by Rev. Antony W. Ball
Lk xxiv 41b, NEB
Time and again Jesus told His disciples that He would have to suffer and die, and also that He would “rise again” – whatever that meant – on the third day. When it happened they simply didn’t believe it. To be fair to them, when you’ve seen your friend publically executed by being nailed to a cross, and you’ve seen His body pierced with a javelin before being taken down, wrapped in a shroud and stuffed into a tomb, then you really don’t expect Him to reappear, whatever He might or might not have said.
It was all happening in the ‘Upper Room’ on the evening of Easter Sunday. Jesus had been executed by the Romans on the Friday – Good Friday – and nothing special had happened on the Saturday, but strange things began to be reported on this ‘third day’. Mary Magdalene claimed that she had seen Jesus near the tomb – but had initially thought Him to be a gardener. Peter and John had found His tomb to be empty, but maybe someone had simply taken His body, except Peter claimed to have seen Him alive. Now two other followers had arrived in that Upper Room, claiming to have seen Him on the road to Emmaus – and had had a long conversation with Him before realising who He was, at which point He had ‘vanished’…
As they were talking about all this, there He was, standing among them.
Startled and terrified, they thought they were seeing a ghost.
But He said, ‘Why are you so perturbed? Why do questionings arise in your minds?
Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself.
Touch me and see; no ghost has flesh and bones as you can see that I have.’
They were still unconvinced, still wondering, for it seemed too good to be true.
So He asked them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’’
They offered Him a piece of fish they had cooked, which He took and ate before their eyes.1
I’m re-telling this familiar story to emphasise how sceptical those first disciples were. They were not naïve, gullible people ready to believe anything anyone told them. When something happened that seemed too good to be true, they assumed that it was too good to be true. As Christians we are sometimes accused of being too trusting. I lost count of the number of boys who asked me, when a schoolmaster, “Oh sir, you don’t really believe all that, do you?” – they were presuming that our Easter story, along with other stories they’d heard from the New Testament, was the kind of children’s story they should be ‘growing out of’ along with fairy tales and Father Christmas. There are many stories in the Bible, from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to Jesus’ parables, which we can argue may or may not have happened, but the resurrection is not one of them. As Paul put it…
If there be no resurrection, then Christ was not raised;
and if Christ was not raised, then our gospel is null and void, and so is your faith;
and we turn out to be lying witnesses for God…2
1 Lk xxiv 36-43 NEB
2 1 Cor xv 13,14, NEB