Oh, a lot of really unusual stuff was happening for the centurion running Jesus' crucifixion detail that day!
Now, earthquakes he'd come across before ... but NEVER graves giving up their dead.
When a comrade in arms in the legion had lost a close friend in a skirmish or a battle ... yes, the hardened old Centurion had heard of similar things happening.
In their grief they were sometimes convinced their good friend came back to them, or spoke to them at night in a dream.
Modern psychology reports such phenomena too.
It's a common human experience that stretches back over time, for an individual to be convinced that they've seen or heard from someone who's died.
But that was NOT what was going on around the centurion crucifying the preacher from Nazareth that day, the One known as 'The King of the Jews'.
Sensory Experience of the Dead
People who have lost a loved one do often report having sensory or quasi-sensory experiences of the dead (SEDs).
A common experience across all cultures
Research into this has been conducted across a range of disciplines including psychiatry, psychology and anthropology (that last one because these experiences spread across a wide range of very different cultures ... many of which have very little cultural contact that might explain SEDs as a learned experience).
So, a recent academic paper showed that SEDs occur across cultures, in all age groups and in all types of relationship loss, regardless of religious affiliation,and whether the cause of death is natural (Like disease) or violent (like suicide, homicide, and natural disaster).
A sense of unreality
What these experiences significantly have in common is that - unlike psychosis - there is generally a very conscious 'reality testing' that takes place when an individual experiences an SED which makes them conscious that this experience (which might well be realistic, and hope-giving in some way) isn't actually real.
It normally isn't like schizophrenia where the delusion remains.
And it's ...
A uniquely individual experience
The thing about SEDs though that marks them out is this: they are the experience of one person only.
They take place within one individual mind.
That is the single most significant factor in distinguishing this grieving person's trick of the mind from what we see in our Verse for the Day today.
"... the tombs broke open.
The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.
They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection
and went into the holy city and appeared to many people."
So WHAT is going on here?!
- the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom
- the earth shook
- the rocks were split
- the tombs were opened
- many bodies of the saints who had died were raised
- having come out of the tombs, then, after His resurrection they went into the holy city (that is, Jerusalem)
- (this is the seventh) they appeared to many.
Christ's Death Is the Ground of Resurrection
If this isn't a fantasy, is it mebbe a myth?
Matthew doesn't intend to be presenting us with a myth:
“. . . and [they] appeared to many” is what it says in Matthew 27:53
“Many” raised saints are seen by “many.”
In other words, this was not a solitary visionary experience, a hallucination like any sort of SED we know about.
This was many raised bodies appearing to many living inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Matthew says it was real, physical, and public.
But is Matthew a reliable witness?
The general consensus seems to be that Matthew was written between 50 and 70 AD placing that book well within the lifetime of people who saw these things, and that it was written particularly for a thooughly Jewish audience.
Historical accounts that are disproven by eye-witnesses tend not to retain credibility and retain circulation.
And this Gospel wa written for the community of the Jewish people, many of whom would have loved to show it was wrong!
If the opponents of Christianity (of which there were plenty) had been able to discredit this Gospel they'd have done so, but they clearly weren't able to and Matthew's Gospel has retained its' integrity.
The PointThe Takeaway
There is such a lot to rejoice about here, on account of Christ's sacrifice cancelling the effects of human sin in terms of human death.
These events were real, physical and public.
Christian hope isn't about vapid dreams.
Jesus has paid the price with His death on the Cross and the foretaste in Jerusalem in those days seals our future reality.
If you haven't committed your life to following this Jesus and benfitting from all this, then this Easter might be a good time to ask yourself ... why on earth have I not, and what on earth do I think am I DOING?!
These are really important maters to be considering and if you have questions you'd like to raise, problems you'd like to share or if you'd like us to send you something, perhaps in the post if you are UK based, that might help you in this considering these matters then please contact us using the contact form below.