After Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.
After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.
Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.
Having told the story of Jesus’ earthly ministry in a direct and uncluttered narrative, Mark rounds off his gospel in a similarly terse and succinct way. In just seven verses we are told of the finding of the empty tomb, the walk to Emmaus, the appearance to the remaining eleven disciples and the great commission to proclaim the good news to the whole creation. However, despite the fast-moving pace of Mark’s account of those post-resurrection days, there is one recurring theme of which we need to take careful note. This theme is summed up in two expressions of doubt: they would not believe it and they did not believe them.
On the first Easter day something happened that was totally unprecedented. The world-changing event of that day had not happened before and will never happen again … a man was raised from the dead. No one can doubt that that man had died. He had been put to death in the cruellest and most certain of ways … he had been publicly crucified. Then came the tales of his resurrection.
As Jesus had predicted throughout his earthly ministry, and as had been prophesied throughout the Hebrew scriptures, Jesus, the Messiah, rose from the dead on the third day after his execution. The risen Christ met with and conversed with faithful followers who, in obedience to his command and in sheer excitement, shared that news with his other followers. But, those other followers would not and did not believe.
It is not uncommon to hear people speak of ‘believing what they can see with their own eyes’, and similar down-to-earth, practical common sensical statements. These self-justifying statements seem logical and reasonable, but they are built on a fallacy. These apparently sound statements presume that those who make them are always right and never misinterpret what they see and hear; they are based on human wisdom, the human wisdom that is folly when compared with the divine wisdom we see in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is easy to imagine the disciples huddling together in despair and fear after the crucifixion. It is also easy to imagine their description of the accounts of those who first met with the risen Christ as ‘wishful thinking’. But, all of this flies in the face of the power of faith. If we will only allow ourselves to believe what we see for ourselves, how can we ever claim to be faithful disciples of Christ? As Jesus says to Thomas: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
The resurrection of Jesus represents an incredible moment in the history of humanity. It represents a moment when God established an unbreakable covenant between himself and humanity for ever. As we pause to ponder on that let us consider that word ‘incredible’ for a moment. Yes, it is used to mean ‘unbelievable’ and ‘difficult to believe in’, but it has other meanings. ‘Incredible’ also means ‘very great’ and ‘unusually good’.
Let us not join in the first, and very human, reaction of the disciples. Let us not focus on the unbelievable, but let us focus more on the very great and unusually good truth of the resurrection. Let us then, in faith and joy, go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.