Forming Faith Blog

Processing the Empty Tomb (Acts 1)

Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances and ascension hit his followers while they were processing his death and resurrection. But when they were finished, they were filled with a new joy and purpose.

A woman looking up with a facial expression of shock or wonder.
Photo by Engin Akyurt on
Mark to Acts

With the second Sunday of Easter, the Narrative Lectionary moves from the Gospels (Mark specifically) to the Book of Acts.

Many to most scholars believe that the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were written by the same person (see Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1). Despite some discrepancies between the two (most obviously how long between the resurrection and ascension), I’m going to treat the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts as one set of events.

Processing the Resurrection

An amazing, confusing, and terrifying event had recently (yesterday or 40 days ago) occurred: the death and resurrection of their beloved rabbi and lord, Jesus the Messiah. From the narratives in Luke and Acts, it seemed that Jesus’ followers were still mentally and emotionally processing what happened. (I’m pulling in Luke here because Acts doesn’t include the apostles’ initial reactions to the resurrection.)

Fear, Joy, and Disbelief

Despite two previous reports of Jesus’ resurrection (the women in Luke 24:10 and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in verse 35, with a seeming third “off camera” appearance to Simon in verse 34), Jesus’ appearance to the apostles caused fear and terror, though this might have been more of a “jump scare” (startle response) than fear itself. Jesus responded to their fear by showing them his physical body.

The apostles’ fear morphed into a mixture of disbelief, joy, and awestruck-ness (Luke 24:41), which reminds me of Matthew’s description of the disciples’ post-resurrection worship and doubt (Matthew 28:17). Jesus followed this with a reminder of what he had said previously about his death and resurrection and by opening their minds to Scripture. Eventually, after his ascension, this disbelief fully transformed into great joy and worship, but it took a while.

Restoring Israel?

Jumping back to Acts, we find that the apostles are still struggling to understand what is going on. Even after weeks of “convincing proofs,” they still don’t get Jesus’ (and soon to be their) true mission.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Acts 1:6

They are not asking if it’s time for Jesus to usher in the kingdom of God. They are still stuck in the common understanding that God sent the Messiah to change the geopolitical landscape so that an independent kingdom of Israel ruled, rather than was ruled. I find it interesting that Jesus doesn’t correct them or take this as yet another teaching moment. He just tells them that they don’t get to know the times (chronos) or seasons (kairos).

It is then that he gives the apostles their commission (which is what I focused my reflection on the last time this text came up).

Standing and Staring

Perhaps they were still confused by Jesus’ commission when an even more confusing thing happened: Jesus’ ascension into the clouds. That’s a lot to take in. Jesus just told them about some sort of baptism by the Holy Spirit (whatever that meant) and that they would be traveling far and wide for them. Now he just flew away and flat-out vanished. I think it’s a bit of an unfair criticism from the angels (men in white robes):

“Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”

Acts 1:11

Um, because something completely out of the realm of physically possible—and just unexpected—happened. Because they just lost their rabbi and friend—again. They were in shock, unable to process what was going on. Of course, they would be standing and staring.

What to Do Next

Here in Acts, Luke doesn’t describe the apostles’ emotional state when they returned to Jerusalem (as he did in Luke 24:52). In my imagination, they were unusually quiet, with perhaps some murmuring. They went back to where they were staying. And what they did next was perhaps they only thing they could do while they waited for Jesus’ most recent promise to come true: constantly devote themselves to prayer.

Faith Formation Connections

It can be hard for us to fully empathize with Jesus’ apostles and disciples at this point in the story. After all, most of us are familiar with the story, and anyway, it’s something we read in a book or hear in a sermon. It’s not something we are experiencing firsthand.

But we do have experiences that we have a hard time understanding, or that are shocking and maybe even our-world-changing. Just like it took time for the apostles to process and move forward, it will take time for us to do the same. And they can be good role models for us. We, too, can spend our processing time in prayer.

In the love of the risen Messiah,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the “Prayer around the World” activity from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship (NL, 2023-2024) resource. This activity can be done in worship, intergenerational groups, youth, adults, and older children (perhaps with help)!

Order Faith Formation Resources

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