There’s no question that NT Wright is a controversial figure. I wouldn’t read or recommend him on justification. But his book on the Resurrection is not much short of pure gold. I decided to fork out for a copy a couple of weeks ago. I’m hoping to preach from Mark 16:1-8 during Easter week and his small section on that passage is so helpful.
16 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Wright shows that Mark’s account of the resurrection is full of the unexpected, which smacks of authenticity. His argument:
First, remarkably, Mark has no problem telling us that the main witnesses were women. This is not a feature you’d want to highlight if you’re trying to peddle a new religion on a society where men’s testimony holds far far more weight. More significantly though, it’s clear that the women themselves do not expect to find an empty tomb. None of them says, “Ah yes, we were expecting this”.
As Wright puts it, ‘the fact they don’t expect, fits with what we should expect’. This fact shows us that the empty tomb was not an idea necessitated by a later belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Wright goes on:
‘It is not that these women believe in the resurrection and then go and search for an empty tomb to back that belief up. It is rather; that they, have found an empty tomb and are offered the startling and totally unexpected explanation that Jesus has been raised. For them, the resurrection, is in itself a puzzle that needs a solution. It’s totally unexpected.’
It is interesting in the narrative that the initial problem for the women (how to move the stone), is replaced by a greater problem: ‘where is the body?’ The point I think is this: The problems of life and death are overshadowed by the unexpected problem of the resurrection.
Looking at the narrative, the women have come to expect the presence of death and seem resigned to its finality. They expect to be anointing a dead body. So, they naturally think that they’re biggest problem is the heavy stone. They discuss that problem because they are already resigned to the problem of death being a problem without a solution. Unexpectedly, God’s answer is not to give them bigger muscles, but to give them another problem! A missing body. What fills their minds now is the weird and unsettling prospect of Jesus returning from the dead. The wonder of it all though, is that God’s new problem removes all others. Suddenly the stone issue is much less of a concern. Their fears over their physical weakness and the difficulties of a routine graveside visit are completely drowned out by their fear of what they’re told by the strange young man. Ironically the problem of the missing body turns out to be the grandest solution of all others problems in life and death.
Problem: The body is missing
Solution: The body is missing