I have always found the different gospel accounts of the empty tomb interesting. I invite you to take the time to read them (Mt. 28 – Mk. 16 – Lk 24 – Jn. 20) because you will not only find significant differences in the number of women at the tomb but their responses also vary. The women’s responses to the announcement that he has risen vary from fear, bewilderment, confusion and joy. When told to announce to the apostles that he would go ahead of them to Galilee you will find some did and others kept silent.
The disciples hearing the story of angels, resurrection and that he is alive also provide us with mixed responses from disbelief, confusion and bewilderment.
I do not want to get into a theological debate over the meaning of the various empty tomb accounts in the gospels. What I would like to do today is help you understand how the scriptures are given to us by God so we could encounter him and his plan for our lives. God is talking to us through these stories and it is important for us on this day to at a minimum grasp the importance of our response to the empty tomb.
If you think about it, we know this story because we have heard it since we were small children. We have believed and accepted in faith the resurrection story is absolute truth. Yet, that is a problem for us because it is not as dramatic as it was for those who followed him for three years. The announcement that he is risen was one that made them wonder, did he rise or was something else going on. Yet there was the appearance of an angel and there was Jesus appearing to Mary of Magdala whom she thought was a gardener.
If you read these without the following stories of his appearance to the disciples there is nothing in their response that would indicate anything else other than uncertainty about what is really happening.
It took time for them to come to the realization of his resurrection from his appearing to the disciples on the road to Emmaus to Thomas putting his hand into the wounds of Jesus. Even those appearances failed to have the dramatic impact of total and complete belief in Jesus’ resurrection. John in his gospel tells us: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, he Son of God and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:30).
We know from the scriptures after the appearances of Jesus they were still hiding in fear for their own life. We know even the various appearances brought about profound announcements of faith but they were still not certain about what to do with their belief. In fact even after Jesus reveals himself to the apostles Peter says to his brother apostles “I am going fishing” (Jn. 21: 1-3). It would seem that Peter is going back to his old life of fishing on the Sea of Galilee. The rest of the disciples decide to go with him.
What impact did the resurrection have on them? What impact did his appearances have on them? It would seem not enough to change them into the zealous evangelist that they became. It took something more than what had happened up to that point in their discipleship training.
Their response has an Easter message for us and a future message of hope for all of us who believe and yet are still living life as if the resurrection has not made a difference for us.
We need to encounter the risen Jesus in a way that causes us to wonder, to think about what it all means, to become bewildered and yes even fear what it all means for us. We need to travel that road to Emmaus knowing Jesus is right there with us even if we fail to recognize him. We need to hide in an upper room and ask Jesus to come to us as he did the apostles and yes we must even say “I will not believe unless I can touch you or at a minimum have you touch my heart.”
We need to know that Jesus will seek us out as he did Peter that day in Galilee. We need to know that when we least expect it Jesus will call to us as he did to Peter that day he went back to fishing. It was that call that helped Peter understand the invitation to follow him means we must totally surrender ourself in order to find the meaning of the resurrection.
Once we make that decision to and say yes to his call we will know the next step in God’s plan involves more prayer and more waiting for the one who will change our hearts so they burn with zeal for God and to do his will.
The disciples left the shores of Galilee twice to follow the call of Jesus. The first call was a call to discipleship and the second call was a call to allow the Sprit of God to change them for the mission ahead – to proclaim to all who would listen that He has Risen. That is the mission of you and I and the message of the empty tomb is to take what we have heard and seek this risen Christ in order to be changed from being uncertain of what that means for us into a full understanding of how deeply God desires to have us become his sons and daughters doing his will just as Jesus did.
He is risen and that means we too have life now in the kingdom of God on earth and later with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom. He is risen indeed.