Resurrection takes time
Do you believe that the resurrection of Jesus occurred at the moment of death his death, when God raised him from the dead? Well, according to the writers of the New Testament Gospels, Jesus disciples did not.
According to John’s Gospel, on what we now refer to as the “First Easter”, one of Jesus’ female followers named Mary Magdalene, who witnessed his crucifixion, visited his tomb three days later. Naturally, assuming his dead body was in the tomb, she had gone there to show her respects and grieve over her loss.
But much to her consternation, when Mary arrived at the tomb in the darkness of morning, she discovered that the stone that enclosed the tomb had been rolled away. Either from looking in the tomb and discovering it was empty or just assuming it was, Mary ran and went to Peter and the one we know as “The Beloved Disciple”.
She said to them: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and I don’t know where they have laid him.” Instead of experiencing resurrection on that first Easter, Mary experiences only the anxiety of believing the body of Jesus had been stolen and therefore desecrated.
After receiving Mary’s troubling news about Jesus, Peter and “The Beloved Disciple” ran back to the tomb to confirm what Mary had told them. There, they indeed found the stone had been rolled away.
When they looked and went in, they found only grave clothes and no body of Jesus. John does not say that the empty tomb caused Peter to believe that Jesus had been resurrected. And, even though John did write that when “The Beloved Disciple” looked in, “he believed”. I have always taken this to mean, believed in Mary’s testimony rather than in Jesus resurrection.
The “proof” of this is that when Peter and the “Beloved Disciple” returned home John does not say that they proclaim the good news of the resurrection of Jesus . Instead, he only writes that the two disciples simply , “ Went back to their homes.”
When Mary returned to the tomb after Peter and “The Beloved Disciple” had departed, instead of rejoicing in the empty tomb being proof of Jesus’ resurrection, John writes that Mary simply stood outside of it weeping, not just over the death of Jesus, but over the “fact” that his body had been stolen.
It was only after angels asked her: “Woman, why are you weeping?” and a man she thought was a gardener asked her the same question that Mary gave her answer: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” It was only after the supposed gardener addressed Mary by name that she recognized the voice to be that of Jesus, in his resurrected body. For Mary Magdalene, who was the first to visit Jesus’ tomb after his death and burial, that she then realized that resurrection takes time.
When Mary goes back and gives witness of the resurrection to the other disciples saying, “I have seen the Lord.”, apparently her testimony does not convince them.
Another Gospel writer says they dismiss it as an idle tale born out of hysteria and wish fulfillment. This is where Sunday’s Gospel reading from John 20:19-31 picks up.
It is evening on that first Easter and Jesus’ disciples are huddled together behind closed and locked doors, afraid that authorities will come and arrest them too and that they will meet the same fate as Jesus . It is then that the resurrected Jesus comes and stands among them and says, “Peace be with you” and shows them his hands and side, which leads them to rejoice that they have seen their Lord.
One of the disciples named Thomas was not there when the resurrected Jesus appears. When the other disciples tell Thomas what they have seen he declared he will not believe it unless he sees it for himself and actually touch the marks of Jesus’ crucified body.
Had the disciples, minus Thomas, seen a mere apparition or the risen Jesus? Did they now finally believe in Jesus’ resurrection, and experience their own?
John’s unfolding story seems to indicate otherwise, for seven days pass and the disciples are still huddled in fear behind closed and locked doors.
This time Thomas is with them and again Jesus appears to them and tries to allay their fears by again saying, “Peace be with you”. Seeing Thomas, Jesus invites him to touch his hands and his side.
And it is in his seeing and in Jesus’ invitation to touch him, that Thomas is finally led to a belief that had him exclaim: “My Lord, and my God!”
For Jesus’ first disciples then, resurrection takes time, a day for one and possibly others, and eight days for another.
A week has also passed for us since Easter, not the first Easter, but Easter 2020. We were not able to attend church because of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Instead we were only able to hear our choir sing hymns like, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and we were able to hear the story of Jesus’ resurrection read and preached on.
For some of us this affirmed our belief in Jesus’ resurrection, and caused us to experience a resurrection of our own. But for others, resurrection was something we just heard as a story and something we might not even have heard if we did not log into our church website.
Easter Sunday has now come and gone, and we’re still living in mandated isolation and in our homes behind locked doors as Jesus’ disciples did after the first Easter.
Like Mary Magdalene, we too are filled with consternation not over the empty tomb and the where abouts of Jesus’ body, but over the uncertainty of how long the Coronavirus Pandemic will last.
Like Jesus’ first disciples, we too are huddled behind locked doors in fear not from being arrested, tried and crucified, but from being infected by a potentially life threatening virus.
Like Mary Magdalene who wept for the loss of Jesus at the tomb, we too weep for our losses. Not only those we know who have died, but for the loss of human contact, for the freedoms we hold dear and for our way of life…including gathering in our church as a community of faith.
Like Thomas, we have our own doubts and are left bargaining with God, “If You do this for me and get me through this unscathed, then I will believe and follow You.”
My friends, it takes time for winter to turn into spring.
It takes time for consternation to turn into calm and peace.
It takes tike for sorrow to turn into joy.
It takes time for bargaining to turn into acceptance.
It takes time for brokenness and hurt to heal and forgiveness to take place.
Leo Tolstoy began his last novel, “Resurrection”, with a vivid description of spring coming to a 19th Century Russian city after one of its typically long and hard winters.
He used this as a metaphor for a story between a wealthy Russian prince and a poor peasant girl. The prince seduces the peasant, leaves her in a family way and abandons her, which causes her to descend into a life of degradation and prostitution.
Ten years later, the now peasant woman stands trial charged with the murder of a client who she only accidentally kills. As fate would have it, the Prince observes her trial.
Unable to speak out on the peasant woman’s behalf and to confess that he is the source of her misfortune, the Prince watches as she is sentenced to 4-years hard labor in Siberia.
Overcome with guilt for what he has done, the Prince visits the peasant woman in prison, confesses and asks for forgiveness. At first the peasant woman is understandably unwilling to forgive the Prince, but when he visits her daily and tries to atone for his sins with the proposal of marriage, her heart begins to soften.
And, in forgiveness, both the prince and the peasant woman experience resurrection. But, it takes time.
Sometimes resurrection can be instantaneous and be caused by something like a life altering experience which changes us forever. But, more often than not, resurrection takes time. Like it will take time for us to feel safe to go outside after the pandemic is over and just as it took time for the disciples to feel safe going outside after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
It might not be easy for us to believe that resurrection is possible for our world, for our country, for our church and even for ourselves…especially in the midst of a pandemic.
It might take time to believe that God can still make it all possible, that as he raised Jesus from the dead, so too can he raise us.
It will take time. But that time WILL come.