Acts 10.34-43; 1 Corinthians 15.19-26; Luke 24.1-12
Lord of all life and power, who through the mighty
resurrection of your Son overcame the old order of sin and death to
make all things new in him: grant that we, being dead to sin and
alive to you in Jesus Christ, may reign with him in glory; to whom
with you and the Holy Spirit be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity. Amen.
SOME of the most powerful words in the Bible are questions;
question that, if we ask them of ourselves, may take us to new
depths in our knowledge of ourselves and of God.
"Why do you look for the living among the dead?" is an ironic
question. On the face of it, it was a silly question, because the
women were seeking not the living among the dead, but the dead
among the dead. Nevertheless, Easter is a time to be faced with
supremely silly questions and situations, as we navigate the
unknown territory of resurrection.
For the people who had been around Jesus in Jerusalem, life was
beyond belief that first Easter Day: an enormous stone rolled from
a tomb; a missing body with its grave-clothes in a neat pile; men
in dazzling white appearing with ridiculous messages; women
instructed to bear witness to what they had seen (something they
could never do in a court, having been considered gullible,
unreliable witnesses ever since Eve was deceived by the serpent);
men expected to believe an idle tale told by women. And that was
only the beginning.
The cast of human characters in the Gospel is familiar. The
named women who went to the tomb knew Jesus well; they had
(shockingly in their culture) travelled with him, and provided for
him financially (Luke 8.1-3). Peter was probably his closest
friend. The women were perplexed and terrified - no resurrection
joy for them as yet - but at least had the presence of mind to find
the others, and to report what they had seen.
Peter was curious enough to go to the tomb and look, but, at
that early dawn stage, did not move on from amazement. So he
looked, just as Jesus had looked at him when he denied Jesus. This
time, he saw not Jesus's eyes, but his absence.
Was this his turning back, his repentance, of which Jesus had
spoken as the prelude to strengthening the others (Luke 22.32)?
Certainly, later that day, Jesus appeared to him privately (Luke
24.34) and, within weeks, Peter was at the centre of the
proclamation of the gospel (Acts 1.15, 2.14). Not only was Jesus
changed by resurrection: Peter became a transformed man.
We rush to Easter joy, and rightly sing "Alleluia" with joyful
hearts. Distanced from events, and knowing the end of the story, we
have had time to take it all in. But, on that first early morning,
nothing had prepared the women and the disciples for what they
experienced, so their first reactions of fear, doubt, and
perplexity are completely understandable.
At dawn, all they knew was bad news - the body was missing, and
their first thoughts were far from resurrection. Even when Jesus
appeared to them, in stories that we shall hear in the coming days,
it was not immediately good news, because they took time to make
the mental leap that resurrection required.
They had seen their friend die the most horrible death; they
were in shock - today we might call it post-traumatic stress - and
resurrection was not in their vocabulary.
So the empty tomb was not gospel, in its sense of "good news".
To become good news, along with the emptiness there also had to be
encounter with its former occupant. Their imaginations needed to be
burst open by resurrection, but that was still to come. As ee
cummings put it when he wrote of "unimaginable You": all this was
They came, as dawn was
to finalise their loss,
absorb death's grim, stark meaning,
the horror of the cross.
They came, and angels told them
"Recall the words he said.
You seek the one now living,
why look among the dead?"
We dream of resurrection
yet when it comes we cling
to things known and familiar,
the boundaries they bring.
And we, who are not ready
to let our grieving go,
reject the angels' story,
hold to the loss we know.
You interrupt our mourning,
an untrod path you pave;
for you bring resurrection
while we still seek the grave.
Our lives are wrenched wide open,
the wounds we nursed exposed;
and, like a phrase of music,
our death to life transposed.