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 Luke's gospel is set when it was still dark just before dawn, the time our hens are most vulnerable to the fox!
The women came to the tomb in order to embalm the body, something we are totally unused to in our present society, and yet a vital part of the mourning process. A Latin American theologian Rubem Alves, has written a story about a group of villagers who find a body washed up on their beach and how as they embalmed it they recreated the personality of the body. They saw that the stone had been removed and may have suspected action on the part of the enemies of Jesus or tomb robbers who were common at the time.
The women went back and told the disciples and Peter (not Simon as chapter 22) ran to the tomb. 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. Peter went into the tomb and saw the linen cloths.
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. (Who rolled the stone away?) And there is the problem of history...the story has been powerful enough to inspire belief for nearly two thousand years.
In our own lives we experience the mystery of life and death regularly and we are grown accustomed to suspend questions on existence and meaning. Occasionally however our delicate lives are shaken and the big questions come to the surface, questions about the meaning of life and death and life after death. To accept that life is a mystery, to believe in God in any way however small is to entertain resurrection. We can look at the night sky and realize how little we know. How can we know about the journey our soul takes after death?
Life is not predictable, though our biggest sin is that we think it is and that we can control it.
There are possibilities, hopes. Life is like the empty tomb, with potential. We do not live in a box, a closed system, but one which is charged with possibility because there is a another dimension that we know little about. This is what the Christian life is like. It is full of possibility of resurrection...
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.
As for me, I know enough to just keep me going...enough to believe the story.