|Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at|
The "Easter" story from John 20.1-18 is an optional reading for each of the three years. An argument for using John's text is that the Gospel Lessons from Easter through Trinity Sunday all come from John this year.
An argument for using the Lukan text is that Luke has been the primary gospel so far this year. His resurrection text could bring to culmination all the prior texts the people have been hearing -- especially those used during Lent and last week's passion reading; and will be hearing during the Pentecost Season.
A shortcoming of either of these arguments is that many of the Easter worshipers are not people who have been hearing the Lukan texts since Advent or will be hearing the Johannine texts throughout the Easter Season. You can preach on whatever text you want.
There are two basic themes of biblical resurrection narratives: (1) finding the empty tomb and (2) appearances of the risen Christ. This pericope only presents the empty tomb. Luke presents two appearance stories which are assigned to other years. Jesus appears to the two on the road to Emmaus (24:13-35 - 3 Easter A); and Jesus appears to the eleven at Jerusalem (24:36b-48 - 3 Easter B). In addition, 24:13-49 is assigned to Easter evening all three years; and 24:44-53 is the reading for the Day of Ascension.
Culpepper (Luke, New Interpreter's Bible) writes about Luke's final chapter:
This chapter fulfills some vital functions. Most obviously, it proclaims the resurrection of Jesus. Beyond the obvious, however, it also relates the resurrection to the proclamation of the church, declares that the events of the crucifixion and resurrection fulfilled the Scriptures, establishes that the presence of the risen Lord will be found in the study of Scripture and the sharing of bread, commissions the disciples for their mission in the book of Acts, and brings closure to the Gospel through the report of Jesus' departure. [p. 466]
A few highlights from Luke's account of the empty tomb:
When the women arrive at the tomb, they find the stone having been rolled away. In Luke, there had been no mention of the stone before. Culpepper asks the question: "...why was the stone moved aside? Was it to let Jesus out or to let the women in?" [p. 473]
In Luke the "two men in gleaming clothes" do not give a word of comfort as other gospels: "Do not be afraid. You are seeking Jesus [of Nazareth] who was crucified." (see Mt 28:5 and Mk 16:6). Rather, they rebuke the women with their question: "Why are you seeking the living among the dead?"
This question -- as well as the bringing of the spices -- indicates that the women come looking for a body. They are seeking the dead -- looking for a corpse. However, on their behalf, they are coming to do what was good and right and proper for corpse. It is part of their devotion to Jesus. Malina and Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels) write, first concerning Joseph (23:50-56): "In the Roman World, providing proper burial was one of the important obligations of contractual friendship. Throughout the Mediterranean world it was one of the strongest obligations of family members. That Joseph of Arimathea undertakes the obligation here indicates that he considered himself a member of Jesus' surrogate family group" [p. 409]. Then, briefly concerning the women in our text: "Taking spices to a tomb is a gesture of family members" [p. 410].
The two men, later called aggeloi (angels or messengers, v. 23), chide the women for coming and doing what was good and right and proper. They came looking for the dead. They didn't come seeking the living. They hadn't believed Jesus' word about the resurrection.
This suggests some related questions to me: Do we still seek the living among the dead? How? When do our good and right and proper traditions become actions for the dead that are inappropriate for the resurrected Jesus?
Culpepper raises a similar question:
The women were dutifully serving Jesus in the best way they knew. They had prepared spices to anoint his body and had gone to the tomb early to finish the burial, only to be met with the challenge, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" In what ways do we continue to look for the living Lord among the dead? Jesus was not in the tomb. he would be found instead out among the grieving, among his disciples, and later in a Samaritan village and the households of a Gentile centurion and a Philippian jailer. "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" [p. 472]
While, in general, I don't think that Easter Sunday is a time to chide the worshipers, with this text, it may be an appropriate time to talk about our attitudes and actions (ritual and otherwise) concerning Christ. Do we assume that he is dead and just go through the motions of good and right and proper rituals, or do we assume he is alive and active in our lives, in the world, and in our repeated rituals, e.g., liturgy and holy communion?
I've heard it suggested that many people in our pews are "functional atheists." They may confess their belief in the living Jesus, but they often function as if there were no God.
Assuming that we believe that Jesus is alive, "Where should we seek the living [One]? Culpepper offers some answers in the above quote. I offer some more.
It is clear in Mt 28:7 & Mk 16:7 that the resurrected Jesus will be seen in Galilee. There is no such statement in Luke. In fact, in Luke the resurrected Jesus appears only in and around Jerusalem. The disciples never see the risen Lord in Galilee according to Luke.
Where should we seek the living [One]? The answer given by the two men is "remember" (v. 6). This word (mimneskomai) also occurs in v. 8 when the women "remember" his words. mimneskomai is not found in any of the other empty tomb accounts.
This word is related to terms translated "tomb" (mnema -- Lk 23:53; 24:1 and mnemeion -- Lk 23:55; 24:2, 9, 12, 22, 24). Perhaps a similar connection might be made between seeking for Jesus' body behind his memorial stone and seeking the living one in our memories.
What does it mean to "remember"? Part of it means to make some thoughts present. Words or events that happened in the past become part of one's life in the present. With the reminder from the "two men" about the words Jesus had said in the past, those words become part of the women's present lives. They remember Jesus' words -- but probably more than just words -- rhema is also used by Luke to refer to "things" (1:37, 65; 2:19, 51). They remember Jesus.
While the women remember Jesus' words, the other disciples think that the words from the women are nonsense (v. 11). They are unable to remember Jesus' words. They only hear the women's word -- and women in that culture were not considered to be reliable witnesses -- yet all of the gospel accounts agree that the first witnesses to the empty tomb were women!
Back to remembering: This same word is used by a criminal on the cross, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (23:42). Did he expect Jesus just to think about him in the heavenly throne-room? I think not. Jesus' answer indicates something more than a mental activity: "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Remembering this criminal meant making him present with Jesus in the kingdom.
A related word that is part of our liturgical vocabulary: Luke uses anamnesis in his account of the Last Supper (22:19). (It's root is related to these words for "remembering".) Only Luke, of the gospel writers, follows Paul's version (1C 11:24-25) of having Jesus telling the disciples to "do this in remembrance of me."
This "remembering" is more than just "thinking about," but "re-presenting" the historical event, so that we, in the present, are also participants.
Tannehill (Luke, Abingdon NT Commentaries) notes that all of "Luke 24 must be understood as a continuous series of interrelated events, not as separate pericopes that can be adequately understood in isolation" [p. 349].
All of the events in chapter 24 occur on the same day and in fairly close proximity to each other. They also complete the resurrection story by presenting two accounts of resurrection appearances. Both accounts include an exposition of scriptures (24:27 & 45) and the sharing of food (24:30 & 42-43).
Where should one seek the living one? The risen Jesus appears in the Word and in the Meal. We seek the living one by remembering his words and "doing this in remembrance" of him.
Culpepper (Luke, New Interpreter's Bible) comments that our connection with the resurrected Jesus have to go beyond the events at the tomb:
What, then, are the tangible evidences of the resurrection in our present experience? Do they consist in the physical remains of the tomb, or in Jesus' continuing presence in the lives of those who hope for his kingdom? ...
While the Gospels all affirm that the tomb was empty, they point beyond it to the post-resurrection appearances. For all the importance of the historical data, the Gospels ground our faith not on the stone and the linen cloths but on the presence of the risen Lord in human experience. Typically, it is not the persuasive power of the empty tomb but a personal encounter with the risen Lord that leads to faith. [p. 473]
However, our Easter texts and our Easter lives do not end with remembering or even experiences of re-presenting the risen Lord; but with telling others. The women, after being reminded and remembering, tell it to the apostles (v. 10) -- even though the men think their words are nonsense. After the risen Jesus explains the scriptures and breaks bread with the two in Emmaus, they rush back to Jerusalem to tell others what had happened (v. 35). After Jesus appears to the group in Jerusalem and eats in their presence and opens their minds to understand the scriptures -- he also tells them that they are witnesses of these things (v. 48).
Can we say that we really believe in the resurrection of the Lord if we aren't willing to tell others about it?
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