It doesn’t pay to discount someone’s story just because it sounds a bit fantastic. In Luke’s resurrection account, that’s what the ‘eleven and all the rest’ do with the women’s stories of a rolled-back stone, no body, and heavenly interpreters.
The notion of resurrection was not in itself extraordinary in a first century Jewish context. The Pharisees believed in a general resurrection, but the idea that God would raise one person from the dead before the general resurrection was quite unthinkable. From the men’s perspective, therefore, the women are talking nonsense. Peter has to go and confirm their testimony for himself. Their account checks out and he goes away in amazement (no apology, just amazement).
This gospel and the whole Easter celebration is about ‘the one who lives’. Luke’s account leaves no doubt about the death of Jesus: there are witnesses, there is evidence. The same goes for the burial.
Now, in the story of the empty tomb, he wants to assert that Jesus is alive. The women (Mary of Magdala, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Mary the mother of James and unidentified others) are confronted with the question: ‘Why are you seeking among the dead the one who lives?’ They are entrusted with the message of resurrection: ‘He is not here, but has been raised.’ They are invited to remember the prophetic words of Jesus.
They do remember, and they return to proclaim the good news. In line with countless prophetic figures before and since, their testimony is rejected, but is nonetheless effective through the telling and retelling of the story.
We take time at Easter to re-member, re-enact, and re-tell these originating stories of our tradition, to dramatise and celebrate in solemn ritual what we celebrate in lower key every Sunday of the year. In this faith-inspired re-telling, all the power and grace of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are present to us and to our world.
Resurrection faith is a commitment to life. For some, it may involve paying more serious attention to the findings of reputable climate change scientists who no doubt feel a bit like the women of the gospel when their work is discounted. For others, it may mean finding ways to redirect some of the $2 billion that we manage to spend on confectionary every year. There is no end to the challenge.