Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 24:1-12
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
We have been following the events of Jesus’ last week of life for the past two Sundays. Just two weeks ago we encountered the powerful tale of how Mary of Bethany signaled the descent into Holy Week by anointing Jesus with a precious, expensive perfume made of pure nard. It was one of the most beautiful things anyone had done for Jesus and foreshadowed the anointing he was to receive upon his death.
Today, we hear the account on how the faithful women disciples, with spices in hand, make their way to the tomb of Jesus. The gospels tell us how they fretted and worried how they will get past the stone that was in front of the entrance of the tomb. My guess is that they hedged their bets that the Roman soldiers placed there to guard the tomb from raiders. No need to worry. They found the tomb open and empty. Two men, identified as angels in other accounts, and appear like angels, ask the women, why there are seeking the living among the dead? Remember what he said to you back in Galilee? The women remembered and believed. The next thing we see is that they report back to the eleven disciples what they witnessed and heard. They disciples respond with one word. In Greek, it is the word Leiros.
Leiros. The only time the word Leiros appears in the Bible is here, in Luke’s account of the resurrection of Jesus. At the root of the word is the English word “delirious.” And so, what the men were really saying was that the women were out of their minds, crazy, spouting nonsense. It is most often translated politely as “Foolish Talk,” an idle tale,” “a silly story,” or “a foolish yarn,” “utter nonsense” or even garbage or trash. Scholars tell us that the word in question is quite offensive and vulgar, more fitting for a locker room than an Easter Sunday worship service with everyone at their finest. Now, I’ll admit I’m tempted to actually come out and say the bad word, but then I will have planted it in your head and now you won’t be able to get it out. So, I’m not going to say it, I’ll leave it to your imagination. Let’s just say the “G” rated version is “you’re full of baloney!” I think you got it, right? This bad word accurately describes the most common worldly response to the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus raised from the dead? Leiros!
That’s exactly what happened that first Easter morning. The women, the first to proclaim the Good News of the resurrection and the male disciples say to them: “Leiros!” To add weight to the disciples’ off-color remark is the Jewish legal stance that a woman’s testimony was unacceptable, inadmissible in a court of law. It’s all leiros the men declared.
So, the most sacred, most holy, belief which is front and center to our faith, the resurrection of Jesus, is met by the disciples with foul language. The same disciples who fled from Jesus, who denied him, who hid behind locked doors in fear. How can we appreciate how far that first Sunday is from where we find ourselves today? Look around and we see and smell beautiful spring flowers. We hear amazing music, shouts of alleluias, people dressed in their finest. Today we do not experience fear, but joy; and heaven forbid nary a vulger word on our lips. Jesus risen? We shout alleluia - not Leiros like the first disciples did.
The Easter message challenges us. It defies human logic. It stretches our reason. It questions everything the world would hold acceptable. After 2000 plus years we have tamed the gospel into a complacency that has taken the teeth out of the good news. The Easter message says, Yes, death is real, but it is not the final word. In raising Jesus from death, God changes the rules of the game. Death is defeated, life has the final say.
Easter turns everything upside down. Easter comes in the most unlikely of times: war, supply chain problems, economic worries, a pandemic that won’t go away. Easter teaches us is to look for God where we least expect God to be. To anticipate God using people we wouldn’t dream of God associating with. To get used to God surprising and even overturning our expectations. Scandalous. It upends it all. And that is the cornerstone of our faith – that God’s good news choses the unexpected, the least trustworthy, the most unrespectable of people and situations to reach us. God reaches us in our weakest, most vulnerable places of our lives, the mess and muck we make, and turns us around in the most unimaginable, incomprehensible shocking ways possible. God finds us in our weakest state and brings the death and brokenness of our reality to resurrected life. God is not put off by the leiros of our lives and the leiros around us. In Christ God turns us around, to find life where there once was no life.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that if the resurrection didn’t occur, if it’s all just a bunch of leiros, then we’re all just a bunch of pathetic people, our preaching is fake news and our faith is a joke (1 Corinthians 15:13-15). We celebrate today because we declare that the tomb is empty, Jesus is vindicated. Jesus promises us a new life, a life that doesn’t need to be based in just foolish talk, idle tales, silly stories, stupid yarns. Love is our destiny, hope our gift, joy our heritage peace our legacy. Today’s story is a down to earth account of real people like us coming to terms with greatest message to ever grace the world. It encourages us to tear away the pious masks we wear around each other. To be real people in a broken world. It is OK to be ourselves. It’s in fact vital that we be our true selves, so our testimony of how has transformed us can truly touch other people’s life and make sense to them. God finds us as we are, warts and all. God hears our doubts, the careless, harsh and even nasty words that cross our mouths and accepts us. Jesus died for us, he rose for us in the messiness and contradictions of life. We are sinners redeemed, not by anything we have done, but solely through the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
This is the greatest news we can ever receive, because the tomb is empty, the stone is rolled away – we find the Risen One right here in our broken human lives that yearn for change, that seek to be better. That hopes to make a difference. It’s not leiros, people. It’s not foolish talk. It is truth. Let us proclaim it: Christ is risen! Christ is risen. Indeed! Alleluia!
1Anna Carter Florence, Preaching As Testimony (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007) p. 119.
2The Mishna states, “From women let not evidence be accepted, because of the levity and temerity of their sex.” Thomas G. Long, The Christian Century, April 4, 2001, p. 11.