some lights are only made brighter
by putting them out.

They found that the stone covering the entrance had been rolled aside.
So they went in, but they couldn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus.
—Luke’s record of the women’s unsuccessful search for Jesus’s corpse
(Luke 24:2-3)

It just wasn’t there.

They’d put his body in the tomb on Friday, but now it’s Sunday and the corpse is gone. Naturally, they thought someone had taken his body. But who? And how ? Here’s how John remembers it (he refers to himself as “the other disciple”): “Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, ‘They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and I don’t know where they have put him!’” (John 20:1-2).

The tomb had been sealed and carefully guarded. Who could have taken his body? Who would have? The women stood there poking around, looking for the body. “They were puzzled, trying to think what could have happened to it. Suddenly, two men appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed low before them. Then the men asked, ‘Why are you looking in a tomb for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He has risen from the dead!’” (Luke 24:4-6).

The first Easter morning wasn’t a triumphal celebration; it was a swirl of confusion and surprise and terror and amazement and wonder.

The body is gone!

The body is gone?

Each of the Gospel writers tells the story a little differently. Matthew and Mark mention that one angel was there to tell the women that Jesus was alive; Luke points out that there were two. John emphasizes the story of Mary Magdalene; Matthew mentions a group of women arriving. Luke records that Peter ran to the tomb; John remembers running there too and actually beating Peter to the grave.

You get the picture. Each eyewitness remembered different details and emphasized different things, just like real eyewitnesses do. Nothing phony is going on here, nothing suspicious. You can tell the writers didn’t get together to try to make sure their facts matched and their stories jibed.

“Okay, guys, one angel or two? What should we say?” says Matthew.

“Two,” says Luke. “Definitely two.”

Matthew nods. “Right. Let’s say two. Everybody got that now?”

John carefully writes the number two down in his notebook.

“Good. Now let’s nail down the order here. First there was Mary Magdal—”

“Actually I was with the other women, Matthew. Then I went to get Peter and John and returned to the tomb by myself.”

“Um, this is getting a little confusing here. Let’s just say first it was the women, then Peter—”

“No, actually I beat him there,” says John. “I’ve always been a pretty good runner—”

“I coulda beat you if I was really trying,” says Peter.

“Could not.”

“Could too.”

“Could not.”

“Could too.”

“Look,” says Matthew. “We’ll just lump you two together, okay? Peter and John.”

“Why can’t it be John and Peter?” says John.

“Oh, brother.”

Instead they just tell it like it is. If you look carefully (as many have done) you won’t find contradictions (as many had hoped) but only unity and excitement rolled together in coherent confusion.

Try this.

Read for yourself the following accounts of that day: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. If you’ll feel better after piecing the four stories together into one unified narrative, go ahead and have at it. Slice and dice. Personally, I like reading them side by side and letting the flavor of each distinct account impact me. That way I get a better feel for the wild ride they were on that day. It was a roller coaster of questions and joy, of doubt and delight. A new chapter of life was being told in their little corner of the universe.

the chrysalis twitches, quivering.
spring pumps
new life through its veins.
and then,
in a moment of birth, like an
exclamation point coming to life,
it splits open and
the forest bows beneath its wings.
winter has lost. the chrysalis has won.
and the butterfly clings to the branch
as the warm breeze
of promised futures
dries its wings.
and finally,
in a moment of complete faith
it lets go and falls into the whirling freedom of the air,
rising on currents of hope that smell like
dew rising to heaven.

easter.

The women had thought Jesus was gone for good. That’s obvious because they went to the grave with spices to put on his corpse rather than an omelet to serve him for breakfast. No one expected him to be alive. No one.

They’d wrapped his body in grave clothes and placed him in the ground. Now they were coming back to finish the job. And when they couldn’t find the body, nobody said, “Well, of course, he’s alive. What’d you expect? He told us a half dozen times he would rise from the dead. Duh.”

None of them had caught on yet.

But then the news from an angel: “He is not here; he has risen! Why look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5 NIV). Hope riding on the storm of confusion. And they’re all disoriented. Like in a movie when the characters find out that they’ve been in a dream or a virtual reality world the whole time.

What’s real? What’s fantasy? If he’s not dead and no one stole his body, then he came back to life, and that’s not possible . . . is it?

Whiplash.

The last three days had seemed like a nightmare, and now everything seemed like a dream too good to be true. The rules of life and death were being rewritten before their eyes. They looked for him in an empty tomb, but he had already left the boneyard to search for them.

And slowly, the truth began to sink in: Jesus had been dead, but he’s not dead any longer. He’s alive. Really, truly alive. John, writing in the third person again, tells about his moment of realization in the empty tomb: “Then the other disciple also went in, and he saw and believed- for until then they hadn’t realized that the Scriptures said he would rise from the dead” (John 20:8-9).

John got it. He finally understood. He believed.

Dawn had come at last.

touching the unseen

you are the sunlight cutting through
the shadows of my forest,
a breeze carrying the seeds of tomorrow.

you tickle the soft rustlings of spring
poking through the soil of my soul,

you carry my dreams to heaven
on the fairy-like wings of spring.
all because death couldn’t hold
down a love as great as yours.

alive.