By Sam Gutierrez
A few weeks back, I noted an observation made by John and Sarah Crossan in their traveling theological investigation called “Resurrecting Easter” where they pointed out that no one was a direct witness of the resurrection of Jesus as it was actually happening. The tomb was sealed. We have direct eyewitness accounts of many moments of Jesus' life – including the key ones of his birth and death, and even his burial. But on Easter morning, Jesus rose from the dead...and no one saw it.
Then I posed the question – why? Why would the climax of the gospels and the most significant event in human history have no eyewitnesses to the “moment” of resurrection?
I’ve been thinking about this over the past few weeks. Here is my best thought:
New Life is an act of faith. The spark of new life is always initially hidden from us. We have to trust that it is happening, even when we have no evidence. Let me give you a few examples to highlight my point.
Every spring, old “dead” seeds sit in the ground waiting for the rain and the warm sun. Long before the green delicate stem pushes and then pokes through the wet and dark ground, the dead seed casing has already broken open and given way to new life. Before green pushes through, we look at the ground and it looks like nothing is happening. New life has begun, but it’s hidden. We only notice it at a later point. With astonishment, we exclaim and point– “look at that!”
The same thing is true of human life. The beginnings of new life are hidden from us. We only see signs of new life as the baby grows in darkness. Then, after 9 long months, we see life – fully formed as it exits the womb. As human beings, (without the aid of scientific instruments) we are not privileged to behold the moment (or spark) of new life.
It’s true that Jesus raised people from the dead in the gospels and there were eyewitnesses to these resurrections. Jesus raised a woman in plain sight of everyone in Luke 7:11-17 – but the difference here is that they were getting their old life back in their old tired body. All these folks eventually died again.
The difference between these “momentary” resurrections and Christ’s “permanent” resurrection was just that – The kind of new life and new body Jesus “awoke” with is a major turning point in history – it was and is unique. And again, we are talking about brand new life – and that, apparently, is a mystery that is too much for us.
So, long before we see signs of new life, we have to trust that it is happening. This is perhaps why “the moment” of Jesus' resurrection had no eyewitnesses.
New life happens in the dark.
By Sam Gutierrez
As a way to live more deeply into the Easter story, I’ve been reading a book by John and Sarah Crossan called Resurrecting Easter. Part travelogue and part theological investigation, the book chronicles the Crossans as they travel and visit multiple ancient Eastern churches and monasteries. In those places, they encounter historical images that reveal a completely different model for understanding Easter’s resurrection story. In the opening chapters, they make a rather startling observation. They simply state,
“The major events in Christ’s life and therefore the major feasts in the church’s liturgy – from the Annunciation to the Ascension – are described in the Gospel stories… but there is one exception to that overall sequence, one event in the life of Christ that is never described in any Gospel story. Furthermore, this is not some minor happening, but the most important and climactic one of them all… this is the moment of Christ’s Resurrection as it is actually happening.” (2)
Isn’t that odd? No one was there to witness the actual moment of Christ rising from the dead. The tomb was sealed. No one went in and no one went out. Later, after Christ’s resurrection, some of the disciples find evidence of the Resurrection – the stone is rolled back, the tomb is empty, the burial shrouds are folded up and placed to the side. An angel sits on top of the stone to say that, “Christ is not here, He is risen.” Later, Mary encounters the already risen Christ and mistakes him for the gardener.
Christ rose, and no one was there to witness the exact moment. No cameras. No infrared sensors. No journalist with a computer ready to capture the moment in words. No breaking news TV crew ready to broadcast “LIVE – from the TOMB!”
Christ rising from the dead was the most significant moment in history and no one saw it. There were eye-witnesses of his birth, his miracles, his teachings, his crucifixion and his burial – but not his resurrection.
This begs the question – why?
If you’re reading this blog, I want you (and us) to sit with that questions for a while. In a few weeks, I’ll follow up with some thoughts of my own. But in the meantime ask yourself the question, “Why were there no eye-witnesses of the actual moment of rising?” and feel free to email me (Pastor Sam) with some reflections of your own.