Each Easter I notice myself thinking and re-thinking the biblical accounts of the resurrection of our Lord. Some previous thoughts have been posted here but I am not too concerned to re-visit them or re-direct you back to them.
What I have noticed in my thinking this year is that I am shifting from an underlying quest of the kind, "the different gospel/Acts/1 Corinthians accounts are surely harmonizable but I can't quite put all the jigsaw pieces together" to another quest, represented by two questions percolating in my mind:
"What history is basic to the accounts?" and, with particular reference to the gospels, "Why shouldn't the resurrection accounts be as different as other aspects of each of the gospels are different to the others?"
What history is basic to the accounts?
If we understand history in terms of "what happened that people experienced and then reported to each other with general agreement forming out of that reporting process that X happened rather than Y happened" then two things happened in connection with Christian belief that Jesus was raised from the dead. These two things, I suggest, are the historical core of the resurrection, the history which is basic to the accounts given in the gospels/Acts/1 Corinthians.
(1) The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty of his body (so all four gospel accounts; while not affirmed by accounts in Acts and in 1 Corinthians 15, the empty tomb is not denied by them).
(2) Various followers of Jesus had experiences of appearances of Jesus, subsequent to the discovery of the empty tomb (so all four gospels, Acts and 1 Corinthians 15, with the last account giving the fullest list of such appearances).
Only (1) was potentially affirmable as a matter of public record since (2) was restricted to the circle of Jesus' followers (note Acts 10:41 which explicitly affirms the appearances were "not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses").
We do not (as far as I am aware) have any public record of the tomb being confirmed as empty. Conversely we have no clear record of the tomb of Jesus with his body decaying in it continuing as a place of visitation and pilgrimage.
Differences in the gospel accounts?
Readers here may well have thought of the following matters many years ago but this year there are some aspects of accounting for the differences which feel new to me.
Mark: Mark's abrupt ending (assuming 16:8 is the last verse of the gospel by Mark, other verses beyond that being later additions) is a worry, giving us only the empty tomb, no actual appearance of Jesus, only the anticipation of one. But, my new thought for this year, Mark begins abruptly too. No nativity story like Matthew and Luke, no prologue from before time began like John. Jesus simply appears as an adult on a mission. I (we?) should have no expectation of Mark offering more of an ending than he does.
I assume (with most gospel scholars) that Matthew and Luke are influenced by Mark.
Matthew: An elaborate, colourful account of events at the tomb (earthquake, descending angel, whose appearance is like lightning/snow, guards are all mentioned uniquely here) to which is added a unique story designed to refute a circulating rumour that Jesus' body was stolen, with just two appearances of Jesus, the first as the women leave the tomb and the second when Jesus is in Galilee with the Eleven and he commissions them for world mission.
This "world vision" ending coheres with Matthew's beginning inasmuch as that beginning, including the initial genealogy (1:1-18) and the visitation of the Magi (2:1-12), sets out indications that Jesus was born to be Saviour of the whole world, of the Jews and the Gentiles.
Luke: An elaborate account is given of both Jesus' birth and Jesus' resurrection, each differing in significant ways from Matthew's accounts. Luke is interested in the God at work in Israel's history when he tells us about the conception/birth of John the Baptist and the conception/birth of Jesus as continuation of that work. At the end of his gospel, he continues this interest as he gives us two occasions in which the risen Jesus himself leads disciples in Bible studies which reveal that what has happened is the fulfilment of what had already been written in the scriptures of Israel.
With respect to stories of the empty tomb being discovered and of appearances of the risen Jesus being seen, Luke offers a degree of physicality not present in Matthew's account: Jesus invites his disciples to touch him, and he shares in food offered to him. Further, the Emmaus story, although primarily a story about understanding the scriptures as pointing to Jesus, gives a sense of Jesus' appearances not only involving brief encounters, but also longer occasions, for this occasion involving a long walk must have been of more than an hour's duration.
But Luke is not above twisting whatever he has gleaned from Mark and other (oral?) sources: there is no hint of Jesus' appearing in Galilee, all appearances of Jesus are confined to Jerusalem and its surrounds. The obvious reason is that Luke wants to start his sequel in Jerusalem and so Jesus departs from his disciples from Jerusalem. (As a matter of discovering historical facts about the resurrection, one of the clearest contradictions at the level of"fact" in the New Testament is the cessation of appearances: Mark, Matthew and John point to Galilee as that place; Luke is as clear as can be, Jerusalem was that place. Only a narratival understanding enables us to move past the apparent geographical contradiction to understand what the gospel writers are trying to communicate through the way they tell the story.)
John: Just as John at his beginning is very different to Matthew, Mark and Luke, so also at his ending. But at that beginning he does talk about the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and so at the ending, like the other canonical gospels the tomb is empty. Other similarities are: Jesus appears to a woman (cf. Matthew's women) and to the disciples, both in Jerusalem (cf. Luke) and in Galilee (cf. Matthew and the anticipation in Mark). There is an emphasis on the physicality of Jesus (the famous story of Thomas, the breakfast BBQ; cf. Luke). Pretty much everything else is different, including a very different commission compared to Matthew and Luke (although Matthew and Luke have differences in wording, both emphasise a worldwide gospel commission), as well as some sense that future rivalries in the church are being sorted out in the dialogue at the end of the beach BBQ scene in John 21).
But what John is doing in John 20 and 21 is similar to Matthew and Luke in this sense: all work from the basic resurrection facts (empty tomb, appearances of Jesus) to offer a conclusion to the earthly story of Jesus which is (a) coherent with the general theological, christological or missiological interests of their respective gospels; and (b) alert to apologetic or ecclesiastical issues which might be settled with a deft story to two (countering rumours that the body was stolen, responding to concerns that Jesus' resurrection body was merely an apparition, clarifying the significance of both the Petrine and Johannine churches).
In my reflections this year I find myself acknowledging more readily the reality of the differences in the various accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, lessening a concern to harmonise those differences, emphasising the differences at the beginnings of each gospel as an important explanation for why the endings are different while appreciating again the basic facts of the resurrection. The tomb was empty. Christ appeared to many disciples.
Alternatively you might like to listen to Helen Jacobi, Vicar of St Matthew's in the City, Auckland, in a wide-ranging interview, but including some reflections on the resurrection. Spoiler: a bob each way on the resurrection!