"And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb."
- Mark 16.2The earliest Christians were Jews, for whom the weekly Sabbath represented the goal of creation, the seventh day on which God had rested, the day divinely sanctified as a promise of the ultimate rest of all creation. As Augustine noted, the account in Genesis which culminates on the seventh day includes a breaking of the pattern of the other six days. They all have morning and evening and go on to yet another day, but the seventh day has no evening, no end.
And so each Sabbath held out the hope of something beyond the week, towards which the week continually strained. Yet each weekly Sabbath would give way once again to the start of a new cycle of seven. No particular Sabbath brought the cycle to its close. Each week would lead to another, much the same. And one week would join to another. And Summer would give way to Autumn to Winter and so it goes. But each Winter leads to a Spring. Each night is followed by a dawn.
This natural cycle of days, and weeks and seasons might serve as a lesson for us. Nothing is to be taken with deadly seriousness since no Winter, no matter how cold, will fail to eventually give way to Spring. No night, no matter how dark, will lack a dawn. Perhaps we need to learn to see all of life in the light of these cycles of decay and renewal, of darkness and light, and to appreciate the fact that the failures of one generation are not final, but may always be renovated and restored. And by the same token, we must come to accept that the achievements of a day, however glorious, will pass away into night.
Indeed, the symbolism of Easter, with its eggs and flowers, and as a festival of Spring (at least in the northern hemisphere where it began) might be taken to refer to the endless renewal of hope after despair, that, generally speaking, death-like experiences are succeeded by new possibilities.
But into this cycle is thrown the spanner of resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus is not a symbol of the endless renewal of life after decay, of another generation rising up to take the place of those who pass away, of the transience of darkness. For it is not, primarily, a symbol at all. The resurrection of Jesus is an event, in fact the event that makes events possible. The resurrection is an interruption of the world's order, a new beginning, not the first in yet another cycle, but a new history bursting in upon the old, new wine that ruptures any attempt to contain it amidst the old.
Very early on the first day of the week, the women travel to the tomb, but already God has acted. They arrive after the event. The new world has already begun before they awoke. The Sabbath they kept has not passed away into yet another week. This is not just the first day, but the eighth day of the week. Neither nature's cycles nor history's patterns know anything like this. There is now something new under the sun...