” . . . he went home, amazed at what had happened.” Luke 24:12
Perplexed: terrified and amazed: Saint Luke expresses the mood on that first Easter morning in three words.
In Chapter 24 he tells us that very early on the Sunday morning the women had gone to the tomb with spices. The stone at the entrance had been rolled away and they had gone inside to find that Jesus’ body was gone. Verse 4 says, “they were perplexed about this.” The word “perplexed” captures a sense of what the women must have been feeling, a sense of frustration, a sense of confusion, a sense of anger.
Being perplexed is a familiar feeling in Scripture. If we think of Moses and Elijah, Jesus’ companions at the transfiguration, we see in their stories how they would have understood the feelings felt by the women. We think of Moses, in Exodus Chapter 32, coming down the mountain with the tablets of stone to find that everything has gone wrong, that the people have turned away from God, and Moses is perplexed. He smashes the tablets of stone at what he sees. We think of Elijah in the First Book of Kings Chapter 19, Elijah who has been faithful to God and whose life has been threatened by Jezebel and who is hiding in the cave and who is perplexed at the way things have turned out.
Being perplexed is the experience of the women and is part of the experience of faithful people throughout the generations. There are times when we all feel frustrated and confused, times when life seems beyond our understanding. When we feel perplexed at what is happening, perhaps we might think of those women going to the tomb and try to imagine how they felt and imagine what good news awaited them. However perplexed we may feel, we have the good news the women heard.
The emotion becomes deeper, from being perplexed, the women become terrified. Saint Luke continues in Verses 4-5, “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.'” The Greek word for terrified is “emphobon”, it comes from “phobos”, from where we get our words “phobia” and “fear.” The women meet with the angels and are filled not with joy, but with terror.
Being terrified is maybe something we do not expect for those who have been faithful, but when we look at the experiences in the Old Testament, when we look at the encounters with God of the lawgiver Moses and the prophet Elijah, we see that fear is a natural human response to meeting with God. Moses encounters God in the burning bush in Exodus Chapter 3 when Moses was minding the flocks and Moses is afraid to look at God. When the Lord appears in the First Book of Kings Chapter 19, Elijah is reassured but also terrified; he wraps his face in a corner of his cloak because he cannot bear to face God. The women are terrified by the angels because they are messengers of the God who inspires fear.
If we had been there, we would have shared the women’s feelings. If we take God seriously, we are joyful, but we are also fearful. If God raises his Son from the dead, what is there that he cannot do?
From perplexity, through terror, the story reaches a sense of amazement. The women return from the tomb and they tell the disciples what they have seen and heard and the women are greeted with disbelief by the disciples. Verse 11 says, “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Among the disciples, Peter is prepared to believe what he has heard, Verse 12 says, “But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.” Amazement is the experience of those in the Scriptures, it is the experience of Moses and Elijah. Moses’ encounters with God are such that his face is shining afterwards and he has to cover his face before meeting people. Elijah’s ministry is filled with moments of amazement when God does astonishing and unexpected things. Peter knew the Scriptures, Peter knew to expect that God would do something amazing.
Our faith should be filled with amazement. The Easter story is the most amazing piece of good news. There can be no news greater than that the power of death has been broken and that we have the chance to live forever. Peter goes home, amazed at what had happened. Each time we hear the story, we should go home, amazed that this story is for us.
Perplexed, terrified, amazed: three experiences that first Easter morning, three experiences that challenge us to think. Are we like the disciples who believe it was an “idle tale” or are we like Peter, prepared to see for ourselves?