Human sin and contradiction lead to the vilest of tragedies. None of these can compare to the crucifixion of the Son of God at the hands of the religious elite of Israel, the very people to whom Christ was sent and who witnessed His many signs. For his followers, the crucifixion was also the end of their hopes for a free and revived Israel. As their collective and individual worlds collapsed, they found themselves locked in fear, in grief and perplexity.
But, it was a woman who came to the tomb first that resurrection morning. Mary Magdalene did not come to see the resurrected Christ but to embalm his body. She came still clinging to the physical Jesus, the one she had seen crucified, pierced and pronounced dead. She had seen Him die and came to honour His memory. Encountering the empty tomb did not quicken faith in her, but led her to believe that His body had been stolen. As she ran back to tell the other disciples, she was overwhelmed with a sense of loss.
The rest of the disciples are hunkered down in fear behind locked doors, and it is John and Peter who run to the tomb and see the grave-clothes. John believes yet Peter is perplexed, yet even John’s faith is incomplete.
But Mary, stays at the tomb, her last connection with the physical Jesus and weeps. God in all His grace, allows her to see two angels who question her grief and prepare her for what is to come. It is at this point that Jesus reveals Himself to Mary, although she does not recognize Him at first. Once she does, her impulse is, understandably, to cling to Him. But the resurrected Jesus now has a glorified body and she is not to relate to Him physically but in a new way. She is commissioned as the first Apostle, sent to proclaim the resurrection to the other disciples. How her heart must have throbbed with joy, expectation, and hope. Jesus has met her in her grief and she believes.
The rest of the disciples, save Thomas, see Jesus that night and He stands in their midst. He pronounces peace to them and commissions them in continuity with His own mission. As the Father has sent Him, so He sends them. He breathes on them and sends the Holy Spirit to empower and indwell. He bestows the proclamation of the gospel and the declaration of forgiveness upon them. The torch of mission has been passed to them.
By Thomas is not present and when he hears, refuses to believe. He is trusting in what He has seen and not in what He has heard. But Jesus, in all His grace, meets Thomas at his need. A week later He invites the disciple to place his fingers into the wounds of crucifixion. Thomas falls down and believes exclaiming “My Lord and my God!” At last he believes.
Jesus then pronounces a blessing on all those who unlike Thomas, will believe without seeing Him. Ultimately the gospel is oral. It is proclaimed. It is also aural, it must be heard. We must not rely on our eyes but our ears. It is not seen but heard. Faith is quickened by hearing the word of God, through the Holy Spirit.
Yet Jesus is intensely personal. He meets each of us in our own need.
Believe it: He is Risen!