More than an Idle Tale

No one expected it to happen. Not even he did. Years earlier, he had said to his peers “I’m done.”  His kids didn’t think it could happen. After all, they had seen the pain he was in from doing the thing that had made him famous.

Most of you didn’t expect it to happen. He hadn’t won a major golf tournament in years. (I know I am supposed to be talking about Jesus on Easter Sunday, but yes I am talking about Tiger Woods winning the Masters last Sunday.) In the past, as he piled up major titles—14 in a 11-year-plus span, he EXPECTED to win.  We EXPECTED him to win.

But what with his public flameout Thanksgiving 2009, his addiction to pain meds, his many moral missteps, his attempts at a comeback… the pain and his own self were his worst enemy. He had gotten close before in staging a comeback and winning a Major golf tournament, but people who know him said you could see it in his eyes that he didn’t expect it to happen. And then last Sunday, after several golfers on the leaderboard found the water, and then when Tiger on the 16th hole launched his ball on the perfect arc over the water, softly curving right to left and landing in a precise 2 foot diameter so it would roll 20 feet down a slope and stop 15 inches below the hole, that was when a few of you thought this MIGHT be an historic day, with Tiger winning the Master’s at 43 years of age. Jim Nantz said it was the most historic sports story he had ever witnessed.  But if you asked Jim Nantz first thing Sunday morning before he stepped behind the broadcast microphone, he would have privately said “no way.”[1]

…Like the scene Mary and the women must have experienced. Mary and the women didn’t expect what happened when they went to the tomb preparing to anoint Jesus’ dead body. The Gospel writer Luke tells us the women had seen the whole sequence of violent events surrounding Jesus unfold. They, like everyone else, assumed Jesus’ dead body remained just where it had been placed. They did not expect anything other than death.

What they found completely undid them. “Perplexed” is how our text puts it, but that is an understatement. Other ways to say it are: the women were disturbed, uncertain, at a loss.

Of course they were. Who could blame them? When the women arrived at the tomb and could not find his body, they were lost, between what they had expected, standing in an empty tomb, spices in hand, looking for a body AND then finding two men in dazzling clothes who ask them why are they “seek[ing] the living among the dead? Don’t you remember what he told you?  He is risen!”

The women run back to their family of disciples, those who are in the best position to believe, and they tell them everything they had seen and heard at the empty tomb, all that they had remembered.  They tell what they had seen to those who had walked alongside with Jesus for years, those who had heard him teach, those who had prayed with Jesus. And when they are done, they take a collective deep breath and wait for their friends’ equally joyful reaction.

This is what gospel writer Luke tells us:  “It seemed to the men an ‘idle tale’ and they did not believe the women.” The women’s testimony about Jesus, their Jesus being raised- the women’s words about God’s resurrection power breaking the eternal hold of death- it seemed to the eleven  disciples to be only empty talk, a silly story.

It is translated as an “idle tale.” But let me let you in on a secret that I learned from my friend Anna Carter Florence.  This word “idle” -- the Greek word is leiros. It is the root from which we get the modern word delirium.  It is not used anywhere else in the New Testament.  She says it is a word reserved for the locker room.  Think garbage. Think drivel. “Yeah, well that sounds like a load of [beep] to me” (Luke 24:11).[1]

You get the picture. You have to be crazy to expect it, yet alone believe it.

And the eleven didn’t believe. Not at first anyway. Despite the several hints scattered through the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus’ explicit statements forecasting his resurrection (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34), when it happened, it turned out that no one expected it. It was just as hard to believe then that a man could rise from the dead - as it would be to believe it today.

If the dead won’t stay dead, what can you count on? It throws off the balance, upsets the apple cart of our expectations; it turns our neat and orderly lives inside-out.

The Gospel of Luke does us a favor by giving us the eleven disciples reaction to the GOOD news because, it is so, well, natural.  It is so natural to disbelieve something so unnatural. It is the very response you or I might have - or maybe do have - to such news.

I understand. I understand how testimony from the women sounded like an idle tale. Do you? At this moment in your life, do you find yourself in this tension when you have to decide either what you see is all there is to our lives and to our world -- OR that you will trust that there is a different power at work - a resurrection power at work? Are you at a time in your life when, if you are honest, my words of Empty tombs ring empty? If that is how you feel, welcome. You are at home here, and you are in good company with the other disciples. So, if you are, if we are, let us be reminded of the rest of their story, because the men’s reaction of leiros did not have the last word.

Last Palm Sunday, no one expected Tiger Woods to win. If you were watching, I don’t know what you were feeling as he walked up the 18th hole amid the cheers and the yells  of “Tiger, booh yeah”; what you felt when he hugged his son. In his victory press conference Woods used words like, “blessed,” “fortunate,” “lucky,” and “amazing.” Those words were almost never a part of his vocabulary in the past. He began by saying, “This is unreal to be honest with you."  (If you were watching Tiger walk up the 18th to cheers, I know some of you were excited about a great sports moment. I know some of you were unsettled because you wondered if he had done enough penance.  But it’s not about whether or not he deserves grace of who gets to decide whether he’s earned it.

It was a great moment but imagine yourself walking up the 18th hole  and you are walking beside the risen Jesus.

In the stories after Christ’s resurrection, Jesus Christ is  always somehow different. The same, but changed. His closest pals don’t recognize him immediately! When people break, or families break apart, and then heal and come back together, they never rebuild what was. They construct a new tomorrow. One that’s related, sure, but different. But that’s the price of redemption. And what’s amazing about Easter grace is that it doesn’t play by the rules and by what we expect. Our choices are never either/or. It’s never merely “Do everything right or we’ll never accept you again.”

The testimony of Easter is a significant truth we each must reconcile for ourselves, eventually: that reconciliation is available to all of us, even in our most broken places.

Thankfully, grace needs cracks to shine through. Yet redemption doesn’t come easily,   and it is certainly not how we EXPECT things to go.

Just ask Father Jean Marc Fournier, the chaplain of the Paris Fire Department who rushed into Notre Dame to save its treasures.

No, redemption doesn’t come easily and is certainly not how we expect things to go when centuries ago …God suffered for  us through His crucifixion to show that God suffers with us and not only that transforms our suffering.

The power of resurrection is loose in our world, in our time, in our history. Resurrection is hard at work in our world. Easter rises. And there is nothing lieros; ….there is nothing idle about it.

The Lord is risen!

He is risen indeed!