On Feb. 22, 2016, Noela Rukundo of Melbourne, Australia sat in a car outside her home. She watched as mourners filed out of a funeral — her funeral. She sat patiently until she spotted the man she’d been waiting for. As Noela stepped out of her car, her husband cried out: “Is it my eyes? Is it a ghost?”
“Surprise! I’m still alive!” she announced.
He wasn’t happy to see her. In fact, he was terrified. Five days beforehand, he had ordered a team of hit men to kill his wife. Noela had flown to her stepmother’s funeral in Burundi, where her husband had arranged for Noela to be kidnapped. The men said they wouldn’t kill her — they didn’t believe in killing women — but told the husband that they had done the job and were paid. She was released after two days.
The husband returned to Australia and told the community his wife had been killed in a tragic accident. He even set up a fund to receive donations for her memorial. Everyone mourned.
Noela decided that her funeral would be the perfect moment to appear. When she stepped out of the car, her husband turned ashen, reached out to touch her shoulder and found it solid. He jumped and started screaming.
He’s now serving nine years in jail. Noela, however, has begun a new life. She says that she feels like someone who has risen from the dead.
It’s hard to imagine what it was like for those men and women who encountered the living Jesus. Roman soldiers in the first century didn’t botch crucifixions. Jesus was rejected, tried, humiliated, put on a cross. Everything was over. He died. Women who had seen him draw his last breath later visited his tomb. They fully believed he was dead. They believed that they would never see him again.
All of a sudden, he was back, walking, talking, eating. According to the gospels, he never explained how he came back, only that he was raised. A hidden power was at work. The mystery was unfathomable, but his return was undeniable.
If someone dead showed up on your doorstep, you wouldn’t just be surprised. You’d be terrified. That’s how the first disciples felt. But after their shock and seeing Jesus on several occasions, they accepted his return from the dead as a fact.
The early church talked about Jesus as someone who was raised from the dead and that his resurrection actually happened. They didn’t preach “we all need hope” or “everything dies and eventually comes back to life; all energy and matter dissolves to become something else.” His resurrection was hard to accept and inconvenient, but it was a fact. Like Noela standing before her husband, Jesus had come back.
The best news is that resurrection stories still happen. Easter reminds us that hearts can change, from hatred and self-centeredness to love and self-sacrifice. Beauty can replace ashes. Resurrection still surprises us, but it happens. It can happen to you.