Luke records three separate resurrection stories. He places them in or near Jerusalem, and all on the same day. Our study is on the first of these stories, the story of the empty tomb. The story describes the women going to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body, the message of the angels, the report of the women to the disciples and their response.
v1. Matthew says that the women went to "look at the tomb" on the first day of the week. It is most likely that Joseph anointed Jesus on the Friday afternoon. The usual practice was to anoint the body with perfumed oils, wrap it in a linen cloth or sheet and place it on a bed of spices. The anointing takes place soon after death due to bodily decomposition. So, what were the women actually up to? Had the Sabbath barred their involvement in this act of devotion?
v2-3. The tradition is clear, when the ladies reach the tomb they find the stone rolled aside and the grave empty.
v4. The tradition as to how many angels appeared to the women and whether they were in, or outside the tomb, is unclear. Given the nature of the vision, there is bound to be some conflict among the eyewitnesses. Luke goes with two.
v5. The response of the women is to bow their heads, or more properly, do obeisance - the usual response when confronted with a divine manifestation. The angels go on to underline the significance of the empty tomb - Jesus is alive.
v6-8. While in Galilee, Jesus had prophesied his death and resurrection, Lk.9:22, 18:31-33. The angels remind the women of Jesus' words in the form of a shorthand gospel statement. God's anointed man may be "done in" by wicked men, but "you can't keep a good man down!"
v9. The ladies return to the apostles with the news. The apostles' and some other disciples (probably including Mary the mother of Jesus), are most likely in the city proper.
v10. We are unsure how many women went to the tomb, although Luke lists three. Only Luke mentions Joanna. Interestingly, in Mark the women don't tell anyone what they saw, although Mark uses this to dramatize his ending.
v11. As far as the disciples are concerned, the women's report seems like an "idle tale", nothing more than "nonsense".
v12. None-the-less, Peter (with John, cf. Jn.20:3-9. Note, "companions" plural, Lk.24:24) acts to check out the tomb and finds it empty, with nothing in it but the sheets that once covered Jesus. He leaves "wondering". Going away "wondering" is at least a first step on the road to faith.
Comparing the stories of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the four gospels is an interesting exercise. What we note is that the story of the cross is very similar, but that the resurrection stories and all over the place.
Many liberal scholars have jumped to the conclusion that the stories are later additions to the gospel tradition. Many like to run the idea that Jesus' spirit lives on, his life continues on in the church, but his body is now dust somewhere in a grave in Palestine.
It is clear that the story of the cross was fixed early in the oral tradition of the Christian church, but the resurrection stories seem more fluid. Obviously, the gospel writers happily selected from the tradition to suit their own ends. The short ending of Mark's gospel is particularly notable. Luke, on the other hand, selects three resurrection stories from the oral tradition and ties them closely to Jerusalem. For Luke, the gospel moves from Jerusalem, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, namely, Rome.
The resurrection stories were preserved because they were true, and the truth of the event proclaimed two powerful ideas:
i] The cross of Christ is only part of the story. The focus of gospel preaching in Acts is very much on the resurrection, especially when the hearers are Gentiles. Even Paul develops a full theology of the resurrection along with the cross: Christ "was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification", Rom.4:25. In simple terms, because Christ lives we may live also.
ii] We know from 1 Corinthians that some believers doubted the bodily resurrection of Christ and therefore, the bodily resurrection of believers. The Greeks saw the body as worthless matter which should be separated from pure spirit. This view infiltrated the early church and ended up as a full blown heresy known as Gnosticism. The same heresy, in the form of New Age philosophy or Eastern Mysticism, is around today. The New Testament tradition proclaims that Christ rose bodily, that the tomb was empty. As he rose, so shall we rise. Our body is not worthless, is not a hindrance to the spiritual life. Our senses, feelings and thoughts are not evil in themselves. In fact, the body, with its years of experience in this age, will pass with us into eternity and serve us there as it has here. Yes, of course, it will be transformed as Christ was transformed, yet what we are remains an integral part of what we will be.
So then, on this Easter morning let us proclaim "Christ is risen - he is risen indeed."
Read the four gospel accounts of the resurrection and note the similarities and differences.