BUT ….


Easter Day 2013

Luke 24:1-12

Marian Free

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

I don’t know if it still happens, but I know that people in workplaces were taught that when they were giving feedback to staff it was important to begin with an affirmation. That sounds all very well – emphasising the positive rather than the negative. However, the whole point of feedback is to let someone know how well they have been doing and if they haven’t been doing so well in their work at some point in the process this has to be pointed out to them. What happened was that those being reviewed came to expect the “but”. “Your telephone manner is very good but …”, “You have good attention to detaiL but ….. and so on.

The problem with “but” is that it has the effect of negating everything that has come before it. All the positive sentiments are seen in a different light when followed by “but”. A common response to positive feedback was “Yes, but?” as the expectation was that any affirmation would be followed by a criticism.

In Greek it is often the small words that you have to look out for. “Νυνι δε”, “μη γενοιτω”, “μεν”, “but now”, “no indeed”, “rather”. These words often carry a lot of weight which may or may not be obvious in translation. So it is in the 24th chapter of Luke’s gospel. Chapter 23 concludes the traumatic events of the Friday. The women observe where Jesus has been laid, go home to prepare the spices and to rest according to the law, because it is the Sabbath. To all intents and purposes that is the end of the story. Jesus, whom many had followed and supported all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem was dead as were all the hopes and dreams that his teaching and presence had fostered. All that remained was to see that his body was treated respectfully according to the tradition of the Jews and that part of the disciples’ lives would be over.

BUT – “on the first of the sabbath at deep dawn”, “BUT when they went in”, “BUT the men said to them”, ‘BUT these words seemed to them an idle tale”, “BUT Peter got up and ran to the tomb.” At least six times in twelve verses “but” contradicts what has come before – Jesus is laid in the tomb .. but. The women find the stone rolled away .. but. The women are terrified, but the angels said to them .. but he has risen. .. The women tell the apostles but …. The eleven do not believe the women, but still Peter got up and ran to the tomb. Everything that has happened has been negated, nothing is as was expected – a tomb is opened, a body has disappeared, terrified women are reminded of Jesus’ teaching and told he has risen, even so, no one believes the women and yet Peter goes to the tomb.

On the Friday the story had come to an end. Their leader dead, the disciples were frightened and confused. They had no hope or expectation for the future. Then all that changed and a new story began. The “BUT” at the beginning of  chapter 24 stands in defiance of all that has previously happened, it turns the impossible into the possible. In the midst of terror and confusion there is hope. Jesus’ body is not in the tomb, heavenly messengers speak to the women and Peter, against all his cultural conditioning, cannot help but go to see if what the women said was true.

Despair is turned into expectation, resignation to hope. Perhaps the end of the story will have to be re-written. In fact, the end of the story is nothing more than the beginning of a new story.

Jesus’ resurrection contradicts all that we know about life and death. It explodes the natural order of things, expands our horizons and opens our eyes to a different way of being. The resurrection demonstrates that evil and violence do not have the last word – goodness can and does triumph even though it may appear to have been defeated. It exposes our timidity, our cowardice and fear and replaces them with boldness, courage and confidence. The resurrection stands in defiance of all that is wrong in this world, by showing us what can go right. It thumbs the nose at the brutality, hatred and greed which tear people apart and points to a different way of being. We do not have to resign ourselves to terror, to poverty, to war and oppression. We can hope for and expect compassion, peace, equality and encouragement. We need no longer be held captive by death but can embrace life for ourselves and struggle to bring life to others.

The story doesn’t end with the tomb. Jesus is risen and nothing will ever be the same. Jesus is risen and our lives are charged with the power of the resurrection. Nothing is impossible. We have no more excuses. All our “maybe’s” are turned to “yes”, all our “buts” are exposed as procrastination – a failure to trust in Jesus’ presence and strength with us and in us.

Our story begins with the resurrection and our sharing with Jesus in the resurrection life. It is a story full of contradictions. A story in which death is overcome. A story that has no end but is full of new beginnings as again and again we die with Christ only to discover that it is in dying to the things of this world that we become more truly alive.

Jesus died – BUT he rose from the dead. That is our story – a story of new beginnings, fresh starts, opportunities to make good. Our story is the story of new life. So no more “buts” – let us embrace the life that God has given us and the new life that Jesus has won for us, that through us God may bring life to the world.


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