Resurrection Isn’t Easy

The resurrection accounts in the gospels may not perfectly match each other in every detail, but a very human detail rings true from each: no one expected that it wasn’t all over.

What we call Holy Saturday was the Sabbath of Passover, was the day that the women waited, unable to do anything, unable to finish the job that they started in such a hurry once Joseph of Arimathea had got the body and put it in his tomb. No time to properly wrap the body and put all the spices that custom expected with it, they had to wait until the Sunday morning, when Mark tells us they were worried that they would be unable to move the stone that covered the entrance to the place where they expected Jesus’ corpse to be.

But the stone had been moved, and an angel was there to greet them. Understandably, they were ‘alarmed’ – scared rigid, more like! He told them not to be afraid, that Jesus had risen, that they should tell the disciples that he would be meeting them. But Mark, in what seems to be the rawest account, the one that is usually considered to be the oldest Gospel, ends in a strange way, at least in the oldest manuscripts.

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
(Mark 16:8 NIV)

That resurrection goes against all that humanity expects and the pattern we are used to is unsurprising. That’s kind of the point, it is a breaking of the expected pattern that dead is dead. So it seems natural that those who see it would respond with astonishment, amazement, awe. But fear?

It isn’t just Mark who records this confused response – in John’s gospel, Jesus is not recognised by those who were his closest friends and followers. They just can’t imagine that it can be him, alive, present with them. Whether it’s angels or Jesus himself, the good news of resurrection life has to be prefaced with ‘Don’t be afraid!’ It’s good news, but it’s not easy – it means everything you ever knew is wrong, and that’s terrifying!

I think that there’s sometimes a tendency in parts of Christianity to minimise the visceral shock and human carnage of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The cross can be seen as an almost theoretical step in the legal argument for justification rather than an event that was more than real. Holy Saturday can be overlooked and Resurrection is an apologetic argument to hit people over the head with. It’s a ‘proof’ that God wins, but it’s too easy.

Resurrection requires something that has died. Something good, something beautiful, something Godly, something we loved, something that should never have died. Resurrection requires the separation, the pain, the doubt, the burial. And when resurrection comes, not only will it surprise us, it will terrify us. We won’t expect it, we won’t know what to do with it. We won’t know which box it fits in, we won’t be able to explain it or even take the message to our friends. But the message will get out eventually, somehow, despite us.

Yes, ‘Love Wins’, the new life of resurrection can happen in the lives of each of us, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. If it seems easy it might not even be the same story.