Sceptics who argue that the tomb was empty because Jesus hadn’t actually died, or because the disciples had stolen the body, but also liberal Christians who argue that there probably was no tomb, that the body of Jesus was dumped in a common grave, and that even if there were a tomb it surely decomposed there, but not to worry, the important thing is the awesome visions the disciples had – sceptic and liberal alike view the resurrection of Jesus under the constraints of the historical method, about what can and cannot happen. And even evangelical Christians who try to explain away the inconsistencies and meld the different gospel accounts of Easter morning into a single coherent narrative, while against the sceptics and the liberals they affirm that God raised the dead Jesus, nevertheless in the very way they feel compelled to marshal the evidence, to out-argue the sceptics, they demonstrate that they too are bewitched by the constraints of modern historiography.
But as Dean Inge once famously said, if you wed yourself to the spirit of the age, it won’t be long before you are widowed. So let’s be clear. The church’s Scriptures witness to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. No, no one observed the raising of Jesus. And yes, there are different accounts of the seeing of Jesus. And no, a consistent harmonised account cannot be constructed from them. But that is precisely the point! If a totally history-friendly account could be constructed, then it most certainly would not be a witness to this event.
Of course everything that happened on Easter morning doesn’t fit together. Of course what has been called the “testimonies of the overwhelmed” (Helmut Thielicke) do not conform to the normal canons of evidence. Talk about astonishment, awe – and confusion! What else when you’re confronted by a reality that exceeds the limits of experience, reason and even imagination, a reality that is, in the strictest sense, indescribable, leaving language in a heap, its speakers tongue-tied. What else when you are hit by an earthquake that shatters the very foundations of human knowing, leaving scraps and fragments, and whose shock waves continue to reverberate and disturb.