Matthew 28: 1-10 RSV
Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre. And behold there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has arisen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you.’ So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold Jesus met them and said ‘Hail!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell me brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
When we recite the Apostle’s Creed we affirm a belief in the “resurrection of the body” – which has long been thought to be one of the defining features of the Christian religion. And the basis of that belief is, of course, what the Bible tells us happened in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ death on the cross. The story of those events is told in several of the Gospels, and though the versions they provide differ slightly on some details, they are in agreement on the essentials. Above all they agree that even though Jesus suffered a bodily death, soon after he rose from the dead (returned to the living) in a form that was in some sense a bodily one. Everything about the tale these passages tell, from the absence of the body in the tomb to the touching of Jesus’ body by his followers, is designed to make this clear, and it is fair to assume this is not by accident. It mattered to the authors of these texts that the story be told in that way.
Our belief in resurrection entails much more, of course, than just that Jesus himself was “raised from the dead.” In large part because of the things the Apostle Paul had to say about the subject we believe in the promise of our own resurrection as well. But we have that hope because of what we think happened first to Jesus.
Good and gracious God, source of all that is truly good in our lives, we do not claim to understand what the Bible tells us happened to Jesus after his death on the cross. Indeed, to us it is great mystery. But we rejoice that it happened, and we give thanks to you for the hope it gives us. In Christ’s name. Amen.