Saturday, March 19, 2016
An idle tale
(The following questions are meant to get at some of the issues for law/gospel preachers. For a more complete look at this genre of preaching, see my guide to law/gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from amazon.)
1. How does the Word function in the text? Undoubtedly the Word function primarily to announce the resurrection. This is, of course, gospel. Here is Christ, alive not dead! The Word also functions as law in that it raises up the reaction of the disciples to this announcement: "But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them." Given how many times the disciples have been told that Jesus would be raised, this word gives us a very clear picture of our human inability to believe. As Luther would clearly say in his explanation of the third article, "I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ or come to him."
2. How is the Word not functioning in the text? Not surprisingly, there is no call to obedience in this text, no Word which says, "Follow Jesus." Yes, the women are good examples of witnesses, and yes, Peter runs to the tomb to see for himself that the body is missing, but these are not calls to obedience. This text is most clearly the proclamation of the gospel: here is Jesus, risen!
3. With whom are you identifying in the text? This is a crucial question for our sermon. If we identify with the women, we are those who have heard the words of men in dazzling clothes, seen the empty tomb, and in terror, run to tell others. If we identify with the disciples, we are those who regard this all as nonsense. Perhaps we are both of these parties - those who have heard and seen the power of the Risen Lord, and yet those who cannot believe. How we do this dance of belief and unbelief will be crucial to our proclamation.
4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text? A few couplets come immediately to mind: disbelief/faith; terror/joy; death/life; idle tales/life-giving gospel.
5. Exegetical work: The Synopsis of the Four Gospels is a particularly useful tool in the study of the resurrection accounts. One can readily see, with the four accounts side-by-side, the differences and similarities between them. Luke's account seems to flow quite nicely from the events at the cross, and the women's reaction to finding the stone rolled aside is also logical - they are perplexed. Some of the other details that Luke alone provides are also interesting: Two men, not one, meet the women at the tomb; his question is unique to Luke - "Why do you seek the living among the dead?"; the reminder that Jesus predicted all this "while he was still in Galilee"; the women remembering Jesus' words regarding these events; the description of the disciples' reaction to this "idle tale." All of these details are unique to Luke, and they give us Luke's unique perspective on the resurrection, which he tells us at the outset of his gospel is "an orderly account" written so that "you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed." (1:3-4).
6. Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic? The key insights of all these pioneers should be on our minds as we consider preaching on Easter: How will we bring the experience of the text to the listener? (Craddock) How will we help our listeners recognize their shared story in this text? (Rice) How will we move our listeners from disequilibrium to equilibrium? (Lowry) How many moves have we made in our sermon - too many or too few? (Buttrick) Where is celebration evident in our design? (Mitchell)
Blessings on your proclamation this Easter Day!