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Experiencing the resurrection (April 2, 2023)

A lesson for April 2, 2023, about the empty tomb.

Outlook Standard Lesson for April 2, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus:
Luke 24:1-12

Our study of the Gospels and Acts this spring focuses on how Jesus calls us. Over the past several weeks, we’ve looked at how our God calls people from the margins; now, we examine the impact of Christ’s resurrection on his followers, including us. We begin with the women who find Jesus’ empty tomb. The angels greet the grieving women and call them to remember Jesus’ own words about his death and resurrection, which inspires the women to celebrate and share Jesus’ story.

I am writing this lesson surrounded by loss in the congregation I serve. I just attended the funeral of a wife’s dear husband, and I will soon preside at the funeral of a mother’s only son. In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), we call these services “witness to the resurrection” — Death is present but so is the resurrection.

From death to grieving

After witnessing Jesus’ death on the cross, his disciples are heartbroken and most have fallen away. But the women … The women who witnessed Jesus’ death come to the tomb and bring burial spices to honor their dearly departed. They come to the tomb “at early dawn” (v. 1), as soon as the Sabbath ended, not wanting another minute to go by without caring for Jesus. They come experiencing palpable grief. And when they arrive, the stone covering the tomb is gone — something is wrong. Jesus’ body is missing (v. 3). They are at a loss. Their loved one just died and now his body is gone! That would send any grieving person into a tailspin. Where is Jesus?!

From grieving to remembering

When grief is near, it is hard to see anything but your loss. For these women, encountering the mystery of Jesus’ missing body on top of their grief must have felt incomprehensible. I wish the text would draw out the moment in which the women experience perplexity. Sometimes we need to sit with the reality of what grief does to us. They are troubled and bewildered.

Right in the middle of this, the angels enter the scene and fear engulfs the women as they fall with their faces to the ground. The angels ask, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Then they answer, “He is not here, but has risen” (v. 5). Ahhh … yes. That is the promise, isn’t it? That is the hope, but it is hard to cling to hope while also clinging to death. So, the angels implore the women to remember the words of Jesus. They challenge the women to remember “that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (v. 7). Then the women remember. They remember their time with Jesus and the life they shared with him. They set their minds to recall his words and because they remember, hope prevails. Remembering leads to hope which leads to celebration.

From remembering to celebrating

Not all of Jesus’ disciples respond to his resurrection like the women. Maybe reality just hits a little differently with women. When the women – and it is important to note that there were a host of women witnesses, both named and unnamed – tell the other disciples what they experienced, their words are waxed over as an “idle tale,” and the other disciples “did not believe them” (v. 11). How many times are women’s voices dismissed? How many times are the experiences of women devalued? Yet, in Luke’s account, the women speak boldly of their experience with Christ’s resurrection, even when the other disciples don’t share their level of energy. While the women did not see Christ resurrected, they remember his words and his life. When they remember, a great refreshing wells up inside of each of them and they have to tell this news.

Alas, their first audience was not receptive. Only Peter hastily makes his way to the tomb, and only after seeing what the women told him is he “amazed at what had happened” (v. 12). We know from other biblical writers that Peter will be pulled back into the fold, and he will go on to be an outspoken witness to the living Christ. But our text centers the women: their grieving, their remembering, their celebrating.

When does grief move to remembering? When does remembering move to celebration? Of course, grief is not linear; however, our joyful hope in the resurrection of Christ and in the resurrection of our loved ones through Christ can be woven throughout our grief journeys.

Yes, the reality is that death will come for us all. But so does the experience of Christ’s resurrection! The tomb is empty. That is, indeed, good news worth telling.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Have you ever experienced the movement from grief to remembering to celebrating? What did this look like for you?
  2. How do you experience the resurrection? How do you grieve Jesus’ death? How do you remember and celebrate Christ’s resurrection and life?

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