Who will listen to the women?
I had a recent event where I was reminded that in our enlightened age it is still the case that women’s voices are discounted and dismissed. In this case it was amongst my own colleagues, when in a social media environment an older male cut short and dismissed a fellow colleague because she was a woman.
It catches me short when that happens. Why does this myth of women as being lesser persist?
It catches me short in this Gospel story, as I see this story with new eyes in the light of that moment.
I am accustomed to pointing out the role of women in Jesus’ final days and in the resurrection accounts.
While the disciples flee in terror for what might happen to them, the women (by virtue of their relative anonymity and ability to be “invisible”) are able to stay at the foot of the cross and witness the crucifixion.
I mean, who pays any attention to women in the dirty business of execution?
They are also the ones who can make their way to the tomb on Easter morning primarily because, again, no one pays any attention to them.
So, they are witnesses!
But, just because you are a witness does not mean that you will be listened to, even if you see the extraordinary events.
Who will listen to the women?
We are told by Luke that to those closest to Jesus, the disciples themselves, were told this story by the women that day, but it seemed an “idle tale” to them. And, for the first time I begin to see now what is really going on in this story.
The women see the resurrection. They behold the stone rolled away, and they have an encounter with messengers from God dressed in white who tell them what has happened…. but you know women. How reliable can they be, with their emotional tongue wagging and incessant gossip?
That’s what must have been going through the minds of the Disciples. “An idle tale” is the phrase used to describe their witness to the Resurrection, and it is a demeaning phrase. “Idle tale… gossip… hearsay…. prattle…. You know how women are..” That is that is what is implied if not outright said.
Even Peter, when he goes to check it out what they report is only amazed that the tomb is empty. He only sees in this event, this empty tomb, as worth noting. There is nothing that would convince him of the resurrection. He is simply amazed at this turn of events! He does not then go and talk with the women further.
Peter gets no men dressed in white, no reminder of Jesus’ words. The women do, but not Peter. He is left to his own devices, and cares little for what the women have to say, it will take more than “idle women’s words” to convince him.
What will it take to convince him?
Well, the women know! It will take a living encounter!
Look at their actions. The women are terrified, “and bow their faces to the ground” Luke says, which is not a natural reaction if you’re scared.
If you’re scared, you tend to look at what you are frightened of, or you tend to look for an escape route, you don’t look down, avert your eyes, you need to see what this is all about, figure out where to run!
But the women are having an encounter with the living God, or at least God’s messengers, and because of that they are not terrified for their lives, they are instead terrified at the truth of it.
He is risen, he is not here. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
The women have this incredible news to share, but now discover that no one will take them seriously because those whom they try to tell about it have already made up their minds that women can’t possibly be reliable witnesses.
What will it take for the disciples to finally believe; for this story of a resurrected Lord to be more to them than just an idle tale?
It will take their own an encounter with this Risen Lord.
If you go on in Luke’s Gospel, as we will in a couple of weeks, we’ll hear the story of the two men on their way to Emmaus, and how the Risen Lord walks with them, and opens the scriptures to them, and is made known to them, revealed in the breaking of the bread. They will have an encounter with the Risen Lord, through Scripture, through fellowship, and in the Sacrament, and when they meet him there, their hearts burn within them – and those men who are going along the way to Emmaus will be listened to!
If you go on in Luke’s Gospel as we will in a couple of weeks, you’ll hear about Jesus meeting the disciples, sharing a little fish with them. It is an encounter with the resurrected Lord that happens, and in that encounter, he again opens the scriptures to them, and opens their minds to understanding.
That is how it is with idle tales. They are easy to dismiss in the moment, and perhaps easy to dismiss because you doubt the reliability of the witness.
I mean, really, what did you expect the Pastor to say on Easter? That the whole thing was a conspiracy of some kind? Of course the Pastor’s going to talk about Jesus being raised, but really, how reliable a witness is he? You know he makes his living off this. It’s all just a pretty story, a fantasy we wink and nod and like to believe. Easter Bunny on the first floor between services, Jesus rising from the dead in the Sanctuary. Idle tales abound.
But here the thing about what at first seem to be “idle tales” and unreliable witnesses. They will hammer at you over time.
It is easy, dear friends, to dismiss the reality of a Resurrected Lord, if all you do is stick your head into the tomb once, or into the church once, but God is relentless in lifting this story up again and again.
The real power of the resurrection is not found in an empty tomb, or in the waft of lilies that assault you today.
The real power of the resurrection is to be found in the fact that Jesus can and will show up in your life anywhere!
He will show up when you least expect him.
He will show up when you need him most.
He will often appear when it is least convenient, reminding you of what it is that you should be doing in this world.
He will even show up when you can’t imagine him being interested in showing up at all.
The Resurrected Lord Jesus can find you in the midst of service, as you think you are doing good for someone else, you are suddenly aware that you are serving Jesus himself, just as he said you would.
That cup of cold water thing.
The risen Lord can find you as the scriptures are laid open and you begin study them, you read and discover things you didn’t notice before.
The Risen Lord can find you in the opening of your minds to new possibilities, new thoughts and new understandings of how God is at work now in this culture, which may be very different from what God was doing 2000 years ago.
The Resurrected Lord will come to you in the midst of prayer.
That Risen Lord can come to you through the witness of others, and can at times even speak to others through your own words and your own actions without you even being aware of it.
The Resurrected Lord is not bound by time or space or convenience.
The Resurrected Jesus pushes boundaries, and just when you think you have him pinned down and can always recognize him, and you think you know just what Jesus would be doing…. he is likely to vanish leaving you to wonder if it was really him that you just glimpsed!
This is the amazing thing. This part at least Peter gets right, even if he doesn’t listen to the women.
Jesus is not where you think he should be! Which leads you to wonder; just where is he?
You begin to wonder just where Jesus may show up next.
Look for him, this week, not in the usual places, but in the everyday encounters that you have.
Look for the resurrected Lord in your workplace.
Listen intently to the words of those whom you meet, do not dismiss such testimony that they may give of their faith or experience as a mere “idle tale” and you will begin to recognize in their words the care, or the challenge of the Resurrected Lord working in this world.
This is the truth of the Resurrection. Jesus is loose upon the earth, and no witness to his resurrection should be dismissed lightly.
He will come, you know. And so, like Peter, prepare to be amazed and prepare to be used as a powerful witness yourself.
This is no “idle tale,” and you are indeed witnesses to it