There's a huge hole in the timeline of the day Jesus was resurrected...
The Second Sunday of Easter
When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, so that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.’
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
To see what I mean about the hole in the timeline we need to look at what John records as having taken place. He begins this passage by saying that it was evening on that, the first day of the week. So it's Sunday evening. The timeline so far, according to John, is that at daybreak that morning Mary Magdalene has arrived at the tomb of Jesus and found it empty. She's then gone rushing back into the city to the safehouse, probably the same place as the Upper Room, where the disciples are holed up in fear for their lives, to tell the disciples that the body has gone. Immediately Simon Peter and the so-called 'other disciple', who most of us take to be John, the author, run to the tomb. When they get there and see that the tomb is empty, John records them as saying, (in 20:8-9), that they saw and believed, for as yet they didn't understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead. In other words they saw for themselves that the tomb was empty and they believed, not that Jesus had risen, but simply they believed that Mary was telling them the truth; the body was gone. So they returned to Jerusalem. Mary, however, stays there weeping and thus perfectly places herself to be the first person to whom Jesus shows himself. At the end of the reading for Easter day it says that Mary Magdalene went back to the disciples to proclaim to them, 'I have seen the Lord'.
Now, by my guess, if sunrise around this time of year is going to be somewhere between 6 and 7am, that's going to be when Mary finds the tomb empty. The tomb is not going to be far outside the city walls and she's running. So maybe half an hour to get Simon Peter and John out to see the tomb for themselves. Let's give it an hour to be on the safe side given that they were all running but we don't know where in Jerusalem she'd had to go to. That suggests that probably by 8am the two apostles have been out and seen for themselves that the tomb is empty. Therefore by 9am Mary has met the risen Jesus and then hurried back into the city. That means that by midday at the latest she has told them all what she has seen. That's the end of verse 18, the end of the reading for Easter Sunday.
Now, if it was you and one of your number came in to say Jesus has risen from the dead, what would you do? You see there is a massive hole in the day here, pointed out by author Scott Hoezee. By my back-of-an-envelope calculations verse 18 has us no later than lunchtime. But today's reading, starting at the very next verse, begins, 'When it was evening on that day...'
John tells us that they were locked in for fear of the Jewish leadership. If you're not sure what this means it's because usually, when there is a political troublemaker, one first removes the leader, then you take out all the key followers. So John seems to be suggesting that they had locked themselves away and were in hiding for fear that this is what would happen to them. Yet when Mary Magdalene had first arrived there in the early morning, Simon Peter and John had gone running to see for themselves, so they overcame their fear of the Jews pretty swiftly then. And by lunchtime Mary had told them the good news, yet by the evening what are they doing?
They're still sitting inside with the doors locked.
And here is where there is a gaping hole in the timeline. What would you have done if someone had told you that the Lord is risen? Would you still have been locked away or would you have gone to see for yourself? Yet here they are, locked in their self-imposed safehouse.
I have this mental image of Jesus sat by the tomb looking at his watch and tapping his feet wondering why no one has come looking.
So why didn't they? Why did no one else come and see?
The answer to that could be quite interesting. The first possibility is that they simply didn't believe Mary. After all they lived in a culture in which women could not be called to give legal testimony in a court of law because their testimony was deemed not to be trustworthy enough. Mary had a track record of presenting as if possessed by seven demons, either because she had been or maybe because she had suffered what we would think of as a mental illness. Or maybe both. Either way, it's not impossible to imagine a scenario in which the disciples listen to someone that they count as what we could once have called a 'hysterical woman' and simply dismiss her testimony as the ravings of someone whose grief had put her back to the state of mind she had been in when Jesus had healed and delivered her. Given the male ego, it's not too difficult to imagine this as a possibility.
You could perhaps picture Mary becoming steadily more infuriated with them.
But then, what if they had believed her? After all Simon and John believed her testimony earlier on, so maybe they believed every word she said to them. Early evidence suggests Mary was very influential. Why then did they still stay put and not go searching for Jesus? Could it be that, not only were they afraid of the Jewish leadership, but maybe they were also afraid of Jesus too? Think about it for a moment. One of them had betrayed him, although admittedly he was never coming back so they could disown him. But Peter had denied he'd ever known Jesus and the other disciples had scattered as soon as it became clear what was going to happen. The beloved disciple, we think John, was the only one of the twelve who had stayed the course.
Remember that when Jesus had first met Simon and 'borrowed' his fishing boat to give him a platform on which to preach, after being on the receiving end of a miraculous middle-of-the-day haul of fish, Simon had said to Jesus, 'Get away from me for I am a sinful man.' Simon already thought very little of himself, which may have been behind all the bluff and bluster. Now, with the events of the previous three days he had fully reinforced his self-image as a sinful man who had turned tail and run away.
Remember also that the general impression at that time was that the Messiah, the Christ, when he came, would be a political leader who would deliver the Jews from Roman oppression, yet the disciples had hardly shown themselves as decent soldiers; quite the opposite in fact, despite Jesus' words to them to put away their swords.
So I imagine them as being a desolate bunch who are holed up feeling miserable and confused, unsure of what they should have done and sure that what they did do was the wrong thing, and now Mary tells them that Jesus is risen from the dead. Given all of that knowledge, now what do you think you'd have done? If it's true then Jesus is the most powerful man in the world and you deserted him. Would you go looking for him?
Or would you hope to God that he wouldn't come looking for you?
So is it possible that actually they haven't gone looking for Jesus because they're scared of what he would do if he ever saw them again? Is their fear of the perfection of Jesus inhibiting them from seeking him out and being of use to the kingdom?
But then note the very first thing that Jesus says to them after he's become tired of waiting and gone to see them. His first words to the disciples are, 'Peace be with you.' Can you imagine the collective sigh of relief that such a greeting would have elicited from them? Can you imagine the anxiety flowing away as they realise that he knows them, he knows what happened, and that everything is still OK between them? Granted that in the next chapter he's going to make Peter face up to the reality about himself if he's going to be reinstated. But nevertheless, his first words to them are ones of reassurance.
So how is it for us?
You see I think that, for many of us, in order to be effective in our lives and as Christians, the words we most need to hear is Jesus saying, 'Peace be with you'. Not only is any kind of peace sadly missing from the lives of many of us, there is also that simple need to recognise that the whole point of the Easter story, the whole death and resurrection of Christ was all about reconciliation.
It all boils down to God the Son being able to say to all those who put their faith in him those four simple words, 'Peace be with you.' But those words convey a universe of reassurance. They say to us that no matter how badly we have let God down, let ourselves down, let our families or our friends down, Christ comes to us and says, 'Peace be with you.' But, and it's a big but, it doesn't stop there. This is about a lot more than some psychological healing of memories. This is about far more than some new age touchy-feely, 'There there, everything's going to be OK.'
Yes it is going to be OK. Yes it is OK. But that is only the beginning of the story.
Look at what happens next. Jesus breathes the breath of the Spirit of God on to them. Don't get caught up in the differences between this and the Day of Pentecost right now. That's another story for another day. Instead simply take note that following the decisive statement of peace between them and him, between them and God, he commissions them and gives them the Holy Spirit of God in order to be able to fulfill that commitment. So much does this change them that before long, as recorded in the Acts passage above, they are willingly standing up before the very people from whom they ran away, and declaring that they obey God not human authority, and boldly speaking out the Gospel of forgiveness of sins through Christ.
Now I get a bellyful of 'memes' on the internet which say all sorts of lovely things that stroke our egos and are meant to make us feel better about ourselves. But this, to me, means more than any of it. Jesus says, 'Whatever has gone before, and however much you will screw it up in the future, “Peace be with you”. Now go and tell the world that there's peace between us.'