One week and one day from tomorrow, Christians will be imagining Christ still on the cross.
This piece shouldn’t detract from that. In fact, bookmark it to read on Sunday morning if you like. One can’t skip to the Resurrection without His death. Yet one shouldn’t also emphasize His death so much that His Resurrection effectively becomes an afterthought.
For centuries Christians of all denominational stripes have agreed: all present and future resurrections began with Himself. Without that fact, our faith is null. 1
Plenty of sermons and materials teach about how He died physically: asphyxiation from the cross added to the loss of blood from the thorns on His head and the scourging of His back. “Five bleeding wounds He bears,” says the hymn: two in His hands, two in His feet, and the one in His side where the soldier stabbed His dead body with a spear to see if He was dead.
What we don’t consider as often is how He might have risen.
So how did He do it?
Miraculously — we can say that for sure.
So “how?” is the wrong question. Instead we may ask: Whoa, what did it look like?
For whatever reasons — emphasis? budget? desire for reverence? — Bible-films like The Passion of the Christ and The Gospel of John like to skip whatever special effects would be necessary to reenact the Resurrection. No, I don’t mean the stone rolled away, the angels sitting there, or people running around seeking or finding Him. I mean the metamorphosis. The moment He yanked Himself away from death. The moment life reentered His body.
Imagine the scene …
Damp blackness is stifling. You may sense the walls so close and the rough-hewn ceiling hanging low. A stench fills the chamber, the odor of death. For about two days2 the mutilated body of Jesus has lain here, as motionless as the rock.
No sound comes from outside the heavy stone rolled before the cavity’s tiny entrance. If you could go outside, you might see the garden-like area beyond — and at least two Roman soldiers stationed at the entrance, with an official government seal upon the stone.
All is dark and still. Does dawn approach? Did the sun rise with the Son?
Now comes a tremor, throbbing in the earth. With grunts, both guards snap to attention.
Inside the tomb, stone walls shake. Pebbles rain from the ceiling. Quaking ground rumbles even louder. Will the cave fall in? Is that a glow? Yes, near the body, faint at first, golden with holiness, and now with an eye- and ear-splitting flash it bursts like fire in the tomb.
Under the layers of thick, dirty, and bloodstained fabric, it begins.
Divine energy courses through His dead body. Cellular activity begins. Life returns. A re-living heart starts to pump, slowly at first, then faster, faster.
Sparkling power bursts through every artery and vein and nerve and muscle, repairing tears, drawing together torn fragments, regenerating and re-sealing the shredded flesh in His back. Other wounds disappear like they never existed. On his head the horribly deep scratches from the mocking thorn-crown vanish as if time itself reversed.
What of the metal shrapnel from the whip that may have lodged in His back, or thorn bits that may have broken off into his scalp? May they simply dart out into the grave cloths? Or do they crumble into nothing as if vaporized?
As for the five other, formerly bleeding wounds of His …
They will remain. He will keep them as evidence of His sacrifice, and to prove that His body, though new and with supernatural powers, is the exact same body as before.
That body is already rising onto His muscular, firm legs that pulse with power and glory.
Tissue mends itself, just beneath His wrists and on His feet. Blood vessels and muscles, already woven back into better-than-perfect health — they may be shifted away from His evidential wounds so they will never bleed again. Flesh around the holes in his hands hardens into new, tougher, impenetrable skin, yet still showing the scars.
On His feet, the nerves, same as all through His new body, are impervious to pain. Yet they still show the nail scars on either side.
In His side — between His underarm and ribcage? — the wound from the spear piercing remains. But it will never again bleed or be pained. Even as He feels the skin around the wound adjusting itself, does He anticipate in days showing that wound to His disciples?
Is His awareness — the spirit He gave up after He breathed His last3 — already reunited with His human body? Or did His awareness return4 seconds later? Perhaps all along He is aware that He has returned, that His body is being rejuvenated, that He has won!
How long does this transformation take? Several power-charged seconds or an instant?
Do His eyes open, wrapped in the grave cloths? Or does He keep them closed while He lifts off the stone slab? Does He pass supernaturally through the cloths — or does He, with a cry and mighty shudder like the earthquake itself, burst out of them?
Death could have never held Him.
And His new body — a prototype of our future resurrected bodies5, though far more powerful — has amazing superhuman abilities we can only guess about from later descriptions in the Gospels.
Now He has left His grave clothes; He may wear some other clothing supernaturally given. Dried blood has disappeared from His glorified skin. His wounds are perfectly healed, His scars visible. Blazing with glory, He stands to His feet and walks through the tomb.
The stone is gone. The earthquake has ceased. Guards have fainted at the sight.
Into the dawn the Son strides forth to spread the news — and to share His Resurrection.