Alleluia – Christ is risen: He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
The four gospels have four different accounts of the Resurrection – four different ways of describing some of what happened would be a more accurate way to word it.
Mark, which is almost certainly the earliest gospel, has a brief 8 verses, in which we learn that Jesus has been raised – the women are told this by a young man in a white robe. They are told to tell the disciples but, Mark says, they ‘fled from the tomb’ and ‘said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’. For much of the gospel Jesus has forbidden people to say who he is and they did. Now the women are told to tell, and they are silent!
They were afraid, because this news is earth-shattering and mind-bending. Maybe we have heard it too often. Two things to note – Jesus was crucified (the women had seen this brutal execution) and was buried. And then we hear Jesus has been raised. He didn’t get up himself, but the power of God raised him and now he is risen. He did not come back to life (as Lazarus did), but he was raised to new life, having not only passed through death but broken its hold on the world. He has broken the chains of death and opened the gate to life.
In John’s gospel which is the alternative reading for today, John gives two whole chapters to the resurrection and further appearances of the risen Jesus. Again the women are the first to the tomb, but then John focuses on what Peter and John saw when they arrived. The word “saw” is used a lot. We are told what the evidence is. When they are gone Mary is left outside and she meets a man who she does not recognise at first –she does not see clearly – is it the light and / or her tears which have clouded her vision, but then she sees more deeply still.
Mary is weeping as she thinks the body is taken, only to discover Jesus is alive. John goes on to share other times when Jesus appeared to the disciples.
In John’s gospel, if we wish, we can put ourselves in the shoes of Mary, or John or Peter or Thomas; we can imagine how we would feel in these encounters. But we need to remind ourselves that resurrection, being raised to new life, is not something that they expected, nor something they knew would happen. Whether told through the pen of Mark or of John, this is a life-changing moment quite literally. And if it hasn’t changed our life, we have not “seen” it.
Matthew and Luke also expand on Mark’s short version, giving some other accounts of Jesus’ appearing to the disciples. Each of the gospel writers takes the material they have and shapes it to help their readers and listeners make sense of who Jesus is, what he achieved and what the resurrection means and should mean, for them.
The deeper meaning is probably better gained through either fear or tears in the first instance, and time to reflect and be still in the second.
And for us, today, in a world which is still battered by a virus we did not even know existed 18 months ago, and unsettled in so many areas by ongoing violence and disturbance, where too many are ruled by oppressive or self-seeking rulers, and, nearer to home, we try and make sense of the pains and difficulties, the opportunities, choices, and impacts we live with, what does the resurrection mean for us? Has it been life-changing? Is it? Are we too fearful to speak about it, or maybe too familiar with the story to be moved by it? Is this good news for us and will we share this good news with others?
The church gives us seven Sundays to celebrate and reflect on the Resurrection, leading up to Pentecost – let’s use the time to rejoice, to ponder, to reflect, to proclaim, to discover and to know that God is with us, Jesus offers new life, and we are loved and saved. Alleluia!
Rev’d Peter Reiss