Utter nonsense. Foolishness. An idle tale.
Every year we begin our Easter celebrations with shouts of joy: “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” we cry. “The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!”
As we make this joyful proclamation, we may think we are echoing the words with which Jesus’ followers greeted that first Easter so long ago.
But that is not the case. The gospel tells us that there was no immediate joy on that first Easter morning. No “alleluias” rang out from the lips of the women and men who knew and loved Jesus, and mourned his death.
Confusion. Terror. Fear.
Those were the immediate reactions of the women who went early that morning to anoint Jesus’ body and prepare it for burial, and instead found an open and empty tomb.
Even when angels appear and tell the women what has happened, the gospel does not say that they rejoiced. Instead they run to tell the men what they have experienced.
And the men’s reaction?
“These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
An idle tale. Rumor. Delusion. Rubbish.
That’s what the disciples thought of reports of the resurrection.
Even when Peter goes to the tomb to see for himself, and finds it as the women described, the gospel says that he went home, “amazed at what had happened.”
Not joyful, not believing, but amazed – perhaps even skeptical.
On this Easter morning, almost two millennia later, there are still plenty in the world who say that the news we have come to celebrate is just an idle tale.
If we’re honest, most of us here today have at some point questioned the truth of this story. I heard someone say recently that daring to believe – as in trust – the Easter gospel is, perhaps, the hardest thing Christians are asked to do.
What kind of fools dare believe in God’s power to call dead things to life?
We know, of course, that those first disciples — both women and men — moved from their initial fear and skepticism to rejoicing and belief.
It didn’t happen immediately. Over the next seven weeks we will hear stories of their encounters with the risen Christ. They see not just an empty tomb, but what one commentator calls “credible evidence of Christ alive.”
They will see him, touch him, talk and eat with him.
And as they come to trust that Christ is risen, is still alive in this new way, their lives are changed.
Peter, who cowered in fear and denied ever knowing Jesus the night of Jesus’ arrest, will become a bold proclaimer of the Gospel.
Other disciples, who often acted as if they had no idea what Jesus was talking about or doing, will go out to do the work he gave them to do – preaching the Gospel, healing the sick, lifting up the lowly, loving and serving all God’s people.
They, who were so afraid, do these things without fear, many at the cost of their own lives.
Those first disciples had an advantage over us, or so we might think. They got to see the risen Christ. They had that first hand, tangible, credible evidence.
What about us? What credible evidence do we have that Christ is alive? How can we trust that the resurrection is real – not only for Christ, but for ourselves?
The evidence for resurrection is all around us. Not in ancient texts, or in intellectual arguments, or church doctrine.
The evidence is in changed lives.
We have the lives of the martyrs and saints throughout history, who have put their trust in the risen Christ and accomplished things they never dreamed possible.
But we also see changed lives among ordinary people doing extraordinary things like feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick, overcoming addiction, persevering through dark times, reconciling with enemies.
It is these things that help us believe that the resurrection is more than an idle tale.
Many Christians undertake some kind of Lenten practice each year. For the 40 days of Lent we may give up something we enjoy, abstaining from alcohol or desserts.
Or we may take on some other kind of discipline – read scripture more often, pray more frequently, examine our lives to see where we fall short of what we are called to do and be.
Lenten disciplines are good things. But I suggest this year that we take up an Easter discipline – that we look each day for examples of new life and resurrection in our own lives or in the world and people around us.
That we look for credible evidence of the risen Christ.
Our former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori writes that “we are not born with the ability to see resurrection everywhere we turn.
“We practice our faith because we must – it withers and atrophies unless it is stretched. We must continue to give evidence of the faith that is in us.”
Sometimes it is easier said than done. There are times in our own lives, or in the life of the world, where darkness predominates, and any hope of new life seems distant, indeed. Sometimes the transition from Good Friday to Easter is a very long one.
I think of the people of Ukraine, whose Good Friday has lasted a very long time already, and will last for years to come.
Or those who are spending the first Easter without someone they love who has died.
Or parents who struggle to provide for their families.
How does Easter come to them?
It occurred to me as I read over the Easter stories in scripture that the only time in all four gospels that the risen Christ appears to an individual is in the Gospel of John, when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden.
Every other time Christ appears to a group of disciples. The risen Christ appears most often in a community. It is together, as a community, that the disciples come to realize that the reports of the resurrection were not just an idle tale.
That is what the church should be all about; why it is important for Christians to not live in isolation, but to be an active part of a community of faith.
“The Christian community is about shared hope in resurrections,” Jefferts Schori says. “We are meant to be a mutual hope society, with each one offering courage to another whose hope has waned, insisting that even in the darkest of nights, new life is being prepared.
“That work is constant – it will not end until the end of all things. And still the community persists, year in and year out, in times of pandemic and war and flood, in times of joy and new birth and discovery.
“Together we can shout ‘Alleluia! Christ is risen!’ even when some among us are not quite so confident as others,” she says.
“For indeed, the body of Christ is rising and risen when even a small part of it can rejoice and insist that God is renewing the face of the earth.”
It is up to us, as it is for every Christian generation, to make sure that the risen Christ is not just another “idle tale,” to make sure that we can rejoice and say together:
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!