The Easter stories are full of people getting the wrong end of the stick. Mary thinks Jesus’ body has been stolen. Peter sees the linen wrappings and can’t work out what it’s all about. The disciples didn’t understand the scriptures. The angels question Mary and she still doesn’t know what’s going on. Then she thinks Jesus is the gardener. Then, it seems, she reaches out to cling on to him, and he tells her she mustn’t. You could hardly get more misunderstandings into a couple of paragraphs if you tried.
And the point is, of course: Easter has burst into our world, the world of space, time and matter, the world of real history and real people and real life, but our minds and imaginations are too small to contain it, so we do our best to put the sea into a bottle and fit the explosive fact of the resurrection into the possibilities we already know about.
At one level, of course, the continued puzzlement of the disciples is a mark of the story’s authenticity. If someone had been making it all up a generation later, as many have suggested, they would hardly have had such a muddle going on. More particularly, nobody would have made up the remarkable detail of the cloth around Jesus’ head, folded up in a place by itself, or the even more extraordinary fact that Jesus is not immediately recognised, either here, or in the evening on the road to Emmaus, or the later time, cooking breakfast by the shore. The first Christians weren’t prepared for what actually happened. Nobody could have been. As one leading agnostic scholar has put it, it looks as though they were struggling to describe something for which they didn’t have adequate language.
But this problem isn’t confined to the first century. Ever since then, people have tried to squash the Easter message into conventional boxes that it just won’t fit.
29 April 2019
Monday of the 2nd week of Eastertide pic.twitter.com/gk2cJNjKOf
— Kalina Boulter (@KalinaBoulter) April 29, 2019