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Series Theme: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Meditation No. 6
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Meditation Title: Who went where?

Lk 24:9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.


We have just considered in the previous meditation, the existence of ‘free quotations', the cultural characteristic that, as far as the writers were concerned, when it required an accurate citation of another person or being, they needed to only include a correct representation of the content of what the person said and did not expect to cite each word exactly. That allows us to see recorded speech as accurate in meaning even though different words are used. But what about different reports of events; how do we deal with events that are recorded differently? Here again our hearts are revealed. If we are cynical and simply out to destroy biblical credibility because of what we feel about life generally and religious life in particular, then we will take such varying accounts as opportunities to be critical with destructive judgment, often hastily given, without much thought. However, if our desire is to genuinely find the truth, then we will seek to see if it is possible to synthesise the varying accounts to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion that satisfies our intellectual integrity.

The resurrection chapters of the four Gospels are particularly important when it comes to this sort of approach because they mostly all record a specific twenty four hour period of history and there is no room for seeing the accounts as different incidents as so often happens in the earlier parts of the Gospels. Here, and let's say it again, we are dealing with a very tight period of time, a specific set of events, yet we will find that perhaps more happened than we realised at first sight. It is only as we seek to synthesise the accounts that we see what was going on.

Luke, from whom we take today's starter verse, clearly records that it was all the women who returned to tell the men about the empty tomb: “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.” (v.10) and to clarify when they returned he adds, “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb(v.11,12) So the women came back and as a result Peter took off to go and see for himself. Examining Luke's Gospel suggests that one of Luke's sources was probably Mary, the mother of Jesus, and she was an insider who related to the rest of the women and remembered their collective activity. Neither Matthew nor Mark say anything about the interaction between the women and the men back at the house. It is only Luke, in the three earlier Gospels, who has the female input who records this part.

But then we have John, who understands and realises things about the past that the others had not understood or realised. He almost certainly wrote many years later with a much wider perspective on what had happened in those three years, a wider perspective that came with the reflections of old age which so often sees the distant past so clearly and, with the wisdom gained with the years as a major leader. John, as we have commented previously, sees Jesus as the Son of God who came to save the world. He focuses on salvation in a variety of ways, including through specific people. Mary Magdalene was a trophy of grace, having had a very murky background and being delivered of seven demons by Jesus (Lk 8:2) and so now in these end accounts she is a prominent figure. Thus it was John who recorded, “So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!” (Jn 20:2). As John thinks back it is like it was yesterday and he remembers being there when Mary outran the other women and arrived back first with the news which was shortly confirmed by the others. But then we come to the men and the first encounters with Jesus. We have previously considered some of this part in the second meditation but it bears repeating here.

As we previously noted it was only Luke of the earlier three Gospels who covers this and quite simply records: “Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” That's all Luke gives us. It is short and succinct. John however had been involved and so it was especially vivid in his memory: “So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to their homes.” (Jn 20:3-10) John was clearly the other disciple and so includes his own part in it. That deals with the men, but we are not finished with the women yet.

It seems fairly obvious that when the two leading men rushed off to the tomb, the women followed behind. They arrive in the grave area after the men and by now the men have seen it and are leaving. The women look again and then start back. It is at this point that Peter is presumably having the first encounter with Jesus that the Scriptures speak about. Having left Peter, Jesus then encounters the women a little way back from the tomb: “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." (Mt 28:9,10). He sends them on their way and continues back into the immediate vicinity of the tomb where Mary Magdalene is still, pondering all that has gone on. It is there that John records her encounter with Jesus, in her confused anguish believing him to be the gardener at first (Jn 20:11 -18). Finally she returns and tells the others that she has seen him.

Thus we have a very natural coming and going between the house and the tomb. First the women go to the tomb, and then they come back and tell the disciples. Peter and John race to the tomb, slowly followed by the women. The two men leave and most of the women start back, leaving Mary Magdalene there. Jesus meets first Peter, then the group of women and finally Mary on her own. Again, as we have previously commented, here we have a complete blend of the very ordinary born out of ordinary human reactions, mixed with the incredible supernatural – Jesus risen from the dead! Do you see the wonder of these events, and the ordinariness of them? Have you known the experience of God turning up in your very ordinary events? That is what the Christian life is all about.