The First Events of Easter Sunday |
Setting the Mystery of the Resurrection in Proper Perspective
Father James F. Wathen
"Sometime during Easter Sunday, the Lord appeared to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34). We know nothing more than that, though we can make certain inferences from this fact.The Lord's appearance to Simon was in virtue of his being the chief of the Apostles and the head of the Church. Even though he had failed his Lord most grievously, He had not lost his position, nor the Lord's great love. We who are, like Simon, sometimes overly assertive and temerarious, and, at other times, timid and cowardly, bringing shame and embarrassment upon ourselves, ought to bear in mind that, despite all our efforts to be undeserving of Him, the Lord will ever love us, and ever receive us back into His friendship. If we flee Him, indeed, He will find us and console us in our spiritual destitution."
Jesus' followers did not hear His promise of rising on the third day, though He repeated it many times. His enemies, however, remembered them very well. No sooner had Jesus died than they began to be concerned about his prediction.
Matthew 27:62-63 And the next day, which followed the day of preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees came together to Pilate, Saying: Sir, we have remembered, that that seducer said, while He was yet alive: After three days I will rise again.
Who else in the history of the world could make such a promise? Who would take a person who spoke in such a fashion seriously? The Jews did take our Lord seriously, because He had raised others to life.
Mt. 27:64 Command therefore the sepulchre to be guarded until the third day: lest perhaps His disciples come and steal Him away and say to the people: He is risen from the dead. And the last error shall be worse than the first.
Thus did our Lord's enemies provide witnesses against themselves. Ironically, after they had taken such strenuous means to keep a dead Man in His tomb, the excuse they gave for the disappearance of His Body was the very one which they sought to forestall.
Mt. 27:65 Pilate saith to them: You have a guard. Go, guard it as you know.
The guard was sixteen soldiers. This "watch" had been assigned to Christ for His crucifixion. Thus the same soldiers who experienced the frightening circumstances which surrounded the Lord's death on Calvary were assigned to watch the stone cell of Joseph of Arimathea's tomb. They were to stand guard over the tomb, four at a time, until the third day was over, or until such time as it was judged the "Deceiver" had failed to honor His word.
Mt. 27:66 And they departing, made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone and setting guards.
2. The soldiers set their guard Friday evening after our Lady and the others had buried the crucified Body of our Savior. The burial was done hastily, because everything had to be done before sundown, the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. The Scripture informs us that the women, who were with Mary, observed the burial carefully, already making plans among themselves to return on Sunday (the day after the Sabbath) to bury the Lord more properly.
The Scriptures inform us that as soon as the sun set on Saturday (the Sabbath), when buying things was allowed again, the women hastened to purchase the ointments and spices which were a part of the Jewish burial. The Evangelists, by their reporting, remind us that, while the apostles and other men were keeping out of sight, the women gave no thought to themselves in their devotion to Christ, and spent the hours of Saturday night gathering and preparing the things they would need on the morrow.
3. The resurrection took place in this way. The Lord rose as the first rays of dawn appeared. He passed noiselessly though the thick walls of His tomb, unseen by the soldiers, unseen, not because He was invisible, but because He chose not to be seen by them. The majority of commentators, ancient and modern, are convinced that the Lord Jesus once risen, guarded carefully who saw Him - only those who believed.
If there could have been any consolation for our Lady of Sorrows at the foot of the cross, it was her strong faith in the Lordís words that, "on the third day, the Son of Man will rise again." She alone among His followers took these words to heart and nourished them in her extreme grief. She accepted that all that Jesus suffered was decreed by the Father, and that it was necessary for the Divine Mercy. At the same time, it was necessary for her to endure vicariously all the terrible torments which she witnessed Him suffering, on the way of the cross, on Golgotha, where they stripped, and nailed and hung Him up, without the least show of mercy. She suffered with Him the endless hours of His crucifixion and the satanic hatred and derision of His enemies, who enjoyed their hour of triumph. She welcomed His deliverance in death, received Him down from the cross, and washed Him for His burial.
It is said that it was Mary who urged Joseph of Arimathea to beg the Body of Jesus from Pilate, even though such a thing was fraught with dangers of various kinds for him, he being a member of the Sanhedrin. Mary watched the Lordís burial, though her grief had drained her of all her strength. During the hours after the burial and all through Saturday, she contemplated the death of Her Son, the Savior of the world, and the mystery of His divine mastery over all the events of which He outwardly was the Victim. She had communed with Him wordlessly on the cross; she now communed with Him as Her present but invisible God and Son. To her the Lord appeared first upon departing from the tomb. She received Him, no doubt, as if she had been awaiting His arrival. He showed her His risen Body, with the marks of the nails and spear, the Body which she had given Him and nourished and cared for.
4. Shortly after our Lord departed from His tomb, an angel descended from Heaven, rolled the stone away from the entrance of the tomb, and sat upon it. His doing so was accompanied by an earthquake in the area and flashes of lightning, which caused the soldiers to fly for cover and to freeze in terror. Having satisfied themselves that the Body was no longer in the tomb, they fled away. They did not hesitate to disturb the Jewish leaders, no doubt including Annas and Caiaphas. They testified to the resurrection. Always resourceful, the Jews pay the soldiers handsomely to circulate the story of the Body's theft, and assure them that they will may things right with Pilate, which means bribe Pilate not to punish the soldiers for their breach of duty.
It goes without saying that, had the Jewish leader not known of the resurrection, they would have had the apostles arrested immediately and made them produce the Body, which would have settled the matter forever. And, to be sure, the bewildered apostles would have confessed their crime and incriminated each other without shame. But such an idea is completely incongruous, because on Easter morning, what possible reason would the Apostles have had to take the Lord's Body and proclaim His resurrection? They were the most disillusioned of all!
Pilate took their money (as all good politicians do), but he did not keep the secret. To justify and protect himself, he wrote a letter to Tiberias Caesar to this effect:
"The chief of the Jews falsely asserted to me that Jesus was a sorcerer, and had broken their law. And I believe that it was so, and delivered Him to be scourged, according to their will; but they crucified Him, and set a watch at the sepulchre. But He rose again on the third day, while my soldiers were keeping watch. But the wickedness of the Jews was inflamed to such a pitch that they gave money to the watch, and said, Say ye that His disciples stole away His body. But when they [the soldiers] had received the money they were not able to be silent about what had been done; for they testified [to me] that they had seen Him rise, and that they had received money from the Jews. I have therefore made a statement of these things, that no one may falsely allege otherwise, and suppose that credit ought to be given to the falsehoods of the Jews."
As the men in our Lord's company acted their part, and the women, so the Lord's enemies sustained their characters. Not even the stupendous miracle of our Savior's bursting the bonds of death touch their perverted souls. Neither do they fear the power of Him against Whom their most evil and murderous plots have failed completely, but only enhanced.
5. The women arrive at the sepulcher shortly after the soldiers' departure. They, of course, have no knowledge of the tomb's being under guard. Surprisingly, in their preoccupation over the many items they must have for the burial, they had given no thought to the one big thing, the stone which closed the grave.
Mary Magdalen arrives with the other women for the anointing of the Body of Jesus. The angel informs them of the resurrection. The women leave bewildered but joyful. At first, they do not know what to do. At first, they are afraid to tell the disciples in the Upper Room. They return and Mary reports: "They have taken away the Lord from the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid Him." (John 20:2). From our perspective, the story is incredible. The women come and find the tomb open. Angels tell them that the Lord has risen. They lead them into the tomb, where, they find the Lordís grave clothes. And they are so dumbstruck and bewildered that they can only deduce that supposedly Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus and their helpers have for some unknown reason taken the Body elsewhere.
Simon Peter and John run to the tomb. Mary Magdalen returns. Simon and John examine the empty tomb and convince themselves that in truth the Body has been removed. They depart. Mary returns, sees angels again, but is too distraught to make any sense of what they tell her. She turns from the tomb to see Jesus Whom she takes for the gardener, the caretaker of the place.
John 20:11 But Mary stood at the sepulchre without, weeping. Now as she was weeping, she stooped down and looked into the sepulchre,
Mary weeps because she does not know where the Body of Jesus is. He was her life. His death shattered her. She could not get to the tomb soon enough to His Remains in order to complete the burial duties, but more, in order to be with all that that was left of Him Whom alone she loved.
John 20:12-13 And she saw two angels in white, sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been laid.
They say to her: Woman, why weepest thou? She saith to them: Because they have taken away my Lord: and I know not where they have laid him.
Mary acts as if there is nothing curious or significant about the presence of these two strangers. What they say has no effect upon her whatsoever, so convinced is she that the Body has been taken away and she has no idea where to look for it, which causes her to be desperate and to keep looking in the same place.
Jn. 20:14-15 When she had thus said, she turned herself back and saw Jesus standing: and she knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith to her: "Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?" She, thinking that it was the gardener, saith to Him: Sir, if thou hast taken Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him: and I will take Him away.
Apparently, Jesus is dressed, or appears to Mary to be dressed, like a workman. He may have caused this to be, knowing the condition of mind Mary is in; or His clothes signify nothing to her; all she sees is a man to whom she can make her complaint and her plea. Again, it does not occur to her to ask why the Body was removed, and the grave clothes left behind.
Jn. 20:16 Jesus saith to her: "Mary." She turning, saith to him: Rabboni (which is to say, Master).
Finally, she recognizes Jesus, and all her sorrow and puzzlement and distress are no more. Her life has returned to her; she also is resurrected, she also now lives again. Her reaction is to rush to Him and embrace His feet, to grasp Him, and worship Him.
Jn. 20:17 Jesus saith to her: "Do not touch Me: for I am not yet ascended to My Father. But go to My brethren and say to them: I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God."
The commentators explain these words in many ways. We do not understand the connection between the first words, "Do not touch Me," - "Noli Me tangere" - and the second, "for I am not yet ascended to my Father." These words seem more intelligible if read in this order:
"Do not touch Me, but go to my brethren and say to them: For I am not yet ascended to My Father. I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God." When read this way, it means, I must not take time now for this happy reunion, which I know thrills your heart. I have many things to do and to say to My brethren before I ascend into Heaven. He says "to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God," because His relationship to the Father is one of consubstantial nature, and ours is that of poor sinners who have been pardoned and mystically adopted into the Divine Family, through Baptism.
During the time after the Resurrection, the Lord Jesus concerns Himself to do two things: the first is to prove that He is truly risen, something which seems harder to us than it ought to have been; the second is to complete their instruction and prepare them for His departure, when they will be the witnesses of His resurrection, and the founders of His Church. The Gospels do well to describe the excitement and the glad hopefulness which the Lord's disciples experienced as word of His return to life spread among them, but the joy is muted by the fact that their relationship to Christ is above all things religious and spiritual, and, only to a less extent, social. Before and above all things, He is "Emmanuel," God among us.
As we read the accounts, we observe how the Lord deals with them as He always did, emphasizing at the expense of merely human considerations, the unearthly and supernatural purpose of His having gathered them as His "brethren."
What is obvious is that Jesus acts as Himself, not as one who is merely human, enjoying a reunion with a beloved friend. His divine mission is always uppermost in His words and actions. Here He mentions forthcoming Ascension for the first time.
Jn. 20:18 Mary Magdalen cometh and telleth the disciples: I have seen the Lord; and these things He said to me.
6. Sometime during Easter Sunday, the Lord appeared to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34). We know nothing more than that, though we can make certain inferences from this fact. The Lord's appearance to Simon was in virtue of his being the chief of the Apostles and the head of the Church. Even though he had failed his Lord most grievously, He had not lost his position, nor the Lord's great love. We who are, like Simon, sometimes overly assertive and temerarious, and, at other times, timid and cowardly, bringing shame and embarrassment upon ourselves, ought to bear in mind that, despite all our efforts to be undeserving of Him, the Lord will ever love us, and ever receive us back into His friendship. If we flee Him, indeed, He will find us and console us in our spiritual destitution.
The Feast of the Resurrection is the most joyous of all. I send everyone my sincerest wishes for the graces of this happy day. May he rejoice in his heart, in union with Mary, at the glorious triumph of our divine Savior and Redeemer. Again, I express my gratitude to everyone who has sent words of encouragement and good will, and gifts of money for my medical expenses and the like. I thank also everyone who has continued to pray for me and beg him to continue, as his prayers are my hope. I send everyone my priestly blessing in the Name of our Risen Savior.
Father James Wathen
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