Saturday, 11 April 2009
The first day of the week extended from 6pm on Saturday to 6pm on Sunday which approximates closely to the Jewish first day of the week today. The scene of our story in John's gospel is set when it was still dark ie just before dawn.
Possibly at least four women went to the tomb but the focus is on Mary. Why did they go to the tomb when Nicodemus had already anointed the body? The tomb was built into the ground with a low door so that the disciple had to bend down, and then look down into it. What he sees is not as ifgrave robbers had been there. He saw strips of shroud like sheets, the linen grave-cloths lying there. But the burial cloth - the sudarium, a small towel used to wipe the face, was not lying with the linen sheets but was folded up beside the other cloths. These are important details. Did Jesus normally leave his bed like this? He had however promised that death would not hold him. The disciples ran home but Mary stayed crying outside.It was bad enough that he had died and in such a manner. But now the body is gone too.Later after encountering the risen Jersus, Mary announced to the disciples. "I have seen the Lord!"
This story is so well known, so powerful, that we forget its dilemmas.
For many today it is a pleasant story and nothing else.
For others it is a story constructed retrospectively to explain the
death of Christ.
For others still it portrays as accurately as possible eyewitness
accounts of some very strange events including angels and a man who is
risen from the dead and very soon after disappears.
There remains the problem of the body....if he just died where was the
body? In close knit communities bodies just don't disappear.
And there is the problem of history....the story has been powerful
enough to inspire belief for nearly two thousand years.
To accept that life is a mystery, to believe in God in any way is to
entertain resurrection. Life is an open situation like the empty tomb, with potential, charged with possibility. Not linear. This is what the
Christian life is like. It is full of possibility of resurrection...
But only if we allow it to be so.
The empty tomb gives us no neat answers. It left the disciples with a
Giant question mark. Soon after they were confronted with the
disturbing reality of a risen Jesus before them with a gaping hole in
his side, a ghost that ate fish. Can you imagine how they must have
felt! No wonder Thomas wants to put his head in his hands and say "I
don't believe it"!
We do not have their experience. We have their story and our own
experiences. We can walk a tight rope between talking jibberish and
acknowledging what is true for us concerning the resurrection.
We know enough to just keep us going...enough to believe the story.
God has the potential to appear at any time, unannounced.