Fresco of Ox symbol of St. Luke

Studying Luke 24 1-12

Our text this week is Luke 24:1-12, Luke’s account of “the empty tomb,” Jesus’ followers’ first encounter with the reality of resurrection.

Everyone knows this story! Even people who practically never go to church – like, only once a year or even less often. So, because we’ve probably “over-learned” this story, we may want to pay some extra attention to what we’ve learned from that overlearning, and see if we can get past it to the text itself, to see what the text has for us this time. Here are my notes on the text, this time (and some questions, here):

BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT: Luke’s view of the story refers us back to characters we would already know from Luke 8:3 and Luke 23:55-56 – the women who have been travelling with Jesus’ group all this time, and who saw where he was buried, and who have prepared “spices and ointments” for laying him out properly. They’ve been observing the Sabbath, and now on the first day of the week (that is, Sunday, which in those days probably felt a lot like how Monday feels to us), they are up early to go to the tomb to finish the funerary task.

[The women are known as “the myrrh bearers” and have a special liturgical place in the Eastern Orthodox church, on the Third Sunday of Easter.]

Luke tells us the tomb was “cut out of rock.” Some pictures and descriptions of that kind of tomb here, and more information on first-century burial practices here.

Luke 24:1-12 is the gospel in the lectionary on Easter Sunday, and also Easter Vigil, every third year (year C), alternating with Matthew 28:1-10 and Mark 16:1-8. John 20:1-18 is an alternative every year.

CLOSER READING: In v1, “they” seem to be “the women who had come with him from Galilee” from Luke 23:55-56, who are named in v10. That naming in v10 reads like an affirmation of the character of these identified witnesses, who are bringing the report in v9. That, in turn, says something about the meaning of the way “the eleven” and “all the rest” receive the report in v11.

“They” do most of the action in vv1-5: coming and bringing and finding – positively, the having been rolled away of the stone, and negatively, the absence of the body of the Lord Jesus. Then, in vv8-9, they do the becoming afraid of the sudden presence of “the men,” and the “bending their faces to the earth.”

I can’t help noticing that the women stay to listen to what the terrifying men have to say. I think my first instinct would be to run. But maybe the men were between “them” and the doorway.

The men mostly stand – impressively, in “flashing” or lightning-bright garments – and speak. They ask the famous question “Why do you seek the living (singular) among the dead (plural)?”

Then, they remind the women of what Jesus had said “to you” – and recap Jesus’ prediction of his betrayal, crucifixion, and resurrection. In v8, the women are reminded of his words or sayings.

We readers are reminded, too. In Luke’s gospel so far, Jesus has been reported as having made this prediction in Luke 9:18-27, Luke 9:43-45, and Luke 18:31-34. Did we realize the women were there to hear this announcement? Or are we supposed to infer that Jesus spoke to the women separately at some unrecorded point? Or, are we supposed to think this is the first the women would have heard of this?

Depending on how we answer those questions, this may remind us about how to read the word “disciples” in the gospel of Luke.

In v10 it’s not clear to me that we know that “Mary” is the mother of James; the text doesn’t quite spell that out.

In v11, the women’s report is really visual – as I read it, weirdly visual, so maybe meaningfully visual. It appears to the eleven and the rest – a little bit like the way the men appeared to the women, and the way Jesus will appear to the disciples later on. Here, however, it appeared (or he appeared, it’s a 3ms verb) as … something not to take seriously. The word for what it or he appeared as is only used this one time in the New Testament. We ourselves, in real life, might be inclined to use a word other than “nonsense” or “silliness” or “an idle tale” or one of the more polite terms that show up in our translations.

At any rate, the disciples blow off their sayings or words, exactly the way they blew off the “sayings” or “words” of Jesus himself when he was predicting all these events all those other times.

Peter, however, does go check out that empty tomb in v12 – depending on which source text we’re using.

The Greek root for remembering or memory resounds through the text. It is the core of the Greek word for “tomb” which, no surprise, repeats four times in these verses. If we translated that word as “memorial site” we might see its connection to memory more clearly. We wouldn’t translate it that way, though, because that would be silly. And then there are the reminders or rememberings that happen in vv6 and 8.

The empty tomb ought to ignite the fullness of memory for all these disciples. It doesn’t, however … yet.

portion of icon of myrrh-bearing women and angel

Images: “Feuchtwangen Pfarrkirche – Vorhalle Fresko Evangelist Lukas” Wolfgang Sauber, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Image of the myrrh-bearing women from the Kirillo-Belozersky iconostasis (cropped), from Shakko, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

3 responses to “Studying Luke 24 1-12”

  1. Here are a couple of other things I notice, reading this through yet again:

    1. that word “perplexed” in v4 is an interesting one, because it shows up in philosophy a lot, as a term that signals a conundrum for thought that the thinker can’t escape. So … just something to note.

    2. there’s a dramatic shift in the reference point of the pronoun “they” in vv10 and 11. For the first nine verses, it’s “they” “they” “they” “they” relentlessly, meaning the women. That’s the only way “they” are referred to. Then, in v10, “they” get names. And then in v11, suddenly, “they” are others, “the eleven and all the rest.” And it (he) appeared to them as foolishness. Two groups of people, two radically different experiences, communicated by a genius wielding of grammar: the third person plural pronoun.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another very useful exegesis, Heather. I almost wish I was preaching on this text this week, but I’m retiring on June 1, so I opted to depart from the lectionary because I want to preach on the Two Sons based on Rob Bell’s interpretation from Love Wins.

    I remember reading years ago—can’t remember where—that Cleopas might be a variation of Clopas, and that he might be related to Jesus by way of Mary. That same source suggested that it was probably Mr. And Mrs. Cleopas walking together on the road, which has always made sense to me. I do love this episode for its mystery and because it so clearly demonstrates the early followers’ understanding that the Tanakh clearly point to Jesus if properly understood. It must have felt like they had figured out a code. I also love it because Jesus is revealed in the breaking and sharing of the bread which, as you note, clearly points to communion. Thanks for great piece.

    Liked by 1 person

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