If someone set out to fabricate Jesus’ Resurrection story, concocting a seditious narrative that would rival Rome’s pagan gods as well as establishment Judaism while catapulting their inner cadre to prominence, the stories they gave us were a piss-poor job.
As rumors of Jesus’ Resurrection spread, there are no brave disciples overturning chariots and marching into the streets. No one says, “See, I told you so.” We don’t have so much as a quiet dinner party with one of the Sons of Thunder popping a bottle of bubbly. Rather, we find disbelieving apostles, frantic disciples sprinting back and forth to the tomb, dumbfounded (though, thankfully, courageous) women and poor Thomas who will never live down that one cynical line, especially since Carvaggio put the image to oil and canvas. Needless to say, the early days of the Resurrection do not offer us a jubilant bunch of Jesus’ followers feeling vindicated and revved to spread the message. They were too busy picking their jaw off the floor.
Two weary, disappointed disciples experienced one of these first Jesus-sightings as they traveled home to Emmaus. Jesus walked up beside them and whether by miracle or grief, we don’t know – but they didn’t recognize their master. When Jesus asked what they were talking about, Cleopas (whose emotions were surely coiled tight) flashed his irritation. “Are you the only one who doesn’t know what’s been going on in Jerusalem?” While it’s likely there were many who paid little attention to this supposed failed prophet’s fate, the irony is that the one receiving the irascible jab was the only one who knew in precise detail exactly what had transpired, all the horror and glory of the preceding hours. To this day, we still ponder what exactly Jesus did in those grey hours, what it means when the Creed announces that Jesus descended into Hades. What loss did Jesus know? What grief? What war did Jesus wage? What love sustained him?
Yet I can’t help but snigger at Jesus’ reply: “What things?” This is Jesus saying, go ahead, tell me about me. Jesus, as is his way, asking a question and opening a conversation.
They did. They told what they knew. A cruel death. Their hopes for a new Israel buried in a hole in rock. We had hoped, they lamented – and those words buckled under the weight of a long, tattered history of tears. Then, an empty tomb. “But no one’s seen Jesus,” they added. The vacant grave was a mystery; but as they saw it, only another cruel blow.
Then Jesus told the broad story, the story as he alone knew it. Jesus unfolded the great drama. Tracing the tale from the writings of Moses and through the writings of the prophets, Jesus sketched what the whole of Scripture had narrated: that One would come from God who, through humility and sacrificial love, would rescue Israel and the world.
The disillusioned disciples needed to tell the things they knew, and these sorrows were excruciating, grievous things to tell. However, even more, they needed Jesus to tell the things he knew because Jesus himself is the story of hope and life.
In our places of rage, fear, desperation, egression or ambivalence, we need to tell what we know, what we’ve experienced, the things that sit heavy on our soul. But even more, we need to hear the story Jesus tells, the story Jesus lives. Our story, left to itself, is not large enough or imaginative enough to envision the full scope. Resurrection happens all around us, but we often need fresh vision to catch sight of it.