S. Easter Sunday.19 “Like Idle Tales…” Luke 24:1-12

            So… I finally made it, last summer—thanks to the sabbatical you granted, to His tomb in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to see, myself. I told people for years that I didn’t need to go, didn’t need to see. But you kind of made me—Darwin, our elder chairman, especially. I think Darwin sensed that I really needed to go. So, this Easter—for the first time in my life, I can relate a little bit better to Peter and John and Mary Magdalene, and the others who first raced to the tomb, early that April Sunday morning, 30 A.D., in old Jerusalem (and to all the pilgrims who’ve followed since) looking for the Body and coming up empty, perplexed, marveling. I understand better why you do it, and where it drives you next. Maybe I can relate it a little bit to you, this morning, because, finally: this is the journey and this is the search all must make, successfully or no, for the Body.

            I also see why those who make the journey to the tomb don’t tell you all about it when they return, most of us. Luke, not having been one of the ones who made the journey personally is honest and lets the cat out of the bag, but if you’ve never been yourself, you might not notice it—you might think it was just a quirk of Peter and John’s—when it’s really the reason, deep down, why we all make that trip…

            It’s at the end of our reading, almost a throw-away line. Mary and the other women have returned from their visit to the tomb and tell the apostles it’s empty, that Jesus is gone—but angels at the tomb, in shining garments—clearly heavenly beings!—told them that the Body is not there because He has risen from the dead, just as He said He would do (!!!) after being crucified. And Peter and John raced to the tomb. Now, why did they make that trip? For the same reason, deep down, all of us who’ve made the trip have done it—because “their words seemed to them like idle tales and they did not believe them.” (!!!)

            Now, it’s a little bit embarrassing to admit this—especially when, like Peter and John, it’s your day job to believe it and to tell people they can trust your word on this, that there’s no need to go the tomb yourself, to verify. Faith alone, people! The apostles’ word can be trusted. And yet, and yet… you make the trip. You follow in Peter’s footsteps like all the many doubters and ne’er-do-wells before you (well, the last mile, perhaps. Bonnie and I flew the first 6,000 or so, shuttled 25 from Tel Aviv, and only did the last mile properly, ourselves, on foot from the Post hostel to the tomb. But we did it early on a Sunday morning, like the first visitors in the Gospels, and had the eerily empty streets to ourselves that morning, kind of making you wonder—well, making Bonnie wonder (because she always doubts my sense of direction) whether we were going the right Way.

            You tell yourself, well… I told myself, that I was doing it not because I had any doubts, but just to make others happy, just to have some good slides for bible class and maybe a sermon anecdote or two. Because I know the story (it’s my day job to know it and tell it) and I’ve believed it (college years excepted!), since I was a child, when my mother first told it to me. Yeah, I’m just asking for a friend

            But that’s not really true. The big epiphany—as you wind through the maze like streets of old Jerusalem—slippery cobblestone streets, steeply downhill—kinda thinking you really are lost and the GPS is fritzy and that this is why sensible people engage a guide—the big epiphany for me at least was this: I was making the trip for the same reason Peter and John made it(!).                              Because the angel’s words “seemed… like idle tales”. Deny and lie to yourself all you want—as you make your way into that dark, 11th century crusader-built church (I still like those guys), constructed on the ruins of Helena’s 4th century church (I like her too) on the markers left by 1st century Christians (also our peeps), but, you’re thinking, as you’re going in, exactly what Peter was thinking: that the others who came to the tomb before you were probably just not very good lookers, weren’t looking in the right place, or else they surely would have found the Body. You half-expect that you’ll go: “Oh! You were all looking in the wrong place! It’s over here…here it is! I found it!” There actually is a little alcove off the aedicula where archeologists have recently uncovered more 1st century tombs in their unrestored state. The urge to poke around in there is pretty much irresistible

            Because “their words seemed to them like idle tales and they did not believe them.” That’s what most of us don’t tell you when we return. The real reason we made the trip, same as Peter and John. Shoot, Mary Magdalene and the others were there first because they did not believe, or forgot (or Yes!?) Jesus telling them He would not be there on the third day—and because they’re sure the men would not have prepared the Body properly for burial. Because, men!

             “Their words seemed to them like idle tales…” Hey, if Peter and I can admit it (well, with Luke’s help) you can admit it too—there’s a part of you, maybe a very tiny part you conceal very well, but a part, right? thinking even right now that this Story seems a very tall tale indeed, an incredible tale, for idlers and slackers and ne’er-do-wells, for whistlers in the dark, for people who just can’t or won’t face the plain truth that it is a nasty, brutish world, red in tooth and claw, and that when you die, that’s it and no two ways about it!—that Jesus’ Body was just very, very carefully hidden away. Maybe by those angel guys who do seem like suspicious characters, right?

            Like idle tales. This suspicion sends Peter racing to the tomb that morning—it has driven most all of us who’ve made the trip since. And I found exactly what Peter found. As Warren Zevon well said “We took that holy ride/ ourselves to know”. Then you’ll know you need you some saving… Entering the tomb, with three others, you have to stoop and practically crawl inside. There are candles, icons, and a smooth, stone slab where the Body lay. Touching it gave an electric-like shock. I was looking in the wrong place. He was here, but not anymore. Because, He is Risen!—just as He said. Shaken, not stirred is how most all of us exit the tomb, marveling, yes, but feeling a little foolish also,truth be told…

            Like idle tales… but not sooo idle after all?! Maybe you do need to make the trip, yourself, like I did? But that tomb in Jerusalem is the wrong place to look for Jesus—like the angels said, and Peter discovered. Why seek the Living among the dead? Save yourself some money and hassle by just letting the Word have His Way with you, here and now…

            Hey, you should search for the Body. But the Secret is, that IT’s been right here, under your nose, all along. Where two or three gather in His Name, there’s His Living Body, hidden in plain sight, under these ordinary words, a bit of water, some bread and wine; and searching, here, like this, you will ever surely find: Christ is Risen… Indeed. Amen.