The Sunday started very early.
And it did not start the way you would expect it to. He taught His followers that He would rise from the dead. Yet, the men were huddled in fear and it was left to the women to deal with the situation. They went to work, but it was not the work of the living.
They were bringing spices to His tomb in order to bury Him again.
Mary Magdalene, the great sinner whom He had drawn a line in the sand to save, found the tomb open and empty. He was gone and so were the Roman guards. The other women came a little later and surveyed the same scene.
They rushed to tell Peter. And here we see, in the midst of this most amazing story, the innate nature of humanity.
The woman described what they had seen. And the men refused to believe them. They thought it was nonsense. Eventually, Mary Magdalene was able to convince Peter, the leader of the Eleven. And now that Peter was moving, he was running. With him was John, the youngest. John got to the tomb first.
It was empty. All that was there was the burial shroud and linen, neatly folded.
So Peter and John returned to the huddle in Jerusalem. Distraught, Mary Magdalene remained behind. That is when she spied the gardener. And she unloaded on him, demanding to know where the gardener had taken the Body. And then He simply said her name.
Mary Magdalene knew then that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. She threw herself at His feet, but He would not let her touch Him: He had not yet ascended to the Father.
Mary once again returned to the Apostles. Now she had a new story: the tomb wasn’t just empty, but Jesus Christ was alive as well. It was too much. They did not believe. They could not dare to believe. And that is not surprising: if you were the first person to be told that someone had risen from the dead, would you believe?
There were others, though, who also became aware of the situation. They did not want to believe, but understood the irritating implications of the facts soon enough. It is really quite amazing. Faced with the tremendous reality of the most startling truth, refuge was found in deceit.
The Sanhedrin are proof that some men will always find it easier to believe a lie – even if it is one they tell themselves.
The Roman guard had fled from the tomb when He rose.
They could ward off a distraught band of grave-robbers, but they had no power or courage to keep a risen God in a hill-side tomb. Compounding their fear was the knowledge that they could not return to their barracks: they had just deserted their posts.
So the soldiers went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who had arranged their strange mission in the first place. They came up with a solution and an alibi.
In exchange for a large sum of money, the soldiers were to claim that they fell asleep at the job. And that while they slept, His disciples came and took His body. The Jewish leaders would dissuade Pilate from punishing them for slumbering while on guard.
As a lie, it was not a very good one. Since when have sleeping men being able to identify grave-robbers?
The lie was of use only to those who did not want to believe the truth. But it was of no use against the reality of the situation.
Death had been conquered. And He continued to appear. Later that day, He walked with two of His followers who had left Jerusalem. And when they realised who He was, they rushed back to tell the Eleven. On arrival, they were greeted with a similar story. He had appeared to all of them and had even eaten honeycomb and fish in their presence.
And on the day He conquered death, He also gave the Eleven the power to defeat sin, saying:
“As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.
Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”
Only Thomas had missed Him. He was left doubting and in agony for a week. Thomas vowed that he would not believe unless he was able to put his hand in Christ’s side.
Then, eight days later, He appeared again. He asked Thomas to come forward and inspect the wound where on that Friday the Roman soldier had thrust a lance into His heart.
The disbelief of Thomas is not unexpected. And nor is the response Thomas made when confronted with this proof of Christ’s resurrection. Thomas fell to his knees and exclaimed:
“My Lord and My God.”
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio. It was painted in 1602.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most thrilling event in history. It is the confounding resolution to the profound crisis of evil from the Friday before. The Friday showed the full impact of sin: death. The Sunday showed God had the power not only to defeat sin, but to forgive man, even for the suffering we cause the creator.
However, love is nothing if it is not free. We are still free reject Jesus Christ, even if we have a duty to reciprocate His love for us: a love that was prepared to suffer even unto death.
But even if you do not believe that Christ is God, it is impossible to deny the central importance of that Sunday in history. Nothing approaches the stamp of influence that the open tomb has had on world affairs.
Individual men and great governments and powers have been shaped by the ideology of the Man in that tomb; no other force has had so much influence. And that influence was based in the absolute belief that the tomb was open and empty as the sun rose on the Sunday. Without this character and seal to confirm His teaching, His teaching is nothing. If the tomb was not open, Christian thought would have remained firmly shut within it.
And that is what the Sunday is all about.
It is the day life conquered death and forgiveness conquered sin. After the Sunday, every other day would be different.
See also in this series:
- The Sunday before
- The Monday
- The Tuesday
- The Wednesday
- The Thursday
- The Friday
- The Saturday
- The Sunday
I have relied heavily on Guiseppe Ricciotti’s book, Life of Christ, for this article. It was translated by Alba I. Zizzamia and published by the Mercier Press, Ireland in 1955. It carries the imprimatur of the Archbishop of Milwaukee, Moses Kiley, dated 6 February, 1952.