and which the author clearly crafted for us––

we encounter a delicious piece of irony.

You see, in dismissing the women––

in treating them as just a bunch of gullible, emotional, fools…

and responding to them with sarcasm and hostility, 

not to mention a good deal of misogyny;

in deriding them and putting them down–– 

the male disciples have effectively done the same thing to the women…

as the Jerusalem authorities had done to Jesus.

They, too, have ridiculed and abused the weak…

silenced the marginalised…

and victimised the defenceless.

Granted, the disciples did not resort to actual, physical violence;

but, then again, sarcasm and derision are verbal forms of violence…

and often just as damaging.

In treating the women like they did…

the disciples have simply gone along with the way that the world works:

we humans seek security through violence;

we seek to maintain our structures through victimisation;

we seek to prop up our power through manipulation and abuse.

We do it overtly and covertly––

intentionally and unintentionally.

We do it at a societal level––

in terms of our structures;

and we do it at a personal level––

in terms of our relationships.

The authorities did it to Jesus;

and, in Luke’s Easter story, the disciples did it to the women.

We continue to do it today.

 

So, it’s a wonderfully powerful statement that–– 

for the author of Luke’s Gospel––

it’s the women who are the bearers of the resurrection message.

They proclaim the inconvenient truth of the resurrection both in their words…

and in their very persons.

The women stand, if you like, as a parable of the whole Easter story…

embodying both the message of the cross and the message of the resurrection.

The message of the cross is that our world need not function as it does.

Through the cross, Jesus responded to violence with forgiveness…

he responded to hatred with love…

he responded to evil with goodness.

Through the cross, Jesus showed us a very different way to live…

a very different way to be human––

a very different way that we could not…

or would not…

accept.

Thus, the resurrection–– 

however we understand it––

stands as God’s vindication of Jesus…

and God’s vindication of the women:

as a symbol, sign, and promise of a very different way of being human.

Through the resurrection…

God demonstrated that human power is, ultimately, powerless.

And the message of the resurrection is that human cruelty…

abuse…

victimisation…

injustice…

oppression…

and retribution…

do not and cannot win out in the end…

and they will not, ultimately, prop up the structures of society… 

or maintain the power and privilege of the powerful.

The message of the resurrection is that our violence…

selfishness…

hatred… 

and evil…

would not…

could not…

and will not have the last word.

The message of the resurrection is that good willtriumph over evil;

that love will triumph over hate;

that peace will triumph over fear;

and that life will, ultimately, triumph over death.

That is what Easter is about.

That is what Easter calls us to believe in.

That is what Easter calls us to strive for.

 

Christ is risen! 

Hallelujah!

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