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 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. (NRSV).
Our Gospel reading begins: ‘But, on the first day of the week…’
After the events of that first Easter – Jesus’ betrayal, the cross, the finality of death, the necessity of burial – after all this, this ‘but’ is of utmost importance.
No-one expects more. The gospels are styled around ancient biographies centered on the life and times of a single character. This one is built around Jesus. Now that death has taken hold there is surely no more to tell.
But now the stone is rolled away and Jesus’ body is missing. The women are ‘perplexed’. Even the appearance of angels and their accompanying message does bring all to clarity. They remember the promise and leave.
Despite all Jesus’ straight talk about the purpose of his coming to Jerusalem, seeing and hoping beyond the grave lingers as an impossibility. After all the world has become used to death as the final word.
And so these women report what they have seen and heard to Jesus’ closest friends. What else can they do? Even before this open audience these their story seems little more than an ‘idle tale’. Surely grief speaks here more than reality.
Even Peter, prepared to leave the safety of his friends turns from the grave – after seeing the open tomb and its empty linen – ‘…amazed at what had happened’.
Yes, something has happened. But for now no one dares imagine what. And even as they begin to put all the evidence together, can they really do more than sit at home in wonder? This is truly a new event and the implications seem unfathomable.
But perhaps that is exactly what the New Testament is – a thinking through the unfathomable; an exploration of the unthinkable; the living out of a mystery. It is an account of how a people began to re-learn life in light of a raised Messiah. They were discovering the resurrection.
It is our task as well. We are a people learning to live in the hope and promise of the resurrection of Jesus. After all, this miracle of miracles is a foretaste of all God has in mind for us. A Paul wrote: ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died.’ (1 Corinthians 15:20).
The resurrection of Jesus is a glimpse of God’s dream for creation.
And so today we joyfully proclaim alongside angels, archangels, saints, and the known and unknown universe: ‘Jesus is Risen; He is risen indeed!’