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EASTER

Season of Resurrection

First Sunday - Easter
THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST

INTRODUCTION

God the Father pre-panned Jesus’ resurrection, and Jesus predicted it several times during his public ministry. God brought forth light amid darkness on the first day of the creation week. Jesus, the Light of the world, emerged out of darkness of the grave overcoming Satan, the original sin, and spiritual death on the week’s first day. Christ’s triumph over these is our victory because we share in the benefits of Jesus’ achievement. Jesus accomplished this victory through his passion and death. He invites us to accept our cross and follow him to join his triumph in heaven.

The Resurrection of Christ

The order of events after the death of Jesus is:
1. The burial of Jesus (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:38-42)

2. The guard at the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66)
3. Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-10)
4. The appearance to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9-11, John 20:11-18)
5. The appearance to two disciples (Mark 16:12-13, Luke 24:13-35)

6. The appearance to the disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36-49, John 20:19-23)
7. The report of the guard (Matthew 28:11-15)

INTERPRETATION

1. The Burial of Jesus (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:38-42)

An understanding of Jesus’ burial and later events would help us better comprehend Jesus’ resurrection. Since the male disciples were afraid of the soldiers, they were hiding and could not undertake Jesus’ burial. They also had no money to buy a burial ground, and the spices needed to embalm Jesus’ body.

Two secret admirers of Jesus took initiative to bury Jesus. “There came Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council who was himself waiting for the Kingdom of God, and boldly went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43). Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin who visited Jesus at night (John 3:1–21) and supported him in the Sanhedrin (John 7:50–51). He helped Joseph of Arimathea in burying Jesus and provided “a jar of myrrh mixed with aloes, about a hundred pounds.” (John 19:39). Joseph gave his own tomb, used for none before, for Jesus’ burial. Joseph and Nicodemus took the body and bound it in linen clothes with the spices according to the Jewish custom and buried in the tomb. They did these in a hurry because they had to do everything before the start of the Passover Sabbath at 6:00 P.M. So, they lacked time to anoint Jesus’ body. The lady disciples decided to do that immediately after the Sabbath. “Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance of the tomb.” (Matthew 27:60-61).

2. The Guard at the Tomb (Matthew 27:62-66)

There have been honorary guards at the tomb of very few prominent persons in the world. However, Jesus was the only person whose tomb had guards for fear of resurrection or claim for the same. When the chief priests and the Pharisees sought permission from Pilate he said, “You have a guard, go and take all the necessary pre­cautions.” (Matthew 27:65). This had an ironic tone because Pilate might have believed in Jesus’ words that he would rise from the dead. Pilate had dissatisfaction on the judgement he had to pronounce out of pressure from the Jewish leaders. They secured the tomb by sealing the stone and assigned guards.

Where was Jesus while his body was in the grave?
According to the Apostles’ Creed, “He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.” Did Jesus go to the hell before his resurrection? According to Ephesians 4:9-10, Jesus “first descended to the dead in the lower parts of the world.” Jesus’ resurrection presupposes that he stayed in the dead’s realm prior to his rising from the dead. 1Peter 3:18-20 says, “He was put to death in the body, but was raised to life by the Spirit, and it was then that he went to preach to the imprisoned spirits.”

Jesus descended among the dead who were waiting to enter heaven. He proclaimed the Good News that he has going to open the gates of heaven. He did not go to the hell of the damned for their liberation, but to “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:19-31) as mentioned in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. So “hell” in the Apostles Creed is Hades where the deceased were waiting for the victory of the Redeemer so they could enter heaven to see God. Thus, “The gospel was preached even to the dead.” (1Peter 4:6). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that, “The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment.” (484). “He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him.” (637).

In the Church of Chora funeral chapel in Istanbul, Turkey, there is a famous icon called, “The Harrowing of Hell.” It depicts Christ’s descent into hell. In this icon, Jesus is standing over the broken gates of hell, fallen in a cross shape over the pit of darkness. The chained devil falls into the pit of darkness. Jesus in his glorious dress is lifting Adam and Eve out of their graves by their wrists because they cannot rise themselves. It shows Jesus as a conqueror and a redeemer of humanity represented by the first parents. In that icon, we see kings, prophets and the righteous of Israel, including David, Solomon, Moses, Daniel, Zechariah, and John the Baptist standing beside Jesus.

3. Jesus’ Resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10)

At the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, “There were also some women who watched from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and saw to his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” (Matthew 27:55-56). Zebedee’s sons were James the Elder and John. Salome was their mother. “The other Mary,” mentioned in Matthew 28:1 was the mother of James the Less.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary stayed at home during the Sabbath hours. After that, they brought spices and ointment to complete the anointing of Jesus’ body. On Sunday early morning, they went to the tomb of Jesus. They were not practical or experienced in late embalming because they did not know how to remove the stone covering the tomb. Though the visit purpose of the women disciples was to anoint Jesus’ body, they could not do it because he had risen from the dead before they arrived at the tomb.

Mary of Bethany had previously anointed Jesus’ body when he was alive. According to John 12:1-8, Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary gave a supper for Jesus six days before the last Passover Jesus observed. During the dinner, “Mary took a pound of costly perfume made from genuine nard and anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair. And the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (vs. 3). When Judas Iscariot questioned, “This perfume could have been sold for three hundred denarii and the proceeds given to the poor.” (vs. 5), Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Was she not keeping it for the day of my burial?” (vs. 7). Jesus knew that anointing of his body would not happen after his death.

Matthew reports that there was an earthquake before the two women arrived at Jesus’ empty tomb. It could be an aftershock of the earthquake on Friday when Jesus died. However, an Angel of the Lord who descended from heaven had rolled the stone covering Jesus’ tomb. That angel was sitting on the stone. Besides the temple guards, God had assigned angels as honorary guards to the holy sepulcher and to announce the good news of Jesus’ resurrection to the visitors there. They kept the tomb opened for the visitors to witness the empty tomb. There was no need of opening the tomb for Jesus because he came out with a transformed body that could pass through the walls.

A group of women arrived at Jesus’ tomb. Two of them came first. According to Luke, “Among the women who brought the news were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James.” (Luke 24:10). The Angel of the Lord was visible as “a young man dressed in a white robe” (Mark 16:5) or “two men in dazzling garments” (Luke 24:4). He was God’s answer to their question among themselves: “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (Mark 16:3). The women could not open the tomb by themselves.

The Bible does not give the name of the angel. Scholars guess that it must be Angel Gabriel who had been communicating several times related to the incarnation of Christ. However, Luke mentions two angels (Luke 24:4). Angels were present during the momentous events of Jesus’ life like his birth, at the end of his temptation, at the Garden of Gethsemane, and at the time of his resurrection. At the empty tomb, there might have been many angels present; but only one or two were visible.

According to Matthew, the angel’s “appearance was like lightning and his garment white as snow.” (Matthew 28:3). When Prophet Daniel saw an angel, “his face had the brilliance of lightning.” (Daniel 10:6). This angel on the stone had a similar appearance. During the transfiguration of Jesus, “Even his clothes shone, becoming as white as no bleacher on earth could bleach them.” (Mark 9:3).

“The guards were so terrified at his sight that they shook with fear and became like dead men.” (Matthew 28:4). The guards were terrified at the extraordinary scenes, including the appearance of the Angel of the Lord. They might have fainted and fell to the ground and seemed like dead people before they left the place.

The women did not ask the angel anything. The angel could guess their inner thoughts from their reaction as they saw the empty tomb, the terrified soldiers, and the angel. So, the angel said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him.” (Matthew 28:5-6). Just as the angels announced Jesus’ birth in a field in Bethlehem, the angels announced his resurrection in another garden in Jerusalem. Though the women were afraid of the scene, unlike the guards, they were Jesus’ friends, and they had nothing to fear as the angel said.

The angel invited the ladies to see for themselves the empty tomb which they had seen on Friday. “Frightened, the women bowed to the ground. But the men said, ‘Why are you looking for the living among the dead?’” and reminded them of the prophecy of Jesus on his resurrection (Luke 24:5-7). After inspecting the tomb and its contents, the angel commissioned them to communicate the good news to Jesus’ disciples, including Peter (Mark 16:7). The angel specified Peter’s name because he was the team leader and to pacify him from his guilt feeling of denying Jesus three times during the trial.

The women including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and the others, who accompanied them by this time, met the eleven apostles and announced the good news of the Lord’s resurrection. “But however much they insisted, those who heard did not believe the seemingly nonsensical story.” (Luke 24:11).

Peter and John ran to the tomb to verify the women’s message. Since John was younger than Peter, John reached the tomb first. He waited for Peter to go in first. They identified the burial clothes in the tomb and believed in the resurrection. According to the Jewish law, the witness of two people was enough to determine a truth.

Stealing the body was not a possibility, especially without burial clothes, because the thieves will not get enough time to unwrap the burial clothes wrapped several rounds on the corpse. Besides, the napkin that covered the face was folded. That will not be a normal action of robbers who act in a hurry. Jesus’ appearance later confirmed the resurrection to the disciples, and he convinced them by eating with them.

4. The Appearance to Mary Magdalene (Matthew 28:8-10, Mark 16:9-11, John 20:11-18)

According to Matthew, while the women ran with fear and joy, they met Jesus on the way. Jesus also commissioned them to communicate the good news to his disciples. Mary, out of whom Jesus had driven out seven demons, got the privilege to see the Risen Lord first according to St. Mark (Mark 16:9).

Unlike Matthew and Mark, John gives a different version of how the Risen Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene. When Mary had noticed someone had removed the stone covering the tomb, she reported that to Simon Peter and John. They hurried to the tomb and saw the empty tomb with the burial clothes and returned from there. Mary Magdalene who was following them to the tomb stayed there. Then “she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, and the other at the feet.” (John 20:12). While she was talking to the angels, Jesus appeared behind her. Because of her tears, she could not recognize Jesus. She thought it was the gardener. However, when Jesus called her by name, she recognized him. As per instruction from the Risen Lord, she went to Jesus’ disciples, whom he qualified as “my brothers” and informed them what Jesus told her.

5. The Appearance to Two Disciples (Mark 16:12-13, Luke 24:13-35)

Jesus appeared to two disciples who were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus and “Then starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them everything in Scripture concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27). They did not recognize Jesus until “When they were at table, he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them.” (Luke 24:30). They went back to Jerusalem and shared with the other disciples their experience.

6. The Appearance to the Disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36-49, John 20:19-23)

On the same evening when Jesus resurrected, he appeared to the disciples in a locked room. He gave them power to absolve sins and commissioned them to preach the gospel.

7. The Report of the Guards (Matthew 28:11-15)

Matthew reports a story of the guards who saw Jesus’ resurrection. “The guards returned to the city and some of them reported to the chief priests all that had happened. The chief priests met with the Jewish authorities and decided to give the soldiers a good sum of money, with this instruction, ‘Say that while you were asleep, his disciples came by night and stole the body of Jesus. If Pilate comes to know of this, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ The soldiers accepted the money and did as they were told. This story has circulated among the Jews until this day.” (Matthew 28:11-15). That also became another evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

Instead of becoming believers, the soldiers betrayed Jesus like Judas for material benefits. The chief priests and the Jewish authorities who got the ultimate proof of Jesus as the Messiah, misused the opportunity to accept Jesus, and hid the truth from the public. Jesus had told about the Jewish leaders: “Therefore, woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door to the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor do you allow those who were entering to do so.” (Matthew 23:13).

MESSAGE

1. When the head of a family achieves something, it becomes the whole family’s accomplishment. So also, Jesus’ victory over death and sin is our victory. Let us follow his victorious path by taking up our cross with faith and commitment.

2. Though the apostles were men, the women disciples of Jesus were courageous and supportive of Jesus at his crucifixion, burial, and after resurrection. They were the first messengers of Jesus’ resurrection, even to the apostles. Women have a major service role in the church.

3. The prominent Jewish leaders, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, were afraid to support Jesus in public. However, they appeared with excellent service and generous offers after Jesus’ death. Let us be beneficial to others when they are alive as well.

4. The soldiers who guarded Jesus’ tomb were the only direct eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. They did not believe in Jesus and seek the salvation. Instead, they preferred money like Judas. What do we prefer in our lives?

5. At the birth of Jesus, the chief priests and the Scribes confirmed with King Herod the birthplace of Jesus as Bethlehem. However, they did not welcome the Messiah. So also, the High Priests and the elders heard Jesus’ resurrection from the guards at Jesus’ tomb. Still, they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah but hid the truth. Do we ignore the truth that God reveals to us and go after selfish goals?