So, with Easter Sunday now behind us, and with Pentecost not yet upon us, we are in a part of the Christian story that doesn’t often get much attention. We are in the awkward space following the resurrection, before the giving of the Holy Spirit, when there is a slowly, dawning consciousness amongst some of Jesus’ disciples that Jesus is, in fact, risen from the dead.
As we look at these stories, it’d be good for us to be honest about something. The Gospels do not end in the way you’d expect. One of the core disciples dies by suicide. The male apostles don’t believe the women’s stories. Seeing Jesus alive the disciples are afraid, unsure what to do, and doubting. The original ending to the Gospel of Mark reads: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mk. 16:9) The penultimate verses of the Gospel of Matthew read: “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted” (Mt. 28:16-17).
Not exactly a Hollywood ending. And for many of us, that’s hard. Many of us would prefer a Hollywood ending. So, it seems, did some Christians living a few centuries after our Gospels were written, who added ten verses at the end of the Gospel of Mark–about the disciples driving out demons, doing signs and wonders (even snake handling), and Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
It’s tempting to project confident self-assurance into the gospels. But, it’s not what they teach. Sure, Jesus did some signs and wonders during his ministry. But they were never the focal point, and he often told eye witnesses not to tell anyone what they’d seen. If you think of Jesus as God incarnate, you have to admit the scope of his ministry was shockingly small–localized to a few backwater regions in a tiny outpost of the Roman empire. And even there, he worked primarily amongst those who had no social capital–carpenters, fishermen, tax collectors, and so forth. All this, of course, leading up to an ignoble end, executed as a criminal alongside other criminals.
It may be because of this–because of the fact that Jesus’ divinity is so hidden in his life and death–that we want the resurrection, at least, to be dramatic–the moment when God finally pulls back the curtain, and all is revealed. But what we actually find is something somewhat different. And, I think we can be glad for that.
The point of the resurrection is like the point of the incarnation as a whole. God didn’t become human so that he could show off his best magic tricks–like coming back from the dead–so that everybody would be extra certain that God is real and never have any doubts. No. God became human to reconcile us to God and one another. God became human to restore the image of God in us, by joining human life to divine life, and so make it possible for human beings to together share with Jesus in that divinity.
And that means that the way of Jesus–both before and after the resurrection–is not a path away from our humanity. It is a path that takes us back to our humanity as we were made to be. It is a path that makes us more, not less, human.
Because of that, Gospel hope holds space for all we are as humans, longing to find the fullness of our humanity again. Gospel hope holds space for doubt. Gospel hope includes the fearful. Gospel hope empowers and sends women. Gospel hope holds space for the drama and complexity of human relationships.
Gospel hope, in other words, in much less self-confident, and much more mysterious. And the wonder of the resurrection is that it draws us into that eternal mystery.