Holy Saturday: a day for stillness and reflection, for Jesus has died, and has not yet risen; for the disciples, back then when it was really happening, were mourning, grief-shocked at the death of their Master; a day for remembering that Jesus is in the tomb, dead. That’s it, as far as they knew: the One who they hoped, they knew, was ‘the Christ of God [see Luke 9:20] was gone. All that was left was for the women to go and anoint the body. They hid, apart, afraid.
Yet, early on that Sunday morning, as soon as the festival was over, the women were there, heading for the tomb, with their perfumes and spices, meaning to do what they could for their dead Lord. They were expecting a stone blocked tomb, a dead body, wrapped in linen cloths by Joseph of Arimathea. Yet, still, they would go, and perform this last service. They weren’t expecting what greeted them: in Matthew, there is an angel who tells them the news, then they meet Jesus who tells them ‘do not be afraid, go and tell my brothers ...’; in Mark, they meet a young man dressed in a white robe, who tells them the news and ‘go and tell the disciples and Peter ..’ – yet, they tell no-one for they were afraid; in Luke, they meet two men, who tell them the news, and they go and tell the disciples; in John, only Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, and it is she who stays, weeping and who meets her Lord. Interestingly, only in Matthew and John do the women actually see Jesus: in Luke, the first appearance of Jesus is on the road to Emmaus, although he has already seen Peter, and in Mark, there are no resurrection appearances, except for those usually agreed to be added at the end.
To be honest, I suspect my reaction would be that of the women in Mark: tell people that Jesus is risen? Yes, I would be afraid of being mocked and laughed at, but more than that, I would doubt my own memory. Did this really happen, or did I just imagine it? I think, I’d actually prefer to be given a note, something written down, that I could refer to, and prove that it wasn’t just my imagination. I certainly wouldn’t go around telling grief-stricken disciples that Jesus was risen. I have every sympathy with them. Yet, they must have said something eventually, or the news wouldn’t have got out, no-one would have known they’d had had the message. Also, in all the other gospels, they do go and tell: In Luke, where they haven’t seen Jesus; in Matthew, where they have; and in John, where Mary Magdalene’s first response on finding the body gone is to go and tell Peter and the other disciple that ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him’ (John 20:2); and, later, after her meeting with Jesus, she goes and tells the disciples the amazing news that Jesus, who was dead, who had been crucified in a very visible manner, was now alive.
Do they, at this stage, realise the implications? Do they realise that Jesus is now beyond death, not raised, as Lazarus was, to die again? I suspect they need that 40-day period, where, according to Acts, Jesus appeared to them, just to adjust to this idea, this newness, this Resurrection. For although Jesus had mentioned ‘rising again’ before he died, I suspect they would not have realised what this meant. Why should it? Apart from those times when they’d seen Jesus raise people from the dead, they knew that once someone died, they didn’t come back. The reaction of the women, and of Peter and the beloved disciple in John (see John 20:9), makes it clear that they were not expecting this to happen. However they interpreted the knowledge that Jesus was ‘the Christ of God’, it wasn’t that he would have to die, and far less that he would be raised from the dead. It must have been earth-shattering, needing time to sink in, along with the Spirit’s gift, to fully understand what had occurred. There is no evidence that they speak of it outside their own group until after the Spirit has come upon them at Pentecost.
But I wonder how fully we, today, realise the implications of Jesus’ resurrection? Rather than it being a totally new idea, are we too used to it? Are we side-tracked by images of chicks, and Easter Eggs, to fully realise that these images don’t fully illuminate what is happening in the resurrection? For Jesus brings new life, and chicks and eggs are images of new life: but the life they bring will grow, get older, die, as will we all. The Resurrection brings life that is newer than that, brings in life that will not die, for it has died and has come to life again in a way that is beyond death; for this life brings in the first stages of God’s kingdom. The idea of resurrection should be as earth-shattering, as life-changing. as it was for those first disciples. Somehow we are not to get too used to it; somehow, we are to let that life infuse our own, and live, in the here and now, in our own lives, before we die, the Life of the Resurrection, the Life that will not die.