Easter: Where the Gospel Narratives Stammer

“Trembling and bewildered,the women went out and fled the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8).

In Karl Barth’s thought, both the Old and New Testaments are witness to the revelation in which “God is present to man as the coming God.” (CD I.2, p 113) The Old Testament witness is expectation (looking forward to this revelatory event in which God comes); and the New Testament witness is a recollection of that revelation (looking back). In other words, the Bible is (from cover to cover) eschatological; God is coming and has come.

With one gigantic exception: Easter.

At Easter, God. Is.

Easter is the point in the Gospel narratives where human language reaches its limit.  Barth explains, “In the slender series of New Testament accounts of the disciples’ meetings with the risen Lord we are dealing with the attestation of the pure presence of God.”  While the rest of the Bible is about the coming of God, Easter is an event where the pure presence of God is manifest.

Everything before Easter was expectation. Everything after Easter was recollection. The resurrection stories (Easter to Pentecost) stand in the middle, as an event where God’s eternal time has stepped in to our time. The Easter story is the “recollection upon which all New Testament recollections hang, to which they are all related, for the sake of which there is a New Testament recollection at all” (p. 114).

It’s no wonder that the earliest recollection we have of Easter (Mark 16:1-8) in a rather artless way scarcely tells us more than the fact that the tomb was empty, and ends on this note: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8).  Here, says Barth, the New Testament witness “comes up against its object, which in itself contains the Word of revelation.”

How can human words do God’s pure presence justice? As Barth puts it, there is “little wonder human language stammers at this point.” (p. 115).