What exactly happened at the first Easter? We know that Jesus was crucified and that his followers believed that he rose from the dead but beyond that we are left with a mass of conflicting reports as to who was where at any particular moment, what happened to the earth and the sky, and what was said. There are various cartoons which show Jesus speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper and telling them to make sure they get an accurate account of what happens because he doesn’t want different stories all over the place. Yet that is exactly what we’ve got.
But it’s not surprising. I don’t know whether any of you have ever been witnesses to a crime being committed. Many years ago, we lived on the opposite corner to a Chemist’s shop. About 1 o clock one morning I heard a loud bang and jumped out of bed to investigate, convinced that someone was breaking into the house. Having established that wasn’t happening, I looked out of the window to see a number of men in dark clothing running up the street, jumping into a car and speeding off. I rang the police who came round to take a statement. How many men were there? 3 or it might have been 4. What were they wearing? Dark clothing on a dark night so I couldn’t be exactly sure. Later on, they asked me to go to the Police Station to identify the car they had recovered. It might have been the one I saw but one pale coloured hatchback looks much the same as another at that time of the morning. I wasn’t the greatest witness they could have hoped for.
If that was my reaction to a crime being committed, how much harder must it have been for the disciples to witness all these things happening to their friend and leader? They had put their trust in Jesus as the one who was going to transform the world. He had told them about suffering and death and rising on the third day but how much of that had they taken in? And now, here they were in a dark garden with soldiers and temple officials. It must have seemed like chaos. Following an overnight trial from which they must have heard various stories about what happened, Jesus is condemned to die. Most of them either couldn’t stomach going to the crucifixion or they were too afraid to do so. Ultimately, people who are crucified die of asphyxiation so it must have been a struggle at times to catch exactly what Jesus was saying. There are quotes from the Psalms just as we might remember passages of scripture or hymns when we’re in trouble, but others remember other sayings. Were all the so called 7 words from the cross there or did people think they heard different things? It’s amazing how many things people have remembered from my sermons that I’m sure I haven’t said!
And then the resurrection! They’d seen Lazarus but rising from the dead isn’t exactly a common occurrence. They must have been totally confused by this point, especially when you consider that some of the witnesses were women whose testimony didn’t count in a court of law along with angels, appearances in locked rooms and all kind of other mysterious events. When the Gospels come to be written many years later, trying to work out the facts must have been a nightmare. After all, we all have family stories which have a number of different versions depending on who is telling them.
Rather than casting doubt on the events of Easter, this jumble of stories points towards the truth for me. It certainly isn’t a group of people colluding to get their story straight in the hope that somebody will believe them. For 2000 years people have heard the variety of stories and yet believed that Jesus died and rose again for them. By doing that he has transformed their lives and is able to do so for countless others. The precise details don’t matter but the lived-out reality does. This Easter let’s celebrate that Christ died and yet lives for evermore. Hallelujah!