You don’t need modern science to tell you that dead people stay dead. True, in my lifetime there have been changes of definition – we used to talk of heartbeat or breathing, and now both can be replaced by machines for a time. But if you resuscitate a dying person, you still have to deal with the reason why they were dying in the first place.
So, when Matthew tells us of Easter Morning (Matthew 28:1-10), he is not saying that the crucified and buried Jesus has been resuscitated. He is very carefully saying (as Luke says in Acts 10:40) that Jesus has been raised from the dead. He is the same, and not the same. Recognisably the same person, his body seems to work under different rules, and is clearly not weak and failing.
We’d love to know more. What exactly is involved? How does this happen? And we are not told. Perhaps it would be beyond us. We are given reasons to believe, but no explanation of the mechanism. Matthew is careful to lay out reasons: Jesus had warned his disciples, there was prophecy, the tomb is empty – despite the guard, and the difficulty that causes the authorities. Perhaps most important, I cannot think disciples lived new lives, and went to their deaths, for a lie.
Matthew is keen to explain that the risen Jesus continues the relationship with his disciples that has been the most important part of their discipleship. As time went on during his ministry, they didn’t learn a system, progressing from elementary to standard and advanced. They got to know him, what he was like, what he thought important, how he used the power and gifts of God. That would continue. It might not be an easy beginning: all had made mistakes earlier, but now, they had to come to terms with the fact that at Jesus betrayal and trial and death, they had all failed – seriously. Re-forming that relationship with Jesus would be difficult, but vital.
That is one of the important things about Easter for us. Like those disciples, we face the challenge of building a new life. Even if we have been Christian for decades, it is always a new life, resisting the easy slipping back into the habits and ways of the surrounding world. Can we live in the way he still lives, following his lead, keeping close? It always has been a challenge, and still is. We don’t have to make the journey to Galilee, but seeing Jesus, and what he is doing, is very much part of our Easter agenda.