A man called Joseph, a Jewish leader, found the courage to go to Pontius Pilate, who had signed Jesus’ death warrant. Joseph wanted permission to have Jesus buried with dignity. On the evening Jesus died, a Friday, this was done at speed. Jesus’ corpse was placed in a cave-like tomb and a boulder was rolled across the entrance.
The usual rituals to accompany a burial could not happen that evening because the Sabbath (the Jewish holy day) was about to begin. Jesus’ followers passed the Saturday stunned at the tragedy they had just experienced, and waiting for Sunday. At some point during that time, in the silence and darkness behind the tombstone and unseen by anyone, God raised Jesus from the dead.
Forty hours after they had witnessed Jesus being crucified, his remaining disciples were gathered, frightened and grief-stricken. A group of agitated women burst in on them with a message that they greeted with incredulity. The women had been to the tomb and had seen Jesus, but not dead in his tomb as they had expected. He was alive! The men were initially sceptical, but then ran to the site. They found what the women said to be true.
The four stories of Jesus’ life that are preserved in the Bible differ in their accounts of what happened. Between them they describe the women who had been Jesus’ closest followers arriving to embalm the body, but finding the aftermath of an earthquake. The boulder had been rolled away and Jesus’ shroud discarded. An angel announced to them that Jesus had risen from the dead. A man approached Mary Magdalene, who was out of control with tears. She assumed him to be a gardener. She only recognised that it was Jesus when he spoke her name.
Jesus subsequently appeared to his followers in groups over a period of six weeks. The eleven remaining disciples (Judas had committed suicide) encountered Jesus in a locked room. They were convinced of what had happened when he showed them his wounds and ate food with them. Others met with Jesus as they walked on a road out of Jerusalem, or next to the sea at Galilee as they pulled their fishing boats to the shore.
All the descriptions struggle to convey something unique. This was not just a body that had resuscitated, because Jesus could come and go at will, even behind locked doors. But although the witnesses described Jesus as more than flesh and blood, they could touch the physical scars that were still on his body.
The eyewitnesses were clearly confused by these events, so doubt and worship went side by side. Although the appearances were frightening at first, increasingly Jesus’ followers found them to be joyful and heartening.
The last occasion, known as Jesus’ ascension, took place on a hill outside Jerusalem. Jesus challenged his followers to take his teaching and the story of his life worldwide. He wanted them to create new followers of his way wherever they went. He told them that he would not be visible to them from that moment on, but that they would experience his presence in a way that felt equally real. Not only those who had walked and talked with him, but others in all times and places would discover his promise to be true: ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
Jesus’ first followers expected that this ‘end’ would take place very soon. They anticipated that Jesus would return triumphantly, and they expected the Kingdom of God (about which Jesus spoke so often) to be established in a glorious manner ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. Writings in the New Testament show that, over time, they came to realise that the return of Jesus would take longer than they anticipated. They recognised that creating the Kingdom of God, a world that is fair, peaceful and free of suffering, was and is the responsibility of all followers of Jesus.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
What I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
Where to find it:
1 Corinthians 15:3-6
About these words:
This is the first detailed description of what happened when Jesus rose from the dead. It comes from a letter that Paul, one of the Christian church’s first missionaries, wrote in (probably) 54, about twenty years after the event and many years before Jesus’ full life story was recorded in the gospels. All four gospels describe events in which the risen Jesus meets his followers, but the accounts all differ from each other.
And they said…
Barack Obama, President of the United States of America:
This Sunday I will celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the salvation he offers the world, and the hope of Easter.
Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1904-1988:
No resurrection. No Christianity.
Augustine, African bishop, 354-430:
We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.
After a performance of John Stainer’s classical music oratorio ‘Crucifixion’, the choirmaster of All Saints’ Church, Hordle, in Hampshire, put up a notice in the choir vestry: ‘The Crucifixion – well done everybody!’ By the end of the day, someone had added:
The Resurrection – well done God!