An Idle Tale?
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An Idle Tale?
Dr. Jeffrey K. London
You heard me! That’s what the disciples thought (and maybe even said) when the women told them about the empty tomb and the angelic announcement of Jesus’ resurrection. All the Bible translations out there try hard to soften the language. They say things like, “these words seemed to them an idle tale” — or “empty talk,” or “a silly story,” or “a foolish yarn,” or “utter nonsense.” But in reality the word in question is as offensive as it is vulgar. The Greek word is leiros, and it means B.S.1 This is the only occurrence of this word in the entire New Testament and Luke uses it for shock value. Plain and simple, it is a vulgar and offensive term, but that’s precisely the contrast Luke is trying to forge. The women are the first to proclaim the Good News of the resurrection2 and their proclamation is greeted by a worldly response: “Bull excrement!” “B.S.!” “Leiros!”
Now, I’ll admit I’m tempted to actually come out and say the naughty word, but then that’s all you’d remember and you’d go home and tell all your friends, “The preacher said a bad word in church today!” So I’m not going to say it, I’ll leave it to your imagination. There it is — squatting in the recesses of your mind. Nevertheless, this so-called bad word accurately describes the most common worldly response to the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. Even we who say we believe have our moments of doubt where our human leiros meter goes off. I mean, we’ve been around death enough to know that dead bodies remain dead.
So we’re faced this morning with a dilemma of contradictions. Jesus is either risen, or not. It either happened, or it’s leiros. Logic says to us, “If I could see Jesus in his resurrected form I would believe.” But that’s not what we get. The fact of the matter is, that’s not even what the women got at the empty tomb. They didn’t see Jesus, they were told that Jesus had risen. What they got is no different than what we get — a word, a message, a testimony, good news.
So maybe it’s not logic that guides our belief or our unbelief for that matter. Let’s remember, unbelief does not mean people believe in nothing. Rather, it means that they believe in something else; they put their faith in something else. They believe in death more than in life; in leiros more than in God. People will say things like, “I just can’t believe it! I won’t believe it!” because they won’t risk leaving the tomb of logical certainty, even though it’s empty. At least inside the tomb you know where you stand. Yet this is exactly where the Easter message begins its work, by challenging our logic and our certainties, our standing, if you will. The Easter message says, “Really? How can you be sure that death is the end? Yes, death is real, but is it the final word?”3
The Easter message leads us to doubt our doubts, by watering the seeds of faith within us. Scripture defines faith as a gift from God, it is the “assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen.”4 And it is this gift of faith that boldly calls us to dare to look beyond the horizon of what we think we know, what we’re certain of, and all that logic dictates and say, “Well, what if? What if it is true? What if God gets the last word in Jesus — and the word is life?”
The Apostle Paul says something very similar when he states unequivocally that if the resurrection didn’t occur, if it’s all just a bunch of leiros, then we’re all just a bunch of pitiable, ridiculous, silly, foolish, hopeless people. But if the resurrection really did occur, then glory be to God, death does not have the final word, God’s word is final and God’s word in Jesus Christ is life!5
Still, some of us just cannot wrap our heads around the resurrection. It’s just too fantastic. It’s too literal. It’s too other-worldly. Well, if that’s where you are, you’re in good company because the disciples didn’t believe it either. Jesus’ best friends, the ones he’d told about his death and resurrection, the ones who’d witnessed miracles, didn’t believe it. They said it was leiros.
But there was one exception: Peter. We’re not told that he believed or didn’t believe, we’re simply told that upon hearing what the women had to say, he “got up and ran to the tomb. Stooping and looking in, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he departed to his home, wondering what had happened.”6
We’re still not told whether Peter believed or not, just that he was amazed. Seems to me that amazement is maybe the first step toward believing. But we seem to lose our sense of amazement as time goes by and as we get older. We become more jaded, fewer and fewer things amaze us. I mean, can you think of one thing that happened this last week that truly amazed you? If you can, great! If not, then that’s really a shame. Because, like Peter, we find ourselves this morning faced with a choice to either enter into amazement, or not.
I remember holding my son for the first time and it literally taking my breath away. It’s an amazing thing to have new life placed in your hands. But that’s exactly what Easter offers — the gift of new life in our very own hands, resurrection life here and now as well as in the age to come. You see, the Easter message calls us out of our old belief in the finality of death and the permanence of sin, out of our logical insistence that death is the end, and into a new belief in life and a vision of what will be — a day when the wolf and lamb shall feed together7 Easter celebrates this new belief with it’s call to live joyfully in the full assurance that whether we live or die we shall know love and we shall know life.
But let’s be careful with our language. We are not called to believe “in” the resurrection, we are called to believe “in God,” in whom all things are possible. The resurrection is not what we worship. God is who we worship and serve. The resurrection is a signof God’s saving/rescuing love for us and the lengths God will go to — to share that love with us eternally!8
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.
3Craig R. Koester, Luther Seminary, MN, Luke 24:1-12.
51st Corinthians 15:12-21.
8Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology (Grand Rapids Eerdmans Publishing, 2004) p. 319. Resurrection as a sign of salvation. “Salvation is the fulfillment of life in relationship with God and others. It includes rescue from the bondage of sin and evil, forgiveness and healing, renewal of life and reconciliation with God, with neighbors and enemies, one’s self, and the natural world. Salvation is more than return to pristine creation, more even than the reconciliation with God and our fellow creatures that is present in the life of faith, hope and love here and now. Salvation means final fulfillment of life in perfect and everlasting communion with God and our fellow creatures.”
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Look, I can’t explain the resurrection, I can only proclaim the resurrection! To proclaim the resurrection is to risk belief in the God we know most fully through Jesus Christ, the very God who raised Jesus from death to life that we might come to live free from fear, to live full and forgiven lives, to live into hope, to dare to imagine a day when no one will ever again hurt or destroy in all of God’s holy resurrected re-creation.9
In the meantime, we follow in Peter’s footsteps. We hear within the Easter message God challenging the certainty of death with a promise of life.
So, if you must, go right ahead and tell God that you think it’s crazy to expect anyone to believe Jesus has really risen. Go ahead and tell God it just isn’t possible. Go ahead and tell God that you still think death is the final word. None of this news to God. He has heard it all before. He simply refuses to believe it.10
And that my friends, is no leiros.
10Craig R. Koester, Luther Seminary, MN, Luke 24:1-12.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2013, Jeffrey K. London. Used by permission.