Meditations on Aspects of Easter: 9. Afterwards
Lk 24:40-43 he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
My original intention had been to finish these Easter meditations with Easter Sunday and yet as I read back over them I am aware of two further aspects of Easter that I feel I have neither adequately covered nor sufficiently emphasised and I will deal with them both in this final consideration.
The first aspect I will simply call ‘Ragged Recollections”. In the previous two meditations, I have emphasised the chaotic nature of the Easter weekend. Now I have never heard this spoken about and indeed virtually every Easter Sunday sermon I have ever heard seeks to lay out neatly all that went on. Now this is natural and good and I have done it many times myself. The intent is to leave the congregation with a clear picture of the historical accounts of the weekend. Now just in case anyone has jumped to a wrong conclusion about where I come from in respect of this, let me make it clear. Do I believe the things happened exactly as they are relayed in the Gospels? Absolutely! Do I believe it is all neatly laid out in such a manner as to preclude questions? Absolutely not! Let me explain what I mean.
I have often challenged the questioning of sceptics of the Bible who claim there are contradictions all over the place, with the request to consider the witnesses to a multi-vehicle accident. Lay out all the witness reports and one talks about the lorries involved, another the cars involved and so it goes on. Different aspects but no contradiction. Contradiction occurs when one says, “Three lorries were involved,” and another says, “No lorries were involved.” Now let’s look at the neat packaging of Easter.
Earlier on we considered the specific case of the order of events about Palm Sunday. The fact of different accounts of what Jesus said on the Cross, exactly fit my major accident analogy above. When it comes to Jesus’ resurrection the witnesses are all over the place.
Matthew’s Account: Matthew has Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb (Mt 28:1). There is an earthquake that moves the stone on the tomb and an angel comes down and scares the life out of the guards (Mt 28:2-4). The angel speaks to the two women when they get there and tells them Jesus is risen and will be going ahead of them to Galilee (28:6,7). As they go to leave, Jesus meets them and confirms the message (28:8-10). The women go to return to the others (28:11) and after a reference to the authorities (28:11-15), Matthew jumps straight to Galilee where they meet Jesus and he gives them the Great Commission. (28:16-20) End of story.
Mark’s Account: Mark does a very brief summary in Chapter 16 – Mary Magdalene meets Jesus (v.9), she tells the others who were mourning and weeping (note their state in the light of what we said yesterday) (v.10) but they didn’t believe her (v.11). Then there is the meeting with the two on the road (v.12) who reported back and weren’t believed either (v.13) (ditto what we said yesterday) Then the meeting with the rest and their struggle to believe (v.14 ditto), then his commissioning them (possibly weeks later – v.15-18), then his ascension (v.19) then the Gospel taken out (v.20). End of story.
Luke’s Account: In Luke 24, Luke has ‘the women’ going to the tomb where they find the stone rolled back and two angels are present (v.1-4) who tell them he is risen, just as he had told them previously (v.5-8). They go and tell the others (v.10) who didn’t believe them (v.11). Peter goes and has a look at the empty tomb (v.12). We then have the story of the two men on the road to Emmaus encountering Jesus who eventually teaches them about all that had happened (v.13-32). They return to tell the others and Jesus appears to them all (v.33-49). Luke then clearly jumps several weeks to conclude his Gospel with Jesus’ final instructions and ascension (v.50-53). End of story (but picked up in Acts 1).
John’s Account: John writing possibly thirty years later than the others, reflecting back with the sharp memories that come with old age, picks up things the others had missed. In shorthand in chapter 20, he recounted Mary Magdalene going to the tomb, then returning to the others (v.1,2). Peter goes to look, accompanied by John, saw the empty tomb and returned to their lodgings (v.3-10). Mary M comes back to the tomb, sees two angels and encounters Jesus and then returns to the others (v.11-18). Later Jesus, on that first evening of the week – Sunday evening – came to them all behind locked doors (v.19-23) Thomas who had been absent refused to believe when they told him what happened and so a week later Jesus came to them again, especially for him (v.24-29). Chapter 21 is given over to his meeting with them in Galilee.
Now take each one of those incidents and put each one on a separate piece of paper and juggle them around and you find a coherent account like my vehicle crash analogy. The only time it requires some more thought is in the account of the women. John follows Mary M and only mentions her although her “we” of Jn 20:2 implies she was with the others. When you patch the stories together like this you find there are no discrepancies, just different witness accounts, one stressing one thing, another something else. Yes, there are questions about Jesus walking through locked doors, travelling across country so quickly etc. but those you can ask the Lord about yourself.
Now why am I taking this time and space to cover all this? Two reasons. First, it is only genuine seekers who work through to find answers. Will that be you and me? Second, the slightly chaotic reporting confirms the nature of what was going on and all that they felt, as we considered in the previous two meditations. It affirms the very nature of all that happened. Why don’t preachers like to face this? We prefer to package a neat orderly, “He is risen” simple package to make it easy for people – but it ISN’T easy! Which brings us to the second aspect: the Failures of the Followers.
This we have covered fairly extensively earlier in the week, but why have I emphasised that? Two reasons. First, because so often in modern evangelical, charismatic or Pentecostal circles we like to emphasise triumph and as much as that is right and appropriate, it fails to address the reality of what happened. Second, the reality of what happened has a specific pastoral bearing for each of us. There is a superficial teaching that preaches triumph and only triumph which so often leaves people feeling guilty inside, that they do not match up, and that distances them from God.
The reality is that the disciples were, over Thursday night through to Sunday night, in a state of shambles and unbelief and, as I have sought to show previously, that was partly because they were locked into the ‘Jesus of power and miracles’ picture, the Jesus who left the authorities in confusion. What they witnessed was doubly bad because of the wonder of all they had experienced previously of him. They could not cope with (as they saw it at the time) Jesus’ failure that resulted in his death and ministry termination. They, like us so often, failed to see the big picture of the plans and strategies of God for His world.
We are not good in the modern church at facing our frailties, weaknesses and failures. The lesson comes loud and clear – and hold this as we leave this series – God did not abandon them because they struggled to cope throughout this weekend. To the contrary He poured out His Holy Spirit on them to send them out with the message that came through the weekend. Jesus has died for our sins so face your frailties, weakness and failures and know you are still loved. Face them and receive his forgiveness and the outpouring of His Spirit so you and I can be his witnesses, witnesses of his love, mercy and grace, and of his forgiveness, acceptance and reconciliation, and then go on with his enabling to be the wonderful people we are called to be. Take the lessons of this week with you and be blessed and be a blessing!