Luke’s resurrection narrative is in Luke 24:1-53. It consists of several parts of which the first 12 verses contain the role of the women (and Peter) at the empty tomb along with the words from the “two men in dazzling clothes.” The next part consists of the Emmaus road encounter and a meal along with explanations intended to indicate that Jesus is not merely a ghost (Luke 24: 13-35). Luke 24:36-49 tells of the meeting with the disciples and bears similarities to John’s Gospel. Finally, Luke 24:50-53 completes the story with the blessing and the return to Jerusalem, a key location for Luke’s story.
The common elements in the four canonical gospels are the empty tomb, the Emmaus road, and the ascension of Christ. The main differences in the Lucan account are the resting of the women on the Sabbath (Luke 23:56); no indication of who rolled the stone back; the note that the women (unidentified at the beginning) did not find the body of Jesus; the presence of “two” figures instead of a single young man; the reformulation of the message addressed to the women; and Peter’s verification of the empty tomb.
Contemporaries call into question the resurrection of Jesus on grounds that would have seemed strange to the gospel writers’ original hearers. Our contemporary ideas of the separation of body and soul and other post-Enlightenment notions about human existence call into question the whole idea of resurrection. The New Testament writers certainly were faced with questions of doubt (just look at Paul especially 1 Corinthians 15) and also in Luke’s second volume of Acts.
We should note that none of the canonical gospels really report or give a visual account of the resurrection. Not until the non-canonical Gospel of Peter is there an account of the resurrection itself.
35Now in the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, when the soldiers were keeping guard, two by two in every watch, there rang out a loud voice in heaven. 36They saw the heavens opened, and two men came down from there in great brightness and drew near to the sepulcher. 37That stone which had been laid against the entrance to the sepulchre started to roll of itself and gave way to the side, and the sepulchre was opened, and both the young men entered in. 38When then these soldiers saw this, they woke up the centurion and the elders—for they also were there to assist at the watch. 39And while they were relating what they had seen, they again saw three men come out of the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other, and a cross following them. 40They saw the heads of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was led by them by the hand surpassing the heavens. 41Then they heard a voice crying out of the heavens, “Hast thou preached to them that sleep?” 42And from the cross there was heard the answer, “Yes.”
In Luke even the disciples questioned what happened after the women told them what Luke says is an “idle tale.” The added note in Luke indicates that Peter is “amazed” that the tomb is empty. It is clear that something transformational happened.
We, too, can be transformed by Luke’s story. It may help us to remember this small group of people at that first Easter. We have become so accustomed in our churches today with magnificent flowers, music, and pageantry on Easter. We think of the millions of people who celebrate Easter forgetting that several frightened women, Peter, eleven disciples who heard that something happened took the first small steps near an empty tomb.
As one preacher said, “All of us know that the longest journey begins with a single step. All of us know how difficult that first step really is. Watch any toddler take his first step and you will witness the great process of tumbles and falls, cheers and tears, successes and failures, from just learning to walk. If by some chance in life you have to learn to walk again, it is even more difficult the second time around. Thousands of U.S. soldiers from wars are coming home with limbs lost from combat. They are spending this Easter in hospitals around the country learning to walk again. Or as one war weary soldier said, ‘I am going to run again (Olds)!” Can we learn to run again?
This Easter focus not just on the one step. Take the first step or the second step for the very first time. Do not merely think of the doubts that come from your thoughts of the resurrection. Instead “….have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer (Rilke)."
The disciples, even Peter began to live his way into the questions. If Luke had gone the marketing route as he told his story he would have made sure that he reported the resurrection in a grand temple or at some fancy resort on the beach with lots of famous people present. Instead, he told us that Jesus tomb was empty, found by some scared women and Peter.
Each of them took not only the first step but the second and third and the fourth…. Compare Peter’s story in the other gospels and Acts. Despite his clear flaws, despite his amazement at the empty tomb he goes forward. Maybe at first running in fear but finally in Luke’s story fulfilling what is anticipated throughout Luke but seen clearly in Acts, and that is Peter’s important leadership role.
We should be able to identify with a person like Peter who is clearly depicted as one with failures. But more importantly we need to see the way he lives with the questions.