Was he really dead? The two robbers beside him were still alive; their legs were broken by the soldiers so that the weight of the body would hang upon the hands, constricting the circulation and soon stopping the heart. This was not done in Jesus’ case, though we are told that a soldier pierced his breast with a lance, drawing forth first blood and then lymph. Pilate expressed surprise that a man should die after six hours of crucifixion; he gave his consent to Christ’s removal from the cross only when the centurion in charge assured him of Christ’s death.
Two days later Mary Magdalene, whose love of Jesus partook of that nervous intensity which characterized all her feelings, visited the tomb with “Mary the mother of James, and Salome.” They found it. empty. “Frightened and yet overjoyed,” they ran to tell the news to the disciples. On the way they met one whom they thought to be Jesus; they bowed down before him and clasped his feet. We can imagine the hopeful incredulity with which their report was greeted; the thought that Jesus had triumphed over death, and had thereby proved himself Messiah and Son of God, filled the “Galileans” with such excitement that they were ready for any miracle and any revelation. That same day, we are told, Christ appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, talked with them, and ate with them; for a long time “they were prevented from recognizing him”; but when “he took the bread and blessed it… their eyes were opened, and they knew him, and he vanished from them.” The disciples went back to Galilee, and soon thereafter “saw him and bowed down before him, though some were in doubt.” While they were fishing they saw Christ join them; they cast their nets, and drew in a great haul. Forty days after his appearance to Mary Magdalene, says the beginning of the Book of Acts, Christ ascended physically into heaven. The idea of a saint being so “translated” into the sky in body and life was familiar to the Jews; they told it of Moses, Enoch, Elijah, and Isaiah. The Master went as mystically as he had come; but most of the disciples seem to have been sincerely convinced that he had, after his crucifixion, been with them in the flesh. “They went back with great joy to Jerusalem,” says Luke, “and were constantly in the Temple, blessing God.”