After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
Matthew’s account of the resurrection differs somewhat from those recalled in Luke’s and John’s gospels. When Jesus appears to His disciples in Matthew’s account they instantly know who He is, fall at His feet and offer to Him what should only be offered to God Himself: worship. In the other gospel accounts, Jesus’ followers aren’t quite so quick on the uptake.
According to Luke’s account the two travellers on the road to Emmaus did not initially recognise their fellow traveller as the risen Jesus. It was only when He took some bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them that his identity was revealed. Perhaps a reminder of the Eucharistic practice of the early church? In the gospel according to John when Mary Magdalene meets the risen Jesus in the garden she doesn’t recognise him and assumes him to be the gardener. Only when Jesus addresses her by name does Mary turn and see Who is standing before her.
It’s often remarked that although Jesus’s appearance (in Luke and John’s accounts at least) is not as it was before His crucifixion, at least His wounds did endure the resurrection. In John’s account it is only when the disciple Thomas sees Christ’s wounds that he believes that it is really Him. Those things we might expect to endure the resurrection, such as physical appearance, may in fact not do so; whereas certain other things – scars, wounds, physical ailments – that we expect to be wiped away in the resurrection for some reason might not be.
One thing I took away from James Alison’s book “Knowing Jesus” was that to think of our Lord only as the risen Lord was too simplistic. Jesus Christ is the crucified-and-risen Lord. Crucifixion as much as resurrection is a part of who He is, who He is to us, and who we are called to be for Him. So, just as even the bleakest moment of the Christian year, Good Friday, is tinged with the future hope of the resurrection, so this highest point of joy, Easter Sunday, still retains a note of sadness. Yes, the Lord is risen: Alleluia! But He is not risen without having died in the first place, and through the fault of sinful humanity who could not accept God amongst them.
So much of Christian preaching and spirituality focuses – and rightly so – on our status as Easter people; people living in the Light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and living in hope of our own resurrection at the end of all things. And I suppose that particular slant is what has come to dominate my personal theology too.
But something feels different this year. It is Easter Sunday; it feels good and right to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord; it is one of those particularly joyful years when Western and Eastern (Orthodox) Christians celebrate Easter on the same day; and yet I can’t quite forget Good Friday.
I don’t know why in particular things should feel different this year. I found the experience of venerating the cross for the first time this Good Friday particularly moving. Kneeling before a large, rough wooden cross; laying my hand on it; laying my head against it; all the while contemplating what took place on a larger, rougher wooden cross two millenia ago; and then gently touching my lips to the wood. Perhaps that is what it was; I don’t know. Good Friday is past, but a few splinters of that wood feel as if they remain.
I wish you all a very Happy Easter. Jesus Christ is risen – Alleluia. Crucified and risen – Alleluia.