Let’s face it. We are accustomed to seeing things in our own way. From our perspective. From where we stand. And it colors how we view the world, how we see and deal with others, and how we process situations that grab our attention.
And this was probably true for the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem (Luke 23:55). Because we find the beginning of Luke 24 as relatively similar to the other synoptic Gospel accounts of the first Easter Sunday, most of us automatically go into default mode in our reading and view the women similarly as they approach the empty tomb of Jesus. Like the other accounts, we correctly assume that awaiting them in Jesus’ tomb was his deceased body, since they brought spices they had prepared for his body (24:1). But unlike the other accounts, in the Third Gospel the women found the tomb to have been opened and, upon entering the tomb, no body was found (24:3). Whatever they expected was replaced with confusion. The wording suggests them to be at a complete loss over what they found, literally unable from their perspective to see any clues that helped them make sense of what was now another bizarre twist to the story of Jesus. Regardless of what Jesus had said previously about his resurrection, the women failed to make the connections here. The tomb (mnēma, 24:1; mnēmeion, 24:2) or memorial of Jesus itself done nothing to shake their memories to remember (mimnēskō) what Jesus himself had said.
But sometimes we need to see things differently. That is often the case in the Gospel of Luke. The author often suggests that we readers need to see or look for something that we might otherwise miss … and interjects the command “See!” or “Look!” (In Greek, the command is idou.) Today’s translations often leave this command unrendered or use a term other than “see” or “look” to help with the flow of the sentence. That is the case here. Apparently, Luke wants us to see that it was at precisely this moment of complete loss that two men in “gleaming bright clothing” appeared and stood beside the women (24:4, ceb). He doesn’t seem concerned about identifying the pair (although there is similarity in appearance to Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration [see Luke 9:28-36] and to the pair at Jesus’ ascension [see Acts 1:10-11]). Rather, further accentuated by the women’s fear and reverence, the two messengers offer them in this moment the good news about Jesus — news that the author suggests Jesus had mentioned before (see 9:22; 18:32-33). And so after being told to “remember” what Jesus told them, a simple message that reiterated that he “must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (24:7, ceb), the result was just as simple: “And they remembered his words” (24:8).
Unlike other Gospel accounts, the women were not told to look for themselves where Jesus’ body should have been. For that is where they were already, and that had done nothing for them! Nor were they told to go and tell the good news. After all, for a brief instant this was not yet good news for them! And there is also no additional sign of fear or unbelief from these well-intended women. Instead, what we do find in Luke’s account is that they were told to remember. They remembered. What now caused them to connect the dots between their discovery of the empty tomb and what Jesus had shared, when they had failed to do so earlier? As Luke tells it, what was it about these women that caused them to see what they had missed before, so that they could return (hypostrepsasai) and report what they found to the apostles and everyone else (24:9)?
Only Luke tells about what these same women do upon their return (hypostrepsasai [23:56], the same participle as in 24:9) to Jerusalem from Jesus’ tomb after his crucifixion. He offers a sketchy description of the day after their world and all their expectations for Jesus as Messiah had been turned upside down. When so many others give up or blame God for whatever has gone wrong in their lives or their circumstances, notice how this group of women responded after what was undoubtedly the most gut-wrenching day they had ever endured. The ending sentence of chapter 23 is noteworthy: “They rested on the Sabbath, in keeping with the commandment” (23:56b, ceb). In other words, they worshiped God. Period. Luke doesn’t elaborate. Although it may have seemed as though God was absent … or silent … or didn’t care about what had just happened, they still turned to God in worship, perhaps with the hope and anticipation that God was not absent but very present, as Jesus himself claimed while on the cross (see 23:34; 23:46). And their worship kept their eyes on God despite the circumstances, rather than focusing on the circumstances and wondering where God might be in the midst of those circumstances.
The worship of those women amazes me. They probably didn’t know what to do in the hours after Jesus’ death. To whom would they now look? And didn’t their whole world look bleak, now that Jesus had been murdered? But what Luke suggests here changes everything. The posture of the women bowing before the two men at the tomb (24:5) may reflect this positive perspective that they brought with them to the scene. Could it be that this group “gets” the good news of the resurrection because their perspective was transformed first by giving themselves in worship to God, even when all seemed lost? Even when God seems silent? This starts by seeing differently.
I have known people like these women. I know persons who have endured difficulties in life that would seemingly shake their faith. Yet in the midst of the most trying of situations, they do not explain them away but in faith, still put one foot in front of another, worship God as the giver of life, and give witness to God’s goodness and grace. I know others who worship God and radiate God’s love in the midst of trying circumstances where justice and love are lacking in our world.
For they see things differently. And they can see resurrection around them.