catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 13 :: 2006.06.30 — 2006.07.14


"For they were afraid"

We had dealt with dead bodies before. Even seen our share of crucifixions. So we knew our duty. But never had a duty weighed so heavily upon our shoulders. Never had we experienced such grief.

And waiting only made it worse. Not worse because we knew that every day that passed would bring about the stench of decomposition. For our Lord, that was the least that we could put up with. No, it was worse because added to the cruelty of his death was the indignity of his burial.

We didn’t blame Joseph of Arimethea, the Passover Sabbath was upon us and there was no time. At least he had the courage to ask for the body and the courtesy to wrap it in a linen cloth. The problem was that there hadn’t been time to properly anoint his body—at least that’s what we thought at the time.

As soon as we saw where Joseph laid the body of the rabbi, we knew what we would need to do. Early that Sunday morning, as close to sunrise as was proper, we gathered together some spices and made our way to the tomb.

It all weighed so heavily upon us. It was over. That whole dizzying ride with Jesus was over. And with his execution all of our deepest longings and hopes were crushed. The hope of a dawning kingdom was nowhere to be found on that desolate dawn in Jerusalem.

When hope is crushed all that is left is inconsolable emptiness. The depths of our disappointment left us aching with grief. The transformation that we had longed for—the transformation that we had hoped would come with the kingdom of Jesus—had been rendered impossible by a strange coalition of religious and political authorities.

Nothing had changed. Nothing ever would.

We hadn’t seen the men much that weekend. Rumor had it that they were hiding somewhere; whether out of fear or shame, I don’t really know. And if we had all got together, I am not sure that we would have known what to say.

I did see Peter briefly, but not to talk. In fact he kind of averted his gaze when we passed each other.

You see that was over too, it seemed. The community only made sense if there was Jesus. Or at least it only made sense if there was a loyalty to Jesus. But now we had neither.  Jesus was gone, and the leaders of the community—the inner twelve—had either abandoned him, denied him or betrayed him. It was over, it wasn’t going any further.

With all of this weighing upon us, the three of us made our way to the tomb. And then we realized that even this small act of devotion that was left to us, even this attempt to salvage a little dignity for the body of our Lord, and maybe for us as well, would meet an insurmountable impediment. Who would move the stone?

That stone that enclosed the body of Jesus in that cold tomb, now seemed to bring a closure to our story that was unbearable. This stone seemed to seal Jesus’ fate even as it placed a seal on our disappointment—never to open to hope in life again.

Who would roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb? Who would take the final obstacle, this exceedingly large stone that now seemed to symbolize our deepest grief, and move it away from the tomb?

And then we saw it. Even as we were worrying amongst ourselves about the stone, we looked up and saw it. The stone had already been rolled back.

Without taking any time to think through the meaning of what we were seeing, we entered the tomb. Maybe we wanted to see if tomb robbers had broken in and done even greater indignities to our Lord. Maybe we were worried that someone would have stolen the body. But whatever it was that we were worried about, nothing prepared us for what we met in that tomb.

There was this young man (strangely reminiscent of someone), dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side of the tomb. That was the last thing we expected to find there!  A living man in the house of the dead!

And now our despair, our confusion, our grief, turned into fear. We were alarmed by this man. But before we could say anything to him, he said to us, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth—the crucified one. He has been raised. He is not here. Take a look; there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

We turned around and ran! We ran and ran and ran! We ran out of sheer terror!

And…we said nothing to anyone. You see, we were afraid. We weren’t afraid that the men wouldn’t believe us. We weren’t even afraid of the authorities any more. No, we were afraid that maybe this was true.

We were afraid that maybe the story of Jesus wasn’t over. We were afraid that maybe he really was in Galilee, that maybe the instructions of the young man to us would mean that the community that had abandoned and denied Jesus was to be brought together again and that we were to continue the mission of the Messiah.

We were afraid that everything we had thought and hoped about the Messiah really was coming true but in ways that were totally beyond and even contrary to our expectations. We were afraid that if this story was to start all over again in Galilee, then maybe it would mean that it would all come back to Jerusalem again, that there would be more crosses, and that what Jesus said about us bearing crosses for the sake of his kingdom might really be true.

We were afraid because it was clear that if Jesus had risen from the dead, then he was stilling calling us to a radical and costly discipleship. He calls us, from the other side of the grave, to follow him—not to heaven, but to Galilee; not beyond this world, but right back into the midst of the world that he came to save. He calls us right back into the world of violence and darkness and death that we had so deeply experienced over the last three years, and especially over the last three days.

We were afraid because if Jesus had risen from the dead, then he would call us to practice resurrection.

And so our fear rendered us mute, and we told no one.

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