Luke's resurrection account comes in Luke 24:1-12. In common with Mark, Jesus himself does not make an appearance in the account of the empty tomb.
Instead, we encounter the experiences of various other people. Significantly, as you read Luke's account, there is an emphasis on the words spoken by a number of individuals. Language of speaking, of words, of sayings dominates the account.
We don't meet the risen Jesus. Instead we get to hear the words of certain other people.
This should not surprise us if we've been paying attention as we read Luke's gospel. Here's how his gospel opened:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4, emphasis added)
There is a particular Lukan emphasis that those entrusted with the message he records are servants of the word of God. God has spoken into the world, and that word has a mission to advance. Those entrusted with these things are serving the purposes of God and the mission of the word.
So it is no surprise to discover that his resurrection account focuses on key words that are spoken, and that we must make our response to those words. In painting the scene in this way, Luke mirrors the experience of a contemporary reader of his gospel. We don't get to meet the risen Jesus directly; we do get to hear the voices of those who serve "the word" by passing it on.
The two shining men
The first words we hear are those of the two men who appear in Luke 24:4.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee … ”(Luke 24:5-6)
Their testimony is that the reason the tomb is empty is because Jesus is alive. So the person who looks for him in a graveyard is looking in the wrong place.
It's not clear how much of this the women truly understand. They leave the grave. They don't look for Jesus in another plot, or look for signs of disturbed ground that might indicate he'd been moved. They believe these words enough to take on board that he's not here.
Then, as the two men continue, they remind the women of the words of Jesus himself.
“The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”(Luke 24:7)
Jesus himself spoke about what would happen. Three times he predicted his betrayal, his death by crucifixion, and his resurrection on the third day.
The women then remembered these words. They had been there when Jesus spoke them and had forgotten them (until they come to mind now).
However you explain the empty tomb, you have to factor in the fact that Jesus himself foretold that he would rise. People hung on his words as he taught the crowds. Anyone who had taken his words seriously would have expected to find the tomb empty and Jesus alive.
This trip to the tomb was undertaken by a group of at least 5 women. We know the names of 3: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, another Mary who was the mother of James; then there are some "others" (feminine plural, so at least two further women).
It's often pointed out by contemporary commentators that a woman's testimony was not valid in a court of law, so they would be a strange choice had the early church wished to invent the account. But we need to notice that this was a good-sized group of women. This was not one witness who had to contradict everyone else. At least 5 or 6 witnessed these same things.
When they reached the disciples, they told everything they'd just seen and heard. They spoke of two things they saw and one thing they did not see.
- "They found the stone rolled away from the tomb"
- "They did not find the body of Jesus"
- "Two men in clothes that gleamed like lightening stood beside them"
(The men's clothes really were as bright as lightening - too dazzling to look at.)
What response did the women get from the 11 apostles and those with them?
"But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense." (Luke 24:11)
Literally, the women's words seemed like utter drivel, sheer make-believe, implausible and impossible.
But the women did see the things they saw, and nobody else could contradict them and say they did not.
Luke has shown us the words spoken by the two men, by Jesus and by the women. As the women report the things they saw, the words spoken by the men, and the words of Jesus brought to mind by the men, 10 of the apostles laughed them off.
Peter is a contrast. He ran to the tomb to look for himself, and went away to think.
Now it's over to us, the readers of Luke's gospel. We won't get to see the risen Jesus alive, not in this life. We do get to hear what others have to say about his resurrection: those two men, Jesus himself, the 5 or more women.
What do you make of this message concerning Jesus rising from the dead? Is it something to laugh off, totally impossible? Like Peter, is it something to look into further, to consider the things that were heard and seen that day, and then to ponder further?
There is a more positive reaction to all this: One could believe this to be true and so be bowled over with utter joy. But Luke's account is realistic and human. The most positive response is that of Peter. Just as he hasn't (yet) shown us Jesus alive, so he hasn't (yet) shown us people responding to the resurrection in joy and amazement. He will do, but those in the story need time to be convinced.
As do we. Those of us who know these things to be true need to enter into the story once again at real-time pace. Only when we see these events through the eyes of those who were on the ground will be come to appreciate how utterly remarkable this all is, and so how wonderful it is.