If the Passion narrative is the disciples’ confiteor, the story of the resurrection is their record of the divine absolution: “He was raised for our justification.” The disciples experienced in the resurrection the never-to-be-outdone proclamation of the grace which had spoken the Beatitude upon the beggar, which had cleansed the leper, which had been moved to compassion by the harassed and helpless sheep of the house of Israel, which had rejoiced in revealing to the simple what was concealed from the wise, which had given to the stumbling and halting disciple what had been denied to the prophets and righteous of old, and had bestowed the Kingdom upon children.
It was grace; and it was, as the grace of God always is, unbelievable grace, the not-to-be-predicted, not-to-be-expected goodness of God which bestows “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9 RSV)
The incredulity of the disciples over against the revelation of the grace of God has left its mark on the resurrection narrative. The reserve of that narrative has frequently been noted. The sparse and laconic speech of the witnesses of the risen Lord contrasts sharply with the theatricality of later accounts, in which men let their fancy supply what the witnesses themselves did not attempt to say. There is nothing in Matthew or in any of the New Testament accounts remotely resembling the heaped-up wonders of an account like that of the second-century Gospel of Peter, where “multitudes” come from Jerusalem and the regions round about to see the sealed tomb, where the elders of Israel keep watch along with the centurion and his soldiers, where the angelic figures whose “heads reached into heaven,” where the angels who in the canonical Gospels are proclaimers of the accomplished resurrection become actors in the drama of the resurrection and actually lead the Christ (whose head in this account overpasses the heavens) out of the tomb, with a cross following after them. The disciples did not pry and did not try to understand the incomprehensible. They no more tried to account for the risen Christ than they had tried to account for His mighty works. One almost gets the impression that speech came hard to me who witnessed this miracle of the creative might of God, “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17 RSV). The disciples record the awe and fear which the first witnesses felt at the event which spoke their absolution (Matthew 28:8). They record their own doubtings (Matthew 28:17); it is as if they were telling men: “We too found this thing incredible, this power of God which raised our Lord from the dead, and we found even more incredible the grace which raised Him up as the Lord who said, ‘Tell my brethren.'” (Matthew 28:10)