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resurrection day

Jerusalem always buzzed during Passover, the high-holy day of Jewish culture. But one year was extremely intense—the year crowds hailed Jesus from Nazareth. Popular opinion believed Him to be a prophet, particularly those living outside Jerusalem and its suburbs. Many dared to dream He was more than a prophet. Others feared that possibility.

Might Jesus be Israel’s rightful king—the divinely anointed heir of great king David?
Jesus intensified the speculation by entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey’s colt, exactly as Israel’s prophets had foretold the rightful king would announce Himself. Next day Jesus doubled down; driving out of the temple courts marketeers licensed by the temple rulers. In the days immediately prior to Passover great crowds gathered in the temple courtyards to hear Jesus’ teaching, and to be entertained by His debate with their religious leaders.

Lots of people feared this might not end well. It didn’t.

A combination of bribes, treachery and deception, capped off by an ugly rent-a-mob maneuvered the Roman governor to condemn Jesus—to crucify Him. Crucifixion was cruel, torturous, an ugly death; so grotesque it was an illegal to crucify a Roman citizen.

Jesus was crucified on a rocky rise, immediately outside one of the gates to the city—just above the road. Two criminals were crucified with Him. By late afternoon the criminals’ dead bodies were dragged off to the ever-burning garbage dump in the gulch below Jerusalem’s southeast wall.

Jesus was buried. The Roman governor gave burial rights to a couple of Jerusalem’s leading contrarians—Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus of Jerusalem. Before Sabbath began at sundown Friday, they completed a hasty burial of Jesus in a tomb in a garden, not far from where He’d been crucified.

In Sunday’s pre-dawn gloom, a couple of soldiers would be visible guarding Jesus’ tomb, nearby were a few more around a smoldering fire. The temple rulers had petitioned the Roman governor for a guard in order to avoid any schemes around Jesus’ body. The religious leaders were still paranoid about Jesus.

In Sunday’s predawn gloom a couple of women left the city, heading toward the tomb, carrying ointments to re-anoint Jesus’ dead body. It was customary to re-enter the tomb and anoint a body for 2-3 days after the burial. By a different road a second small group of women walked toward Jesus’ tomb.

Several women planned to visit Jesus’ tomb. Perhaps all the women had arranged to gather at the tomb at dawn following Sabbath. Or, perhaps the different groups were unaware others would come to Jesus’ tomb.

As they entered the garden in which Jesus’ tomb was located, the two women speculate about how to open the heavy stone door. The guard at Jesus’ tomb likely saw the women before they saw the soldiers.

Just as the two women get in sight of the tomb; just as the first rays of the sun emerge on the eastern horizon, a sudden, violent earthquake struck—as if something under the earth ruptured and broke. Before the guard or the women could regain their balance an unearthly and terrifying being appeared, clothed in shining, dazzling garments. As that alien power approached the tomb, the guard—too disciplined to desert but too terrified to confront this intruder—collapsed in fear.

Spellbound, the two women watch that angel move through the cowering guard to the tomb and effortlessly remove the stone that closed the entrance. Then he nonchalantly sat on that stone.

Raising its gaze from the overawed guard, that unearthly person addressed the two women. “There’s nothing to fear here,” the angel announced. “But … why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen, just as He said.” With a sweep of an arm toward the open tomb, “Come, look at the place where He was laid.”

The two women—terrified but obedient—cautiously entered the tomb. It was empty. Terrified they rushed out of the tomb, ran out of the garden and back to Jerusalem without reporting to anyone.

Soon after the first two women fled the angel dissipated, which allowing the guard to slink away. As the last soldier retreated, a second, larger group of women arrived—including Mary Magdalene, Joanna and others. The angel was gone. The guard was gone. Entering the open tomb they found Jesus’ body gone, too. Overcome with emotion Mary Magdalene immediately bolted and ran back to Jerusalem, to report this latest bad news to Jesus’ followers.

The other women, stunned and bewildered, remained inside, speculating what to make of the empty tomb. Suddenly, out of another dimension, two angels, light cascading over them, appeared. The women, awestruck and frightened, bowed before them.

Only one of the angels spoke, “Do not be afraid. I know you came here expecting to find Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, but raised up. Remember what He told you? He would be handed over to sinners, killed on a cross, and in three days rise up. As you can see His tomb is empty. Now—on your way! Report all this to His disciples. Be sure to tell Peter. Jesus will go ahead of them into Galilee. There you’ll see Him.”

Nearly overcome with amazement, joy and wonder, the women ran to report to Jesus’ disciples. In their haste, quite near the tomb they almost ran over Jesus Himself!

“Good morning!” He greeted them. They fell to their knees, embraced His feet, and worshiped Him. “You’re holding on to me for dear life. Don’t be afraid. Go! Tell my brothers that they are to go to Galilee. I will meet them there.”

Now remember, Mary Magdalene had run off before the angels or Jesus appeared. She had run all the way back into Jerusalem and reported to Peter and John. “They took the Master from His tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put Him.” Peter and John dropped everything and ran to the tomb. By the time they arrived the group of women were halfway back to Jerusalem by another route. Jesus, perhaps, was wandering the garden.

John outran Peter, but stopped at the tomb entrance and looked in. It was empty accept for pieces of linen cloth lying where Jesus’ body should have been. A minute later Peter arrived and went straight into the tomb and took in all the details without comment. John followed him inside and quickly concluded Jesus had risen from the dead, even though no one yet understood this from Scripture.

Just as Mary Magdalene caught up with the men at the tomb, John rushed away to report to Jesus’ other followers. Peter could not bring himself to believe the impossible, and began a meandering walk back toward Jerusalem. Somewhere, sometime that day, Peter stumbled into Jesus; or more likely Jesus sought him out. The Bible includes a reference to Peter having a humbling, redemptive, astounding meeting with the risen Jesus.

After John and Peter left, Mary Magdalene remained alone outside the tomb, sobbing. At one point she knelt down to peer into the tomb. Where Jesus’ body had laid she saw what she mistook for two men. Their presence was nonsensical, but nothing made sense that morning. One of them asked, “Woman, why do you weep?”

“They took my Master,” she explained, “and I don’t know where they put Him.” After saying this she turned away, overcome by emotion, tears blurring her vision—stress numbing her mind. Standing quite nearby was someone Mary did not recognize.

“Woman, why do you weep?” she was asked. “Who are you looking for?”

Assuming this was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you took Him, tell me where you put Him so that I can care for the body.”

The stranger responded, “Mary—” Immediately He was interrupted by her shouts, “Master! Teacher!” Mary rushed Jesus and threw her arms around Him.

“Do not cling to me,” reprimanded Jesus, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene didn't want to let go of Jesus, but dare not disobey her Lord. She rushed back to Jerusalem, hunted down Jesus’ disciples and announced, “I have seen the Master!” reporting everything Jesus had said. By midday this news was circulating among Jesus’ followers. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women kept repeating their story, although most of Jesus’ followers could not bring themselves to believe it.

That evening ten of Jesus’ surviving apostles gathered with a few other followers. (Judas was gone, having resorted to suicide. The apostle Thomas was somewhere unknown.) The doors of the room in which they gathered were barred, the windows closed for fear the temple rulers might be searching for them. While the apostles numbly tried to make sense of that chaotic resurrection day, Jesus Himself suddenly appeared among them. “Peace be with you,” He announced.

Some were terrified, assuming this must be a ghost. “Don’t be upset. Don’t let doubting questions control your thinking. Look at my hands, look at my feet—it’s really me. Touch me. Check me out—head to toe. A ghost cannot have muscle and bone like I have.” Jesus then asked for something to eat, and ate it.

A week later this encounter was repeated, this time with Thomas present. During the next forty days Jesus helped them understand the writings of Moses and the Prophets. “You see how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then inexhaustible life through the forgiveness of sin is proclaimed in His Name to all people, everywhere.” ~