But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
Luke’s gospel pays more attention to women than any of the others, so by reading as far as v.10 “they” of verse 1 is expanded to an explanatory list. The arrangement to meet at dawn at the grave was necessary for the women who were outside Jerusalem to walk round the outside of the walls, those who were inside had to wait for the gates to be unlocked at dawn. The need to wait for daylight meant they could not perform this duty as soon as the Sabbath ended at sunset. Consequently, by counting inclusively this gives us three days. The day of the crucifixion being day 1, the sabbath being day 2 and this, the first day of the week, is the third day.
They supposed it would take a group of them to roll the stone sealing the tomb and must have been relieved if puzzled when they spotted it was moved. Until the startling appearance of 2 dazzling men asking “Why look for the living among the dead?” What a thing to ask! He had been crucified, dead. They knew he was dead, they all had experience of preparing the dead for burial. Life and death were not the sanitised experiences of the 21st Century but raw, hands on, familiar in every family; Joseph of Arimathea was unlikely to be mistaken.
Perhaps they barely took in the following sentence “he is risen”, as they shielded their eyes from the dazzle and grappled with what must have sounded like the wrong question. No one would have bothered to ensure women were familiar with philosophic discussions of the meaning of prophecies. They knew something about prophecies of Messiah but the idea that he would be killed, dead, buried and would rise was obscure. So “he is risen” is a bombshell that we cannot replicate, much better to keep it simple with the statement “after three days he rose again”.
Lord, in all our lives things happen which are difficult to understand and even more to explain. Help us to keep open minds so that dazzling revelations of your truth can be absorbed and handed on. Amen.
The Rev’d Ruth Browning is a retired minister and member of Thornbury URC in Gloucestershire