I cannot read the resurrection accounts without having my mind drift back to a summer evening of my childhood.
We were outside, wrangling livestock. I was there, my sister, my mother and father, and their friends Harvey and Mildred. I was maybe 10, 12. I remember that I had a plier pocket, my pride and joy, a sign that I was big enough to be expected to work.
As we were working we suddenly heard a terrible “Boom!”
All eyes went to the top of the hill a half a mile away, and a cloud of white dust.
It was summer time, and the corn was tall.
Summer time, and the crushed limestone rock roads of my county were packed hard, with the marble-like loose rocks scattered on top that tires could not grip.
That particular hill was notorious for being a place where you could not see oncoming cars from either direction.
Two cars had come from right angles, one from the north over the crest of the hill, one from the west, up the steep incline, both traveling faster than they should have been, and both by means of the cosmic forces of fate and choice arriving at the intersection at exactly the same time. They did not see each other until the moment of impact. There was no sound of crunching, skidding, only—-
Immediately my father and Harvey ran to the pick-up, and started up the road to offer assistance on the way.
Mom grabbed my sister and ran to the house to call the sheriff, to get assistance on the way.
I stood there with Mildred, and I distinctly remember us looking up at the hilltop. It is an image emblazoned in my mind. Only one car was visible as the dust began to settle. The other was out of sight except for eventually a wheel we could make out in the ditch.
I see my father’s white 1963 Chevy pick-up heading up the hill, dust cloud forming behind it.
And then it is that Mildred says, “It can’t be too bad, I see two of them walking around up there.”
And indeed, I did too, two figures dressed in white, walking around in the road.
You know where this story is going, and why I can’t read the resurrection accounts without it popping back into my mind.
When my Father and Harvey got to the crash site, it was painfully clear that no one was walking around, nor could they have been.
So what was it that Mildred and I saw? How do you explain two figures in white walking in the roadway?
All of the Gospel writers agree on this detail of the story of the Resurrection. Someone in white shows up. In all the Gospels, those who meet these apparitions are not exactly sure what to do with them.
In Mark, the women flee from the tomb out of fright when they see the figures in white.
In Matthew, the women hurry away afraid, but filled with Joy about what they have said.
In Luke, the women bow down with their faces to the ground and listen to their words.
But in John, Mary’s response to the Angels perched there is flat, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” She does not quite know what to make of them, or of their question, she appears just stunned.
And so it is on Easter, that we are not quite sure what to do with their witness either, or what to do with their question, or what to do with this insistence by these witnesses that Jesus is risen from the dead, and that these figures in white announce it.
To this day I do not know what we saw up there on the hill. Lingering puffs of dust? Angels? The Spirit of the departed? Ghosts?
I do not know.
I only know that what I saw was powerful enough to stay with me for now over 40 years, and will likely be with me as long as I live.
I only know that when we saw them walking around, the thought we had was “This must not be too bad.”
Perhaps that is the way it is in these accounts as well. These apparitions in white that we cannot fully explain, don’t know quite what to make of, are there as a sign of the mystery that cannot be explained, a mystery that will not leave you alone.
Even though Jesus spoke of the resurrection to his disciples, they did not expect it. They were not camped out at the tomb on Easter morning with their “Welcome Back” banners in hand. They are as dumbfounded as we are as to what this really means, and what it means for them.
They will spend the next 40 days being coaxed back into life and action by the Risen Lord, who will appear to them over and over again until they finally understand that somehow, mysteriously, death cannot hold him down, and the world is somehow changed.
After the “Boom” of the stone cracked and rolled away, Jesus is liable to show up anywhere.
After that Boom, crack and roll, the apparitions in white somehow tell us this can’t be too bad, this death thing.
God and God’s Kingdom is now somehow closer than it has ever been before.
People will behave differently because of this.
That’s what the Resurrection points to.
So, I do not know how it will affect you.
I do not know how you will respond to it. There is nothing predictable about this when you encounter it.
You may run fear.
You may excitedly tell others of it with a little fear, and a lot of joy.
You may in hushed silence ponder what it means to you as you hear it.
Or, it may just perplex you, leaving you flat and dumbfounded, stammering and staggering around still looking for something that you still cannot find.
The good news on Easter is that all of those end up being faithful responses to trying to figure out what to do with an empty tomb, apparitions in white, and words of assurance. “He is not here, he has risen just as he said.
I do not know what to make of the figures in white on the top of the hill.
I do not know what to make of the figures in white at the Empty Tomb.
I only know that they are powerful enough to stay with me likely as long as I will live. And, what they bear witness to tells me that God is mysteriously nearer than I think, and is able to outlast this life.
“It can’t be too bad, I see two of them walking around.” Amen.