“[The women] found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? [Jesus] is not here, but has risen.’ ” Luke 24:2-5 (NRSV)
What do we expect when we go to a graveyard to visit the graves of loved ones? Certainly not that the grave has been opened and the casket or urn empty! Certainly not two dazzling figures telling us that the one we love has been raised from the dead. We can’t picture it or even believe it could happen.
Why should the women who went to Jesus’ tomb on what we call Easter morning have any different a reaction? Dead is dead – right? They saw him buried, and they went to the tomb to do the loving thing: anoint his body with burial oils, and wrap him lovingly so he could rest in peace.
Instead they are terrified by these two figures who show up and announce that Jesus was raised from the dead and not in the tomb. Okay – so where’s the proof besides the empty tomb? It’s just not comprehensible, especially when they saw him die and be placed in the tomb. No wonder they were terrified. No wonder the disciples thought they had gone crazy when they ran to tell them what they had seen and heard.
According to Luke, Peter was the only one to run to see if it was true, but he was as puzzled as they were (notice: Peter didn’t have the appearance of the men in white!). Jesus would appear later to the men and again on the road to Emmaus to Cleopas and his companion. But the women were the first to know.
It’s interesting that after the arrest of Jesus, the men gradually distanced themselves until they were no longer around him, but the women showed up and stuck with him through the crucifixion and his burial and again when they went to care for him one more time after the Sabbath was over.
No matter how many ways or how many times Jesus had told all of them that he would be put to death and then raised from the dead after three days, they were still puzzled and surprised. But before we go condemning the followers of Jesus, we have to stop to look at ourselves, too. Wouldn’t we react the same way? Wouldn’t we want to have more proof than just an empty tomb?
Many folks have questioned the resurrection, have asked for proof, demand a clear answer to the question, “Is Jesus really the Messiah?” All I know is that faith isn’t about proof, clear answers, or concrete evidence. Faith is believing without all that. When everything else is stripped away, when we have reached the bottom of our “faith well,” when we have more doubts than anything, faith then “kicks in” or it doesn’t. Doubt isn’t bad; in fact, it can strengthen our faith.
What we believe is that Jesus Christ was resurrected. God conquered death, reconciled humanity to God’s own self through Jesus, and has given us forgiveness of sins and life eternal. Thousands upon thousands of people past, present and future, have testified to the presence of Christ in their lives and the transforming work of God’s Holy Spirit.
Believing isn’t always easy, and yet it is. It is letting go of our need for proof from outside sources, and looking into the tombs of our hearts where there is a dark, cavernous space just waiting for Jesus to enter and live there. It’s a journey, a process, a trusting in the things we can’t see, but somehow know are true.
So this Easter, we have a big surprise party waiting for us – again. The party is for us – it’s a gift of life forever through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. If we struggle to believe, we can try to relax and just let it happen. Happy and Blessed Easter! Surprise!