Think back to the last time that someone surprised you. What does surprise do to you? Some people love surprises; others like surprises as long as they know exactly what the surprise will be! Our common experience is that surprise is highly disorienting; we don’t know where to turn or what to do next. Even pleasant surprises, when unexpected, can throw us out of step.
I think we can see the hallmarks of surprise all over the different gospel accounts of the resurrection—they haven’t even bothered to tie in all the details to give us a narrative where everything neatly fits together. Each of the gospels offers their own perspective on this surprise. In Mark’s gospel, the women run from the tomb and don’t tell anyone (in which case, how does Mark have a story to tell?!). Even being retold many years later, the gospel accounts still capture the sense of surprise. Not only was their the surprise at the resurrection, but this sense of surprise keeps unfolding. Not only is this Jesus the Messiah for the Jewish people—it turns out he is saviour for the whole world. The first generation of disciples are constantly caught out by the surprise of the new thing that God is doing. Peter in the house of Cornelius, Paul on the Damascus Road—hardly an expected encounter—and Paul himself carrying this good news across the whole known world.