It is not surprising that the records of such a marvel, grounded upon the testimony of men and women bewildered first with grief, and next all but distracted with the sudden inburst of a gladness too great for that equanimity which is indispensable to perfect observation, should not altogether correspond in the minutiae of detail. All knew that the Lord had risen indeed: what matter whether some of them saw one or two angels in the tomb? The first who came saw one angel outside and another inside the sepulchre. One at a different time saw two inside. What wonder then that one of the records should say of them all, that they saw two angels? I do not care to set myself to the reconciliation of the differing reports. Their trifling disagreement is to me even valuable from its truth to our human nature. All I care to do is to suggest to any one anxious to understand the records the following arrangement of facts. When Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty, not seeing, or heedless of the angel, she forsook her companions, and ran to the chief of the disciples to share the agony of this final loss. Perhaps something might yet be done to rescue the precious form, and lay it aside with all futile honours. With Peter and John she returned to the grave, whence, in the mean time, her former companions, having seen and conversed with the angel outside and the angel inside, had departed to find their friends. Peter and John, having, the one entered, the other looked into the tomb, and seen only the folded garments of desertion, returned home, but Mary lingered weeping by the place which was not now even the grave of the beloved, so utterly had not only he but the signs of him vanished. As she wept, she stooped down into the sepulchre. There sat the angels in holy contemplation, one at the head, the other at the feet where the body of Jesus had lain. Peter nor John had beheld them: to the eyes of Mary as of the other women they were manifest. It is a lovely story that follows, full of marvel, as how should it not be?
"Woman, why weepest thou?" said the angels.
"Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him," answered Mary, and turning away, tear-blinded, saw the gardener, as she thought.
"Woman, why weepest thou?" repeats the gardener.
"Whom seekest thou?"
Hopelessness had dulled every sense: not even a start at the sound of his voice!
"Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away."
"Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God."
She had the first sight of him. It would almost seem that, arrested by her misery, he had delayed his ascent, and shown himself sooner than his first intent. "Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended." She was about to grasp him with the eager hands of reverent love: why did he refuse the touch?
Doubtless the tone of the words deprived them of any sting. Doubtless the self-respect of the woman was in no way wounded by the master's recoil. For the rest, we know so little of the new conditions of his bodily nature, that nothing is ours beyond conjecture. It may be, for anything I know, that there were even physical reasons why she should not yet touch him; but my impression is that, after the hard work accomplished, and the form in which he had wrought and suffered resumed, he must have the Father's embrace first, as after a long absence any man would seek first the arms of his dearest friend. It may well be objected to this notion, that he had never been absent from God -- that in his heart he was at home with him continually. And yet the body with all its limitations, with all its partition-walls of separation, is God's, and there must be some way in which even it can come into a willed relation with him to whom it is nearer even than to ourselves, for it is the offspring of his will, or as the prophets of old would say -- the work of his hands. That which God has invented and made, which has its very origin in the depth of his thought, can surely come nigh to God. Therefore I think that in some way which we cannot understand, Jesus would now seek the presence of the Father; would, having done the work which he had given him to do, desire first of all to return in the body to him who had sent him by giving him a body. Hence although he might delay his return at the sound of the woman's grief, he would rather she did not touch him first. If any one thinks this founded on too human a notion of the Saviour, I would only reply that I suspect a great part of our irreligion springs from our disbelief in the humanity of God. There lie endless undiscovered treasures of grace. After he had once ascended to the Father, he not only appeared to his disciples again and again, but their hands handled the word of life, and he ate in their presence. He had been to his Father, and had returned that they might know him lifted above the grave and all that region in which death has power; that as the elder brother, free of the oppressions of humanity, but fulfilled of its tenderness, he might show himself captain of their salvation. Upon the body he inhabited, death could no longer lay his hands, and from the vantage-ground he thus held, he could stretch down the arm of salvation to each and all.
For in regard of this glorified body of Jesus, we must note that it appeared and disappeared at the will of its owner; and it would seem also that other matter yielded and gave it way; yes, even that space itself was in some degree subjected to it. Upon the first of these, the record is clear. If any man say he cannot believe it, my only answer is that I can. If he ask how it could be, the nearest I can approach to an answer is to indicate the region in which it may be possible: the border-land where thought and matter meet is the region where all marvels and miracles are generated. The wisdom of this world can believe that matter generates mind: what seems to me the wisdom from above can believe that mind generates matter -- that matter is but the manifest mind. On this supposition matter may well be subject to mind; much more, if Jesus be the Son of God, his own body must be subject to his will. I doubt, indeed, if the condition of any man is perfect before the body he inhabits is altogether obedient to his will -- before, through his own absolute obedience to the Father, the realm of his own rule is put under him perfectly.
It may be objected that although this might be credible of the glorified body of even the human resurrection, it is hard to believe that the body which suffered and died on the cross could become thus plastic to the will of the indwelling spirit. But I do not see why that which was born of the spirit of the Father, should not be so inter-penetrated and possessed by the spirit of the Son, that, without the loss of one of its former faculties, it should be endowed with many added gifts of obedience; amongst the rest such as are indicated in the narrative before us.
Why was this miracle needful?
Perhaps, for one thing, that men should not limit him, or themselves in him, to the known forms of humanity; and for another, that the best hope might be given them of a life beyond the grave; that their instinctive desires in that direction might thus be infinitely developed and assured. I suspect, however, that it followed just as the natural consequence of all that preceded.
If Christ be risen, then is the grave of humanity itself empty. We have risen with him, and death has henceforth no dominion over us. Of every dead man and woman it may be said: He -- she -- is not here, but is risen and gone before us. Ever since the Lord lay down in the tomb, and behold it was but a couch whence he arose refreshed, we may say of every brother: He is not dead but sleepeth. He too is alive and shall arise from his sleep.
The way to the tomb may be hard, as it was for him; but we who look on, see the hardness and not the help; we see the suffering but not the sustaining: that is known only to the dying and God. They can tell us little of this, and nothing of the glad safety beyond.
With any theory of the conditions of our resurrection, I have scarcely here to do. It is to me a matter of positively no interest whether or not, in any sense, the matter of our bodies shall be raised from the earth. It is enough that we shall possess forms capable of revealing ourselves and of bringing us into contact with God's other works; forms in which the idea, so blurred and broken in these, shall be carried out -- remaining so like, that friends shall doubt not a moment of the identity, becoming so unlike, that the tears of recognition shall be all for the joy of the gain and the gratitude of the loss. Not to believe in mutual recognition beyond, seems to me a far more reprehensible unbelief than that in the resurrection itself. I can well understand how a man should not believe in any life after death. I will confess that although probabilities are for it, appearances are against it. But that a man, still more a woman, should believe in the resurrection of the very same body of Jesus, who took pains that his friends should recognize him therein; that they should regard his resurrection as their one ground for the hope of their own uprising, and yet not believe that friend shall embrace friend in the mansions prepared for them, is to me astounding. Such a shadowy resumption of life I should count unworthy of the name of resurrection. Then indeed would the grave be victorious, not alone over the body, not alone over all which made the life of this world precious and by which we arose towards the divine -- but so far victorious over the soul that henceforth it should be blind and deaf to what in virtue of loveliest memories would have added a new song to the praises of the Father, a new glow to the love that had wanted but that to make it perfect. In truth I am ashamed of even combating such an essential falsehood. Were it not that here and there a weak soul is paralysed by the presence of the monstrous lie, and we dare not allow sympathy to be swallowed up of even righteous disdain, a contemptuous denial would be enough.
What seemed to the disciples the final acme of disappointment and grief, the vanishing of his body itself, was in reality the first sign of the dawn of an illimitable joy. He was not there because he had risen.