This year a couple of things have struck me in reading the gospel accounts in preparation for two sermons (one re Luke 24:1-12 and one re John 20:1-18). I am treating Mark 16:1-8 as the original ending of that Gospel.
Empty Tomb then Appearances
Now, this is pretty obvious, but it has struck me that each of the gospel accounts tells us the tomb is empty (Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-13) and only then tells us of the first appearance of Jesus (Matthew 28:9-10; Luke 24:13-35; John 20:14-18 - Mark anticipates a later appearance, 16:7).
None of the accounts mixes up the Empty Tomb with an Appearance (e.g. imagines Jesus himself is in the tomb, waiting for visitors). The "guide(s)" at the tomb ("angel", Matthew 28:5; "young man", Mark 16:5; "two men ... in dazzling apparel", Luke 24:4; "two angels in white", John 20:12) are distinct from Jesus.
So, the appearances (with a modest exception in Matthew*) then become the second part of the resurrection narratives for each gospel (including Mark's narrative, by implication).
Clearly, picking up Paul's account of Appearances of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, there were - between "died ... buried ... raised on the third day" and Paul's conversion - appearances of the risen Jesus to a range of individuals and groups.
Understandably, the Gospels tell us about Appearances.
Not so understandable, of course, is that the Gospels (a) do not offer between them a particularly coherent account of these appearances, and (b) do not match well with Paul's list (with its air of authoritative tradition).
But, I muse ... were there a range of appearances of Jesus to people? From near the tomb to Galilee, were there many appearances during a limited period of time? And, so, from that range, are we now able to read in the gospels a selection of testimonies of those appearances? Thus: near the tomb (Matthew, John), in Jerusalem (Luke, John), near Jerusalem (Luke), and in Galilee (Matthew, anticipated in Mark, John).
Clearly there is a degree of creativity as the gospel writers (c) support the narrative of the Empty Tomb with a narrative or narratives of Appearances of Jesus, and (d) draw their overall accounts to a conclusion. So, we find on the matter of Jesus commissioning his disciples that there are three different commissionings by the risen Jesus (Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-53/Acts 1:1-8; John 20:21-23/21:15-22).
Then, Luke and John show extraordinary theological depth as well as the ability to include a wide range of theological themes as they respectively tell of the Road to Emmaus appearance (Luke 24:13-35) and the "third appearance" in the Big Catch of Fish (John 21).
*That modest exception is that between Matthew's first appearance account (28:9-10) and second account (28:16-20), Matthew refers back to the Empty Tomb by wait of a story about how a rumour was initiated by the authorities to explain the emptiness of the tomb (28:11-15).
Sight and Recognition
There is a lot of "seeing" and "recognising" (or not) going on in each of the resurrection narratives, with respect to the actual or anticipated appearances of Jesus.
Matthew 28:6: "Come, see the place where he lay."
Matthew 28:7: "... he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him."
Matthew 28:10: "... there they will see me."
Mark 16:6: "... see the place where they laid him."
Mark 16:7: "...he is going before you to Galileee; there you will see him."
Luke 24:12: " ... But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves."
John 20:5: "and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in."
John 20:8: "Then the other disciples, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;"
John 20: 14: "Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus."
John 20:18: "Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord";
Luke 24:16: "But their eyes were kept from recognizing him"
Luke 24:24: "... but him they did not see."
Luke 24:31: "And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight."
Luke 24:37: "But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit."
Luke 24:39: "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have."
John 20:20: "When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord."
John 20:25: "So, the other disciples told him [Thomas], "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands ..."
John 20:29: 'Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."'
John 21:4: "Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus."
John 21:12: "Now none of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord."
Matthew 28:17: "And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted."
To be honest, I am not sure what to make of these texts. Perhaps, at the least, they make the point that the first witnesses to the risen Lord Jesus were eye-witnesses. They could be questioned as to what they saw, whether they understood what they saw, and what led to their recognition of the Lord.
Ultimately the gospel writers are painting word pictures of the risen Jesus for their readers (for you and me): we may not see Jesus with our own eyes, but we see Jesus with their eyes.
And we see Jesus with the eyes of faith: we believe because of their testimony.