One of the greatest college football games ever played took place on November 23, 1984: Boston College vs. Miami at the Orange Bowl. The game went back and forth the whole way and came down to one legendary play, a 65 yard Hail Mary pass from Doug Flutie to Gerald Phelan for a 47-45 Boston College victory.
What followed was a scene of total chaos and sheer pandemonium. No one could believe what had just happened. People were running wildly all over the field. Players were experiencing both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Reporters were trying to process and make sense of what they had just witnessed.
Brent Musburger, the lead announcer for CBS, didn’t see who caught the winning touchdown. No one in the booth could figure out who caught it either. They had to have someone in the production truck tell them that it was Gerald Phelan. Not even Doug Flutie saw who caught his game-winning pass. He knew someone must have caught it because all of his teammates were jumping up and down like crazy. Only later in the locker room did Flutie find out that it was his best friend and roommate, Gerald Phelan.
You won’t hear stories like this right after an epic game or monumental event occurs. These are the kinds of stories that get passed on later as people try to figure out what actually happened. In the immediate aftermath, there is all of the motion, emotion, and commotion of the moment. No one is quite sure what is going on. It takes time for the personal stories and individual accounts to surface and take shape.
The same goes for the resurrection appearances of Jesus in the Gospels. At first blush, the details seem chaotic, confusing, perhaps even contradictory. There are worried women, multiple Marys, disbelieving disciples, fearful followers. Jesus is appearing and disappearing, showing up on the road, walking through walls. Where are they now? In Galilee? In Judea? What’s going on?!
Let’s take a step back and think for a minute. If this is indeed the central event in all of human history, if the cross and empty tomb stand at the very crux of the cosmos, if the Risen Christ is ushering in a new kingdom and a new creation, then maybe we shouldn’t be surprised to see some earth-shaking and mind-blowing things taking place. Maybe we should actually expect some strange and supernatural events to occur. Also, if the stories had a vanilla quality about them and all sounded exactly the same, the whole thing would reek of collusion. The truth is, each Gospel writer had their own unique perspective based upon eyewitness accounts of the people who were there and experienced the resurrection firsthand.
No, the Easter stories don’t always fit nicely into our 21st century way of thinking and understanding. But if we read the Gospel accounts carefully, we begin to realize that the story of the resurrection has a real ring of truth to it, an air of authenticity, a vibrant veracity.
CS Lewis famously wrote in Mere Christianity, “Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion that you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that odd twist about it that real things have.”
God has a funny way of taking our expectations and presuppositions and turning them on their head. His mysterious ways always seem to turn the things of this world upside down and inside out, kind of like Miami’s defense before that famous “Hail Mary” pass. They didn’t think that little Doug Flutie could throw the football that far. They were wrong, just like the devil and all the powers of darkness. They didn’t think Jesus had the power to rise from the dead. They were wrong. And the rest...is history.
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared also to me” (1 Cor 15:3-8).