Let’s try an experiment in role-playing. For just a moment, pretend you and your grandmother are very close and have been for a long time. Now in this role, you have deep and dear memories of your relationship, of sitting on “Nana’s” lap as a child, of birthdays and holidays at Gramps’ and Grandma’s house, of watching her tears as they laid her dear husband of so many years into his grave.
Now comes the hard part. Nana’s eyesight is failing; her hearing is almost gone; some days she does not recognize you. Sitting by her side, while reading one of her favorite books to her, she puts a feeble hand to her chest and clutches her left breast. Her breathing is suddenly labored and she lolls her head back into the chair, but she is not relaxed. Realizing something is happening with her health, you dial 911 and call for an ambulance, but seconds later Nana gives a short gasp, her hand droops to the chair, her eyes “fall” open, and her gaze shows an emptiness that tells you Nana is no longer in the room with you.
Weeping, you hold a hand that has been so dear to you as you realize your grandmother is no longer in the shell of a body in front of you, and you wait patiently for the EMTs, kissing her dead hand and remembering all the times you had together. You let go of her hand only to call her son, your father, and give him the sad news that his mother has left this world. The family gathers for the funeral and you help with the body’s hairdo for the casket. You embrace each other as Nana’s casket is lowered into the ground, and you wonder what your new “normal” will be now that she is no longer part of your world.
Three days pass, and a close friend comes to your door, frantically ringing the doorbell, banging on the door with a flat hand. “Come, open the door! Quickly!” this friend is calling as you reach the door. She enters and tells you with a kind of fanatical glaze in her eyes, “You’ll need to sit down for this news! I was just at the grocery store and I met Nana, your grandmother!” HUH?? There has been a mistake; someone who looks like her, obviously.
“At first I thought is was just someone who looked amazingly like her, but then she smiled at me and greeted me by name. She told me she is your grandmother and asked me to come here to tell you she is alive from the dead. She would come, but she was afraid the shock of seeing her would be too hard for you, so she asked me to tell you first.”
Your mind begins to reel as you consider your friend has lost her mind! You were there when Nana died! You helped prepare the body for burial doing Nana’s hair the way she liked it. You saw the casket go into the ground. Nana is dead! your mind insists.
“You have to believe me,” your friend continues. “Nana said she is coming over this evening and wants you to get her family together so you can have a reunion! Think of it! Your Nana is alive again! But she wants to keep it quiet because she does not want news hounds following her around. She does not want a big show or celebrity. She just wants to spend some time with those who know her.” And our role-playing ends here. This seems like quite a stretch of the imagination that a grandmother, dead and buried, could show up at a grocery store and want to meet you again.
Yet this is exactly what the disciples of Jesus faced when He arose from the dead. John and some of the women who attended Him were directly under the cross, so close He could talk with them just before His death. Many of the others had watched from the distance as His body crumpled on the cross as He announced, “It is finished.” The rest had heard the reports from friends and colleagues that He was dead. Several had joined in taking the body off the cross and helped place it in Joseph’s tomb.
There was no question that He was dead. He had not “swooned” under some drug. No one switched the body with someone who was still alive. They knew exactly where the grave was; in fact the Pharisees specifically “marked” the grave by having Pilate place a Roman seal on it and a posting a group of guards. Now came reports from women who had seen him alive. Peter and John visited the grave belonging to Joseph of Arimathea and found it empty just as the women had said. Two disciples from Emmaus, a village most likely about six miles from Jerusalem, had met Him as they walked home.
Then, THERE HE WAS, right there in the room with them! He spoke to them: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at My hands and My feet. It is I, Myself! Touch Me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate it in their presence. He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in My name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:38-48)
And witnesses they were. Like witnesses in a court, they testified to what they had seen and heard, how Jesus had risen from the dead. At one point He was seen by more than 500 of His disciples. And the historical evidence of these things is so solid that some have said there is more proof of Jesus’ resurrection than of George Washington being the first president of the United States.
Now why should we believe these fantastic reports of His resurrection and why does He not appear to all of us if He is still alive? Why not set up an embassy in Jerusalem or Washington? Why not go on a globe-trotting mission and prove Himself to us? We will discuss these questions next week, August 23, 2015. In the meantime, recognize He is risen. He is risen, indeed!