by Sarah Rohde
“Oh, it’s just a phase.”
How many of you have heard yourselves or your parents describe certain chapters of life in that way?
I feel like I often hear parents of toddlers and teenagers say that, and it’s usually in times when life feels a bit out of control, when children suddenly display behaviors or opinions that are not especially wanted. When a kid is rude in public, or refuses to eat anything but Cheetos, “Oh, it’s just a phase.” When a teenage son vacillates from one minute to the next between respect and hatred for his parents: “Oh it’s just a phase.”
I’m sure many of us, too, can think back to times in our lives when our clothing or hair-dos, attitudes or religious perspectives were, thankfully, just a phase.
Today we witness a few disciples who want to think the absurd story of resurrection is just a phase. Just a story that will be popular for a few months and then die out. Just more creative advertising that will get people excited until they discover another message more worth believing.
When the women return to them after going to the cemetery to anoint Jesus’ body, the disciples are probably expecting them to describe what Jesus’ body looks like after lying in the tomb for nearly two days. They are anticipating an account of death, and instead they hear these women proclaiming with joy that Jesus is not in the tomb. He has risen from the dead. These women are the first preachers to proclaim the truth that is at the heart of all Christian proclamation—love has conquered evil, life has conquered death!
And the response is every preachers’ worst nightmare.
Shrugged shoulders. Rolling eyes. Scowled brows. I imagine those disciples looking at the women the same way my high school self looked at people that told me to go to seminary.
One would think that, of all people, the disciples would be a receptive audience; we’d expect them, the closest followers of Jesus, to join the women in shouting Alleluias and Amens.
But they are anything but eager to listen and believe.
The translation we read this morning says that the disciples treat the women’s’ proclamation of resurrection as an “idle tale,” but that’s a pretty tame way to describe their response. As we heard Dr. Satterlee mention yesterday, the word for “idle tale” is leros, the root of our word for delirious. Essentially, the disciples think the women are out of their freakin’ minds. I don’t want to be the first not-yet-ordained seminarian to swear in this pulpit, so I’ll let you fill in the blanks to this phrase: The disciples thought their story was a bunch of bull ________.
This talk of a risen Lord was utter nonsense.
Not worth believing. Certainly not worth telling anyone else.
According to the disciples, it was crap, false, just another phase that would soon die out.
Why an idle tale? Why such refusal to join these women in proclaiming the truth of resurrection?
Some people think it’s because the news was reported by women. An early Rabbinic writing does say, "From women let not evidence be accepted because of the levity and temerity of their sex." That could be part of the problem, but these women have been around before, and they’re really just reporting what Jesus had already told them. The disciples had heard Jesus say three times that he would die and then be resurrected.
So why an idle tale? Why unbelief?
I wonder if the news feels dismissive of their grief that is still so fresh and real. Those of us who have experienced the depth of grief know that it can take a long time before we’re ready to hear, much less believe good news.
But I also wonder if there is an element of fear going on for these disciples; perhaps they are unsure of what this power of God means for their lives, for their futures. If Jesus is living, what does that mean for their living?
Julia Esquivel is a Guatemalan poet and Catholic human rights activist. She lived for 30 years under dictatorships that committed genocide against people from indigenous communities. She vehemently spoke out against the dictatorships’ violence, and in the following poem, she protests by giving those who have died a living voice of resurrection. Here’s just a bit of it:
They have threatened us with Resurrection
because they will not be able to take away from us
nor even their death
and least of all their life.
They have threatened us with Resurrection
because they are more alive than ever before,
because they transform our agonies
and fertilize our struggle,
because they pick us up when we fall,
because they loom like giants
before the crazed gorillas' fear.
Join us in this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
Then you will know how marvelous it is
to live threatened with Resurrection!
To dream awake,
to keep watch asleep,
to live while dying,
and to know ourselves already
To be threatened with resurrection…
Seems a backwards way to think about resurrection, doesn’t it?
Isn’t it death that threatens and resurrection that comforts and gives hope?
The more I’ve thought about it this week, the more I’ve wondered if there’s something about resurrection that is in fact threatening for those disciples that heard the news long ago, and for us who continue to gather around this unbelievable promise today.
Perhaps the disciples realized that Jesus’ being alive again meant they would be called to live the rest of their lives in a different, namely a death-defying kind of way. They couldn’t keep the way of Jesus as something they followed in their past; they would now be sent to be, to breathe, to proclaim Jesus in the world.
In his telling of this story, Luke actually refers to the disciples differently after they hear the proclamation of the women. The women approach “the eleven;” but after they’re threatened with resurrection, “the eleven” become “apostles,” people changed from being a number of followers to the very ones sent out to be the living voices of Jesus. Maybe Luke’s subtle shift even suggests that the power of God set loose through resurrection can no longer be contained or evaluated in numbers.
I wonder if resurrection threatens us when we begin to grasp that it’s not just a miracle that happened to Jesus long ago; and it’s not just a miracle that happens to us when we die. The threatening power of resurrection is God’s promise to shake up whatever we think is set, to breathe life into whatever we think is dead.
Sometimes this sounds like really good news, but sometimes it is also news that’s hard to hear or want. God’s newness may disrupt what we’d like to stay the same. God’s promise of new life might push us to confront the deadliness of some of the things we most love and cherish.
An image of ourselves that we work hard to maintain. (or obsession with status)
A model of church that we hope can at least last long enough to pay our pensions.
A relationship that is safe, but not life-giving.
A way of life that conveniences some, yet robs others of daily needs.
Sometimes we look for the living among the dead because the deadliness feels more comfortable or familiar than the possibility of new life. It’s easier to stay in relationships, or addictions, or jobs that are lifeless than it is to open ourselves to the threatening invitation to new life.
We, too, want to make resurrection an idle tale, but God makes resurrection an active, life-filled, turn-the-world-upside-down kind of power that never stands idle.
There are all kinds of ways that you and I might voice resurrection’s threatening power in our life. No doubt the final weeks of school or our upcoming experiences in CPE, internship, or first call carry with them the exciting and scary promise of resurrection.
Will this new life be what I hope it to be?
How can I be sure that trusting the process isn’t trusting an idle tale?
Or how will I know what to do on my first day in the parish when no one hands me a syllabus?
Friends, the empty tomb greets us today with the promise that God is at work to stir up new life in each one of us. Resurrection is not just a phase, but an enduring power that comes to set us free and threaten us with the joy and newness of life in Christ.
Thanks be to our risen God.