Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter: Believing Idle Tales

by Amanda Rohrs-Dodge

Luke 23:55 - 24:11

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how the body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them”[1]. It is probably safe to say that most of us have been taught, from a very early age, not to tell idle tales. The fable of ‘the boy who cried wolf’ comes to mind. Do you remember it? A young boy is sent into the field to tend a flock of sheep, which is pretty boring work. Thinking he would play a practical joke on the townspeople, he cries out that there is a wolf attacking the sheep, causing everyone to drop what they are doing to come to his aid. When they arrive, there is no wolf, only the boy who is amused by his ability to trick his elders. They tell him not to do it again, but of course he does, with the same outcome. But then one day a wolf does come. And when the boy calls out for help, no one comes to his aid because they think he is once again trying to trick them. In some tellings of the story the sheep die; in others, it is the boy himself who gets eaten by the wolf. The moral of the story? Don’t tell idle tales, because when the day comes that you’re telling the truth, people might not believe you.

These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. The women who came to the tomb on that Easter morning stumbled upon a traumatic surprise: the body of Jesus was gone. Not only that, but suddenly two strange men appear before them, bringing good news that initially begins almost as an interrogation. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Remember how he told you...?” The women do remember, and they run to tell the others, to tell their story of what has occurred that morning at the tomb, but they are not believed. The women try to break the silence of fear and mourning, but their words fall on deaf ears. They are not believed. Sometimes it is easier to believe the truth is not truth at all, but only an idle tale.

On Wednesday, March 20 students at Drew Theological School gathered together to break a different kind of silence. At 11:20am, during the weekly chapel service, members of Dr. Traci West’s class, “Ethically Responding to Violence Against Women” broke the silence surrounding violence against not only women, but also men and transgendered individuals. Students in the class offered various reflections surrounding the issue of violence. One student shared the concerns they had of offering pastoral care to female victims of male violence when they themselves were male. Another student shared her story of being raped by her boyfriend in undergraduate school, and the ways in which her religious upbringing had kept her from seeking help. A third student shared a story that reflected the complicated experiences of immigrant women who are victims of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, whose stories are often not believed. After each reflection a piece of pottery was broken, symbolizing not only the violence that had been done but also the power of breaking the silence surrounding these multiple forms of violence (click to see parts 1, 2, and 3 of the service)

That very same evening students, faculty, and even the dean of the theological school performed Eve Ensler’s A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer, a collection of monologues that told stories of violence against women and girls. Stories of young adolescent girls who were nearly sexually assaulted at parties. Stories of women pulling the trigger during times of war. Stories of girls who were hidden in vats of banana beer to protect them from soldiers looking to rape and kill them during civil war. Story after story after story... stories that, when seen in the paper or on the internet may be glossed over, maybe not as an idle tale, but as something that happens somewhere else. Something that happens to other people. Something that is far removed from many of our experiences. But that night, in that space, as these stories were embodied by the men and women of the Drew Theological School community, the truth came out. These stories were not idle tales. They were believed.

Sometimes it is easier to believe that the truth is nothing but an idle tale, to remain in denial. Like the disciples on that first Easter it can be easier to not believe the women’s stories, because if we were to believe them... then we would have to do something.

In verse 12 the story continues: But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. The note in my study bible says that “other ancient authorities lack verse 12”[2] which causes me to ask, why was this part of the story added? Is it perhaps because a later community was uncomfortable with the disciple’s lack of belief? Did they need to have someone in the story believe that the women could have been telling the truth? Like Peter in the story, something about these women’s stories seems to be more than an idle tale. And like Peter, we find ourselves in a place of needing to know the truth for ourselves, leading us to the tomb, to the source of the story. What we find is that the story is true: the tomb is empty, the body is gone, the silence has been broken.

Peter goes home, amazed. But we cannot simply go home, not after hearing the truth. There are other silences that need to be broken, other bodies to stand in solidarity with, other stories that need to be told again and again until the truth is revealed. We must break the silence surrounding violence against women, be it by praying and preaching, or listening and speaking, or even dancing in the street as a part of One Billion Rising, the "biggest mass global action to end violence against women and girls in the history of humankind."
Perhaps most importantly, we must have ears and hearts open to hearing the stories. We must hear the truth in what the women say; we must believe. And then we must run, to see and share the truth for ourselves, breaking the silence, re-envisioning the world.

[1] I am indebted to fellow classmate Kelly Lee (Drew Theological School, ‘13) who made the connection between the women’s resurrection story not being believed and the way in which women’s stories of abuse are often not believed.
[2] The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible, NRSV


Amanda Rohrs-Dodge is the student assistant pastor at The United Methodist Church in Madison, located next to Drew University. She graduated with her M.Div. from Drew Theological in Dec. 2012, and is currently an MA student at Drew, focusing on the New Testament and women's and gender studies. She lives with her husband who is a United Methodist pastor and their three cats, Vinny, Yoko, and Tebogo.

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