After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
On Easter morning, the original bone collectors were busy. The chief priests and Pharisees were worried that the disciples would sneak in and steal the bones of Jesus, so they posted a guard of soldiers to make the tomb secure. As the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb, to check out the body, to pay their respects. No one had any earthly reason to suspect that the corpse would not stay put.
After all, death is death. The end. The final curtain. The last dance. Once in the grave, bones don't tend to move -- for hundreds, thousands, even millions of years.
From time to time, you read news of bones that are believed to be the remains of Jesus. Just last year, Ron Dubay sifted the dust through a small sieve and found two tiny fragments of bone on the cliff-tops above the Dead Sea. Then he heard his partner, Dennis Walker, shout, "Whoa! We got something here." Walker's trowel held three vertebrae. Fighting their excitement, the researchers carefully dusted away for two days, finding skull fragments and the brittle, broken remains of at least one human body.
Dubay and Walker believe their find is important because, among the 1,200 simple graves at this location, only this tomb was inside a purpose-built structure. That may mean that the bones belonged to the "Teacher of Righteousness" mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some researchers are speculating that the teacher may be one of the Maccabean kings of Judea, the apostle James, John the Baptist or perhaps even Jesus himself.
But if they're pointing to Jesus, they've got the wrong man. "He is not here," says the angel of the Lord. "He has been raised" ().
Jesus left no bones, and no body. This is good news for believers, but bad news for bone collectors.
So why, like some of the early disciples, do we still feel a nagging sense of doubt?
For many of us, the resurrection story itself remains a bone of contention, a subject for argument. In a country in which we spend millions of dollars to determine the fate of every single serviceman still missing in Vietnam, we simply aren't very comfortable with mysteries. We want rock-hard facts, empirical evidence, DNA matches and carbon-14 dating. That's why we've got a few bones to pick with the story of the empty tomb.
First, there's the bone of perception. None of us was present to feel the Easter earthquake or hear the angel or see the place where Jesus lay, so we wonder whether the story could possibly be true.
We forget that the resurrection is a faith event, and linear, prepositional arguments will carry little weight for those who refuse to believe. Moreover, it is somewhat problematic to put quite so much emphasis on the perceptions of our five senses. After all, scientists tell us that the earth is spinning on its axis at a speed of over 1,000 miles per hour at this very moment. Yet we have no sensation of motion. At the same time, the earth is soaring around the sun at a speed of 66,000 miles per hour. Do you feel anything?
Our planet is moving at an incredible speed, but we do not perceive it. Christian writer Ron Rhodes says that Albert Einstein made this point by striking two consecutive blows with his fist and saying, "Between those two strokes, we traveled 30 miles." Incredible motion with no perception! Yet we accept by faith that it is nevertheless true.
"The big problem for most of us is that we tend to base everything on what our five senses tell us," notes Ron Rhodes. "And since the spiritual world is not subject to any of these, our faith is often weak and impotent." The resurrection cannot be perceived by our five senses, but that does not make it any less true than the fact that our earth is now spinning on its axis and soaring around the sun.
Then there's the bone of pluralism. We wonder, "How can an infinite God have revealed himself in one man, Jesus? There are so many religions, and so many spiritual paths -- how can we claim Christ to be the way, the truth and the life?"
But the need to broaden our horizons should not get in the way of sharpening our focus on Jesus Christ. Regardless of how God is encountered in the other religions of the world, we are people who have discovered that God has come to us quite clearly in Jesus Christ.
And what a difference it has made.
Our challenge is to conform our lives to what God has done through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, not to make a case for Christ in some imaginary religious courtroom. We strive to love our neighbors -- and even our enemies -- because this is what Jesus demonstrated to be so powerfully good in his own life. We sacrifice for our spouses and children because the cross of Christ shows us the greatness of self-giving. We believe that new life can emerge from crushing defeats because the resurrection reveals the power of God over anything that threatens to destroy us.
Pluralism is not a problem for Christians, because we already know who we are, and, more importantly, whose we are. We are children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, people who have discovered a quality of life that cannot be found anywhere else. Since nothing can change this, our response to diversity should be dedicated discipleship -- showing the world through our words and deeds that we are part of a loving, forgiving and hope-filled family of faith.
After all, history reveals that it wasn't arguments that attracted the first converts -- it was loving actions. According to Yale Divinity School professor George Lindbeck, people did not first understand the faith and then decide to become Christians; instead, "they were first attracted by the Christian community and form of life."
The final bone we often pick is the bone of passion. We hear about the women racing full-speed from the empty tomb, feeling an exuberant mixture of "fear and great joy" (v. 8), but we have to confess that we rarely experience this level of intense emotion. Perhaps we've heard the story so often. Perhaps we don't make the effort to go questing for the risen Christ. Perhaps we're satisfied with life the way it is, comfortable with the status quo, and don't see any reason to complicate it with a fresh and passionate commitment to Christ.
But consider what the angel says to the women at the tomb: Jesus "is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him" (v. 7). Jesus is "going ahead" of us, always ahead of us. If we do not follow him with some enthusiasm, then we will never discover where he is leading us, and we will never become the people he desires us to be.
Several years ago, Lee Strobel, a journalist with the Chicago Tribune, became a Christian and began to open himself to Christ's transforming power. Increasingly, he found that he wanted the motives and perspective of Jesus to be his own. Does that sound "mystical," he asks? Maybe it does.
But it's very real to him now, and to those around him. In fact, he reports that just a few months after he became a Christian, his 5-year-old daughter went up to his wife and said, "Mommy, I want God to do for me what he's done for Daddy."
Here was a little girl who had only known a father who was profane, angry, verbally harsh and all-too-often absent. And even though she had not picked the bones of perception or pluralism or passion, or debated anything else related to the empty tomb, she had seen up close the influence that Jesus can have on one person's life. In effect, she was saying, "If this is what God does to a human being, that's what I want for me."
Maybe it's time to stop collecting bones. Time to toss the tools you normally use in your dry and dusty search for facts and figures and empirical evidence. We've been looking for the risen Christ with the wrong tools. The tools of evidence will not produce the transforming power of resurrection life. We need, instead, to pull out the tools of faith to access the reality of the resurrection. That's not a matter of believing the impossible; it's a matter of trusting the invisible!
Make no bones about it: Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!