Forming Faith Blog

Utter Nonsense (April 4, 2021)

The empty tomb, a story that seems to be utter nonsense.
The Good News

Christ has risen! He has risen indeed! Hallelujah!

This is the most basic statement of the gospel: Jesus the Messiah has risen from the dead. The problem is that this news is utter nonsense!

The Women

First, let’s start with where this news came from in the Gospels: the women. What do we know about this group in Luke’s narrative? These are the women who witnessed Jesus’ healing power (Luke 8:2) and followed him from Galilee. They were the ones providing for Jesus and the rest of the disciples (Luke 8:1-3), financing their ministry. These women were clearly among Jesus’ disciples.

We hear that these women witnessed Jesus’ death, along with “all” of Jesus’ acquaintances. They followed Joseph of Arimathea as he moved Jesus’ body to the tomb. They were truly there until the end. And the new beginning.

The Unexpected Story

These same women, whom Luke identifies as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and “the other women,” were set to do their duties and show their love for Jesus by anointing him one last time. This was probably not the first time they had experienced someone close to them dying. But this time was different. This time the tomb was open and empty, the body missing. They were understandably confused. This isn’t what they were expecting. Next, they got an unexpected “jump-scare” with two strange men appearing next to them. The last unexpected thing was the message these men gave them: Jesus wasn’t dead but alive (even though he had taught this repeatedly).

Utter Nonsense: The Witnesses

These women took this unexpected news and told the apostles. The NRSV gives us a tame translation of the men’s reactions:

But these words seemed to [the apostles] an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Luke 24:11 [My emphasis]

The Greek word translated here is better translated “utter nonsense.” These women were off their rockers. They must be delirious to come up with a story like this.

I’m a bit unclear on how much the women’s gender is an issue here. Did their gender make them already questionable witnesses? There were at least five witnesses here (three named and “the other women”), a greater number than the two to three needed in criminal proceedings (Deuteronomy 19:15). What we do know is that these female disciples—whom the apostles should know well by now—were dismissed. Some ancient sources don’t even have verse 12 which tells us that Peter believed enough to go check the tomb.

Utter Nonsense: The Message

The fact that these witnesses were female was perhaps only 25% of the dismissal. The message itself was utter nonsense. They had seen Jesus die. Dead people didn’t just get up and walk away. Their belief in the resurrection was likely similar to the Pharisees, which would be a general resurrection at the end of this age. I assume that the women relayed the messengers’ chiding, a reminder of Jesus’ own words. That wasn’t convincing enough to pierce their disbelieving haze. It took two direct appearances by Jesus himself to convince all of the apostles.

The Great Reversal

The Gospel of Luke is known for its focus on the Great Reversal, beautifully summed up in Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55) and in Jesus’ mission statement (Luke 4:18-19). God’s ways are not only different than our ways, but basically upside down. Here is an example of this. Women—second-class citizens—were chosen to be the first evangelists, a highly honored role. But, even more so, God “reversed” death, bringing from death an amazing new sort of life, first for Jesus and then for us. This is the utter nonsense that is foolishness to our world (1 Corinthians 1:18). The utter nonsense that has reverberated through history and geography. Hallelujah!

Free Activity

Each week I offer a free activity for congregations to use for faith formation. While this week’s delicious activity was written for a large-group setting in our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Education (NL) product, I have adapted “Empty Tomb Rolls” for families to do at home.


Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

2021-2022 Faith Formation Resources

I am excited to announce that our Narrative Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary products for the upcoming 2021-2022 program year are now available for download! More information will be coming soon.

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