Luke: 24:9 When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. … 11 Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. 12 But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.
Matthew: 28:8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of 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.”
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
Three Endings — One Directional Arroe
The synoptic gospels represent the church’s trying to make sense of the life, mission, teachings, and death of Yeshua. This had become important because the early church not only was seeking to follow in the Way Yeshua taught and lived, it was continuing to experience Yeshua’s presence in the midst of its members lives. It was as if Yeshua had not died. Paul captured this experience in his term “the body of Christ.” It was not resuscitation of Yeshua’s dead body that they had been experiencing, but a resurrection, an abiding presence. The abiding presence of Yeshua (that abiding presence was now referred to as “Christ”) seemed caught up in the parable of an empty tomb. Each of the synoptic gospels (Mark, Luke and Matthew) found different meanings in that parable.
The story goes something like this: It was the first Sunday after Yeshua had been put to death.
When the women (the first responders, representatives of the church’s front-liners) went to the tomb they were shaken at the very core of their beings. It was as if the tomb were empty. Something had happened which initially confused and dumbfounded them. Quite frankly, they were spooked and haunted by what they saw and heard in their inner selves. The women (and the church as a whole) were experiencing a new calling that seemed to have its origin in Yeshua, himself. Somehow they just knew that the tomb was not able to hold Yeshua. It was as if he, himself, were talking to them, leading them, as if he had never left them. That insistence, that calling, that presence was almost more than they could comprehend; and yet it was as familiar as a beckoning greeting from Yeshua, himself. At this point, each the three synoptic writers pens a distinctly different conclusion.
For Mark, the women fled in terror and say nothing to anyone. That very natural reaction to the the response of fear was not satisfactory for many, so two additions were added to Mark’s account in order to bring the story more in line with the church’s desire to move ahead as its members followed in the Way. Mark, however, is true to the primary response of people when directly encountering Mystery, Spirit, the Other, Thou, God – namely, fear and trembling. Mark doesn’t sugar coat it, instead he tells it as it is. The initial response of Yeshua’s followers was to abandon the mission, to abandon Yeshua himself. Today we, too, often shrink from the responsibilities of being followers of the Way of Yeshua – witness prayers of confession in the litanies of public worship.
For Luke, the ending is a little more nuanced. The women do “go and tell” but their message is received with disbelief – “They are speaking nonsense.” If Mark has presented the response traditionally accorded to women – namely, they are so caught up in their emotions that they don’t act – Luke picks up on the response of the men – retreating into their heads and dismissing the emotiveness as nonsense. Only Peter (brash and reckless as was his wont) pays attention and rushes headlong to the tomb to see for himself. He retreats in wonder, not quite sure what to make of this empty tomb (that is, what to make of this abiding presence in their midst). He wonders, as we often wonder.
For Matthew, however, the abiding presence is easily explained. The women were quite sure that what they had experienced — namely, the continuing lively presence of Yeshua — was available to the whole community. That presence came as an insistence, an invitation, a calling, which death could not extinguish. And where would they experience that living presence, that insistence, that calling?
Here all three accounts agree. The abiding presence (which produces fear, wonderment, and joy) would, of necessity, lead the disciples back home to the Galilee. They, as we, must live into that abiding presence in the normalcy of day-by-day lives. Of course, their lives (as ours) would never be normal again.
Fear, wonder, and joy fill us all as we engage the abiding presence of Yeshua, whom we call the Christ. Joy is not a better response than wondering; fear is not worse than joy. They are simply three of a much broader catalogue of responses to Mystery’s abiding presence. All three can be either stumbling blocks (moving away from Mystery) or stepping stones (delving more deeply into the Mystery). It is not so much how we respond; instead is more about how we respond to our own inner response.
A friend wrote:
How easy we get into trying to explain what we experience in concrete terms. I experience this insistence that keeps me upset and tied in knots and as I tried to figure out what was happening Then I noticed a cloud configuration in the sky … The bible fell open on the floor and when I picked it up I discovered a verse underlined … The quiet of the day seemed to enfold me as if I was in someone’s hand … I felt a confirmation and a peace with my decision. As I look back I felt a need to tie it to something tangible.