Sunday, April 5, 2015

The difference a day makes

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

We know the end of the story...we know that the women are going to find angels at the empty tomb, that Peter and John will puzzle over the graveclothes and face cloth, that the disciples going to Emmaus are going to have a very unique traveling companion...we know all of this when we open our eyes on Easter morning and declare to each other with joy, 'He is risen!'

But it wasn't like that when it was happening.

Passover had been followed by the Sabbath; the women could not get to the tomb to properly do the burial anointing until the morning of the third day...which was the first day of the week.  This task had loomed over them as they had prepared the traditional meals for their families,  prayed the prayers, gone through the rituals that were usually so comforting and so encouraging.  This year, the celebrations were no doubt somewhat subdued.  But, perhaps it gave the ladies something to focus on so their grief did not overwhelm them.

The disciples, having already eaten Passover, were basically in hiding.  There was nothing to distract them from going over and over the could they have allowed Jesus to be taken and killed?  Why had they all deserted him?  How foolish their arguments over who would be the most important official when Jesus set up his kingdom appeared now!  Morning of the third day dawned after another night of fitful, restless disoriented grief and fear.

But the ladies were now able to do something.  They could do one last bit of service for Jesus.  So they assembled their spices and ointments and headed to the tomb.  They apparently didn't know about the Roman guard, which was set the day after Jesus was buried, because their concern was rolling away the heavy stone, not persuading the guards to allow them to access the tomb.  They had to be trying to get themselves ready to deal with the gruesome task of anointing a bloody body that was beginning the third day in the grave...and the staggering grief that would surface to see the one they had followed and loved in such a condition.   Everyone has faced that situation...every step leads closer and closer to the dreaded task that must be done, although few have had such a horrible scene waiting.

But...just before they arrived at the tomb, the ground was shaken by what Matthew terms 'a violent earthquake'... which quite possibly knocked the women off their feet.  When they collected themselves and came down the path, they were astonished to find Roman guards out cold and an angel sitting on the stone, which had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. 

Keep in mind the ladies were already in a highly emotional state; they were shaken by the earthquake and probably terrified by the sight of the seemingly dead guards and the angel.  The narratives all move very quickly, but putting them all together it appears that they had a discussion before they dared approach the tomb, with the result that Mary Magdalene left the group and hurried to tell the disciples what happened.  The other ladies, perhaps overcome by curiosity, eventually moved close enough to the tomb that the angel called to them and invited them to see that Jesus had gone.  Some apparently were terrified and turned around and went home, too frightened and confused to talk to anyone, but at least two ventured to go into the tomb, and there met two more angels who repeated the same incredible news as the first...Jesus was not dead, but living, and they were to go and tell the disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee.  These brave ladies, shaking and trembling from shock and fear but seeing that something unexpected had happened and beginning to hope that it could be as the angels said, headed towards the house where the disciples were holed up.

Meantime, Mary had roused the house and delivered her news and Peter and John were on their way to the tomb.  They must have taken a different route as it does not appear they met the women, but Someone Else did.  Jesus Himself met them, and repeated the instructions to the disciples to meet Him in Galilee.  Now the ladies ran with news to the disciples.

After the women left the tomb, the angels departed and the soldiers roused from their stupor, picked themselves up, brushed themselves off and looked around. The stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty...the very thing they were charged with preventing.  They headed off to town to talk to the Jewish leaders.

John came running full tilt to the tomb, going to the door and peering in, hesitant.  Peter came a few minutes later and did not hesitate, walking past John to see what was -- and wasn't -- in the tomb.  John followed him and they saw that the graveclothes were lying where Jesus had been, and the napkin that had wrapped his head was laid deliberately folded by itself.  But there were no angels...nothing to hint at what had taken place.  John got excited...Jesus had been resurrected!  It was the only explanation!  Peter, though, was suspicious that there was some other explanation...perhaps he suspected the Jewish leaders of plotting to do away with Jesus' body.  The women were emotional; he didn't trust their accounts.  It was a very mismatched pair that returned to the house: John jubilant; Peter expecting another disappointment.

The rest of the day was much the same...individuals randomly reporting that they had seen Jesus...strange accounts of Him suddenly appearing and disappearing.  The disciples scarcely knew what to think.  All the miracles they'd seen had hardly prepared them for such a thing.  It was outside their experience, outside their comprehension.

Then two more men arrived, having run almost all the way from Emmaus, and related the story of how they had spent most of the day with Jesus.  Before they got the entire story out, Jesus Himself just showed up in the room...showed them His scars, and ate some fish.

It was Him.  He was there.  He was real.

Now...those who had followed Him could celebrate. How different from the hopeless, they could tell one another with joy, 'He is risen!'  The world had changed forever.

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