The Christian Testament is thin when it comes to references to the resurrection. At the same time, resurrection is the central confession of Christianity.

The Christian Testament does not offer a seamless narrative of the events surrounding the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Paul’s letters and the four Gospels each offer a coherent — even cogent — story line of the events, but when readers begin to compare the interpretations and narratives, questions bubble up. Each of the narratives acknowledges despair and confusion before arriving at a faithful resolution.

First Corinthians 15 is the earliest and most engaging treatment of the resurrection. Paul offers a catalogue of reported appearances (1 Corinthians 15:1-9).

What follows is his musing about what resurrection might mean, including a rejection of resurrection as a restoration — “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (15:50) — and a ringing affirmation — “Listen, I will tell you a mystery” (15:51).

The oldest ending of the earliest copy of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:1-8) does not include an appearance of the risen Christ.

The women in that narrative came prepared to anoint the dead body of Jesus with spices they had prepared to mask the stench of death. They were in despair.

What they found, however, was an empty tomb. In the tomb, they saw a “young man” who assured them that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised (Mark 16:6). Their despair was transformed to confusion, and they departed in fear.

The Gospel of Luke has a similar account of the women and their spices (Luke 24:1-12), but the narrative includes “two men in dazzling clothes” who jogged the memory of the women about what Jesus had earlier claimed “in Galilee.”

Again, the narrative moves from despair to confusion. In Luke’s Gospel, the women made an additional step. They embraced their jogged memory that led them from the darkness of despair toward the light of faith. They reported their experiences “to the apostles.”

Only in Luke do we read that the apostles considered the “words” of the women as an “idle tale” and chose not to believe the words. The apostles “did not believe” the words of the women.

In Luke’s Gospel, the women made the journey from despair to confusion to faith. The men did not. Listen to the women if you can.

Matthew’s Gospel seems more concerned about the political implications of the death and burial of Jesus.

The day after the death of Jesus, the religious leaders who had collaborated with the Romans urged Pilate to secure the tomb to prevent the disciples from stealing the body and declaring that he had been raised from the dead.

Matthew reports that the tomb was found empty and that the collaborators promoted the fiction that the body had been stolen (Matthew 27:62-66 and 28:11-15).

Unlike Luke’s Gospel, the men in Matthew’s Gospel listened to the women. The women told “the eleven” (28:16) to go to Galilee, where they might see him. They went and saw him, “but some doubted” (28:17).

John’s Gospel has a different plotline that only includes Mary Magdalene, Peter and the elusive “other disciple,” also identified as “the disciple … whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2).

Mary Magdalene reports her discovery of the empty tomb to Peter and the other disciple. The two disciples race to the tomb — perhaps to verify Mary Magdalene’s report.

The Gospel describes the race: impetuous Peter arrives second but barges into the tomb; the other disciple, who arrived first, hesitated and entered second. He observed the surroundings — the placement of the grave clothes — and “believed” (John 20:8).

The reflections of Paul and the narratives of the four Gospels are signposts along the path to Easter. The Lenten journey from Galilee to Jerusalem has been filled with twists and turns of despair, confusion and faith.

Embrace the despair and confusion. Lean into the faith. Listen to the women, too.

Editor’s note: This article is the final part of a lectionary-based series for the season of Lent. One article was published each week, offering reflection on one or more of the lectionary texts for the upcoming Sunday. The previous articles in the series are:

Lenten Lectionary | Returning to God, Returning to Self | Molly T. Marshall

Lenten Lectionary | Wilderness Living Merianna Harrelson

Lenten Lectionary | It’s Not Easy Being Human Rod Benson

Lenten Lectionary | Singing in the Shadow of God’s Wings James Gordon

Lenten Lectionary | Seeing the Good in Repentance | Danielle L. Bridgeforth

Lenten Lectionary | When Something Gets Hold of Us | Timothy Peoples

Lenten Lectionary | The ‘Subito Piano’ Following Palm Sunday | Ruth Sprayberry DuCharme

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