Lesson Focus It is ok if we do not always understand the work of God in our world. Over and over again, God proves that he’s working to help us understand and believe.
Lesson Outcomes Through this lesson, students should:
Encouraged to remember the entire story of God’s relationship with creation.
Allow their memory about God’s faithfulness to shape how they share the gospel.
Encouraged to take God’s good news about the resurrection into the world.
Catch up on the story At this point, Luke’s narrative is moving fast and uninterrupted. Jesus’ trial, sentencing, crucifixion, and burial occur with unrelenting progression. For those paying attention to Luke’s narrative so far, none of this should come as a surprise.
The cross is where Jesus’ story has been headed since the beginning. Jesus himself has not been shy about stating as much. On more than one occasion, he has tried to communicate to his followers, really anyone who would listen, that he must suffer and die only to rise again three days later. The disciples, however, are painfully slow to truly understand the reality and implication of Jesus’ words.
Nevertheless, Jesus’ words come to pass, and Luke communicates to us in detail the events of Jesus’ last days. The reader of Luke’s gospel gets front row seats to the spectacle, witnessing Jesus’ forgiveness for those who have wronged him and his willingly giving up his spirit into the trustworthy hands of the Father.
Finally, Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, wrapped in linen cloth yet not properly anointed with the proscribed spices and ointments. We are left to believe that some women who were followers of Jesus would be back after the sabbath to finish Jesus’ burial.
The Empty Tomb After a short break in the action to observe the Sabbath, Luke’s narrative returns; the scene opens on the first day of the week, early in the morning. The sun is up, but perhaps, not fully. As dawn breaks, a small group of women descends upon the place where Jesus was buried to finish what they had started the day Jesus died.
These women have brought spices and ointments that were common for the day’s burial customs. Upon arrival at the tomb, they discover that the stone has been rolled away, and the grave is open.
Luke does not tell us who or what rolled away the stone, but if Luke’s readers have been paying attention to all that Jesus has said and done so far in the narrative, they will know that the stone’s removal was no accident.
No, Jesus himself said that he would die, but he would be raised from the dead three days later. The stone is not there, and very shortly, the women will discover that Jesus is not there either.
Even though the absence of the stone would indeed have raised the suspicions of this group of women, they proceed to enter the tomb. We don’t know how big this tomb was, but there’s a good chance that a tomb like this was made large enough to inter several bodies. There was likely enough space for most of the group to enter into the grave. As the women file into the small, dark space, they soon discover that there is no body within. Luke tells us that this “perplexes” the group of women. They are at a loss for words, unable to come up with an explanation as to why Jesus’ body was not there.
As we have journeyed toward the cross this Lenten season, we have noted over and over again how slow Jesus’ disciples are to understanding who Jesus is and what he’s teaching them.
This slowness is not the exclusive property of Jesus’ male followers. This group of women, some of whom had likely spent a great deal of time following Jesus around, fail to recognize the significance of what they are now witnessing.
One of the things we have also noted throughout our Lenten journey is that even when we have a challenging time understanding who Jesus is or what Jesus is commanding us to do, even when we fail to act appropriately or be obedient or have enough faith, Jesus never abandons us and moves on to the next person. No, God in Christ has been steadfastly committed to helping us see the nature of reality and our place in it for what it is.
Dazzling Men This is the case for this perplexed group of women. They are not left to their own devices to figure out why the stone has been rolled away or why Jesus’ body is not there. In their loss for words to understand their Easter morning situation, two men dressed in “dazzling,” really glistening, flashing, and gleaming clothing appear before their eyes. The mood of our group of faithful women disciples changes from perplexity to fear.
Ignoring the women’s terrified state, the two men question the group of women, “Why do you look for the living around the dead? He is not here but has risen.”
At first, you might expect that these angels would offer some word of comport first, as similar visitors have done in previous stories from Luke’s gospel. The angelic visitors to Mary and the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth both instructed their hearers not to be afraid. There is none of that here, only a burning curiosity about why these women are prepared for burial.
With the same kind of incredulous attitude a parent takes with their child when he or she has not brushed their teeth in perpetration for bed, or put their shoes on so that they can leave for school in the morning, the glowing men want to know why these women are here.
It seems incomprehensible to the angels that anyone would look for Jesus, the one who is the author of life, the defeater of death, in a place dedicated as the final resting place of those who have expired! Have these women not been paying attention!?
The angels do not give the women time to respond but continue their parental like lecture, “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.”
Remember, they say! Think back real hard about what you’ve heard Jesus say. When you do, the angel's demand, you’ll understand why you’re dead wrong to come here with spices and ointments for burial!
Slowly the light bulb comes on. Matter of factly, Luke tells us, “Then they remembered his words….” Slowly it all begins to make sense.
Now, I’m sure that it didn’t all make sense in that moment of revelation. I’m sure that in the days and weeks that followed, Jesus’ words and his actions slowly came together, and these women began to grasp more fully the magnitude of the events that they had witnessed.
Telling Others… With their newfound understanding, the women exit the tomb. Luke doesn’t tell us what the conversation was like in that group after the angels disappeared and they left the tomb.
I wonder if there was a conversation, or if they all just looked at each other and knew exactly what they must now do?
It’s telling that the angels, so quick to question the judgment of these women, do not give them further instructions on what to do next.
There’s no command to go back and report the situation to the other disciples. The angels seem to trust that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, along with the other women, will now, without a doubt, know what to do.
In short order, these women return to where the other disciples are and report all they have seen and heard. Luke tells us that the women’s story was received not with glad and welcome hearts but as an “idle tale.”
The original language used here is a bit stronger. It could be rendered “complete and utter nonsense.” One commentator noted that the word used here is medical and could refer to delirium induced by fever.
A little historical and cultural background is essential at this point. In Jesus’ day, women were not highly regarded. They were considered a little more important than property. Consequently, their testimony in court or legal proceedings was not admissible because they were not seen as reliable.
What a remarkable thing that God chooses to first reveal the resurrection in such a counter-cultural way.
While it is true that most of the disciples dismissed these women’s testimony, Peter decides that he must see for himself and rushes to the tomb, only also to find it empty. Like the woman who first reported this good news, Peter turns away, amazed at the surprising nature of what he has witnessed.
So What? Even though Jesus spent so much time with his followers that they should have comprehended his fate, they did not. Even Peter, I suppose, is taken off guard at the news that the tomb is empty. Even though Jesus said this would happen, they didn’t believe it. Even though Jesus explicitly stated that he would raise from the dead three days after his death, his followers didn’t expect it actually to happen.
Perhaps it is easy for us to sit here two thousand years later and pronounce judgment on these dim-witted disciples. After all, they were so close to the source they should have known. We’re here, reading the story in a different language from which it was written, and we find a way to believe! Or do we?
One of the things we’ve been trying to say throughout the season of Lent is that often we are more like the disciples than we’d care to admit. We’re just as slow to understand.
But I think that’s ok. I believe it has less to do with the disciple's slowness to understand and has everything to do with the unexpected nature of the good news.
The good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection perplexes us because it is so different from anything we deal with in everyday life.
The power of the resurrection is not found in brute force.
The logic of forgiveness isn’t rooted in practicality.
That true life comes through death makes no sense to us.
So, if you’re having a hard time believing that this resurrection thing will turn out the same way for us as it did for Jesus, take heart. If you’re perplexed and doubting what it all means, don’t worry. If God saw fit to help those early believers understand and believe something they were so close to, God will help us along the way too.
All you have to do is be open to the possibility of surprise, to the possibility that God’s good news is something more significant and grander than you could have come up with for yourself.
Discussion Questions Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
What do you think the women expected to find upon arrival at the tomb? Describe what they might be thinking and feeling. What would you have felt if you were one of those women?
Luke tells us that the women were “perplexed” (v. 4). A more literal translation might be “astounded, at a complete loss for words.” These women had no words to describe what they were feeling, and we get the sense that they were confused. Has anything you’ve learned or discovered about your faith left you perplexed and at a loss for words? If so, what was it?
In verse 5, the two men in dazzling clothes address the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Why do you think the angels ask this question?
The two men call the women to remember what Jesus told them while he was still in Galilee. Have you ever had to be reminded that you needed to remember something about the faith you were taught before? What was it? What do you wish you had an easier time remembering about our faith?
The women seem to remember what Jesus had said. This remembrance propels them to go and tell the others about what they had witnessed. How important is proper memory important for the church? What happens when we forget the things that Jesus has said?
Can we honestly and accurately tell the gospel story without remembering the whole story of God’s relationship with creation? If not, why? If so, why?
In verse 11, Luke tells us that the disciples thought the women’s report was an “idle tale.” Why did they respond that way?
Do you think God was displeased that the disciples did not immediately believe? Or do you think that’s what God was expecting? If so, why? If not, why?
Between the two sets of characters in this story, the women and the disciples, to which one do you most closely relate?
What do you make of the fact that women were the very first ones to proclaim the good news about Jesus’ resurrection? How might this fact be relevant for us today?