At the place where I’ll worship this Easter Sunday, we’ll have someone playing the organ, piano and trumpet. Our norm is one instrument – the piano – and during these last 40 days or so, the season of Lent, we’ve softened the music and put away the “alleluias” as a way to remind us of our need for self-reflection and penance. But today is Easter, so we bring out all that is grand to celebrate life over death, hope over despair and joy over sorrow.
On that first Easter morning, however, the scene was much different. The grief of those who had been following Jesus must have been palpable. In the version in John’s gospel, it was one woman, Mary of Magdalene, who went to the tomb first (John 20:1). In Luke’s gospel, we’re told it wasn’t one woman but a group of women who went to the tomb with fragrant spices they had prepared, no doubt to anoint Jesus’ body (Luke 24:1). I imagine a quiet morning filled with only the sounds of their weeping and sighing. They went there to look for Jesus’ lifeless body.
In both accounts of that first Easter story, Peter also plays a prominent role. The one who denied Jesus three times is on the receiving end of the news from Mary in John’s gospel and from the group of women in Luke. In Luke’s version the women not only tell Peter, but they tell all of the apostles. And their response is interesting, isn’t it? The text says that “their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women” (Luke 24:11).
I get that. I live and breathe in a work setting that reveres rational thought and the beauty of the mind. Wrapping my head around something like the resurrection of a body can be beyond my mind’s capacity. I understand this response from the disciples. If the story stopped there, things would be much different. But Peter ran to the tomb. He had to see for himself and look for the resurrection.
There is a line in the Nicene Creed that I love that reminds me of Peter’s journey to the tomb. The Nicene Creed is an early Christian statement of faith that is today the only ecumenical creed since it’s accepted as authoritative by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and major Protestant churches. At the very end of the version we read in the United Methodist Church, we say collectively, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
“We look for the resurrection of the dead” reminds me of Peter running to the empty tomb looking. We’re not sure he totally understood what had happened, but he took the chance and had to look for the resurrection of the dead. In and of itself, that is a powerful statement of faith.
The story that immediately follows this one in Luke’s gospel is about two disciples who encounter Jesus on the Emmaus road, only they don’t recognize him. They traveled for what must have been some distance and Jesus even preached a sermon to them along the way that should have been recognizable. They were sad, even though the women had told them that they found the tomb empty; that they had been told Jesus was alive. When they reached Emmaus, the stranger acted like he was going to leave them. They urged him, though, to stay. They invited him in and shared their food with him.
These followers of Jesus, even though they had not been looking for the resurrection of the dead, demonstrate the traits that they had learned along the way as they walked with Jesus during his ministry. They invited this stranger in to their home as a sign of hospitality, of faith. And when Jesus breaks bread in their home, they see the resurrection of the dead.
Sometimes we’ll be able to see and believe in the resurrection. And sometimes it will have to see us and find us. The point is that keep looking for it, even when it may be impossible to believe.
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University.