It’s Not About You

We have come to the conclusion of the Easter Cycle as we celebrate Pentecost this weekend. All through this period we have been reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Fully the last two-thirds of Acts has focused on the Evangelical Mission of St. Paul as he made four journeys into Asia Minor and then into Greece. The final chapters of Acts deal with Paul’s arrest, imprisonment and appearance before Roman officials such as Felix and Festus, as well as Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem and Caesarea.

Paul appeals his case to Rome and is sent there on ill fated journey that shipwrecks at Malta. Finally making it to Rome, Paul is imprisoned and awaits the trial that will either vindicate him or seal his fate. The story seems to be building to a climactic conclusion and we, the readers,  are ready to see Paul through his final trial. But then something astonishing happens: the story just ends. He is the concluding line of the Acts of the Apostles:

[Paul] remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 28:30-31)

But Luke! Don’t just leave us hanging! Did Paul go on trial? We he acquitted as some traditions assert and then made his way to Spain as he wanted? Or did he loose his appeal and suffer beheading right away? What was the outcome? We have seen Paul so far and now the story just ends?!

How can we answer this exasperating and unsatisfying end?

The simplest answer is that the Acts of the Apostles is not about Paul. It is about the going forth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. Luke has, to be sure, personified this going forth of the Gospel to the nations by focusing on Paul. But once Paul reaches Rome and, though under house arrest,  is able to freely preach the Gospel there (for there is chaining the Word of God(2 Tim 2:9)), the story reaches its natural conclusion. It is true, others had preached the Gospel in Rome before Paul, but since Paul has been the way Luke illustrates this going forth of the Word of God, the entry of Paul into Rome means the story has reached its goal. From Rome the Gospel with go forth to every part of the Empire, for every road led to Rome and away from it. Now that the Gospel has reached the center hub and is being freely preached, it will radiate outward in all directions by the grace of God.

But what about Paul and what of his fate? It doesn’t matter. It never WAS about Paul. It was about the Gospel. Paul himself testified to this when he said, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)

We are often focused on personalities and frequently we loose track about what is most important. And, frankly the personality we are most focused on is very often ourselves. Acts never really was about Paul. And your life is not about you. It is about what the Lord is doing for you and through you. We often want things to revolve around us, around what we think, and what we want. But, truth be told, you are not that important, neither am I. We must decrease and the Lord must increase (Jn 3:30).

Some of these notions hit hard in the self esteem culture in which we live. But in the end our true glory is not our own glory, but the glory of God radiating in us. If we decrease, the Lord increases. But that does not mean we are swallowed up and lost in Christ. Rather, it means we truly become the man or woman God has always made us to be, one who reflects the very glory of God. Perhaps it is best to let Paul himself end this:

For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus. For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of (Jesus) Christ. (2 Cor 4:5-6)

This video is of the conclusion of the Acts of the Apostles. The scene begins with Paul speaking to Jewish leaders in Rome. The epilogue in the video which shows Luke leaving Rome is not part of the Acts of the Apostles.

Mass on the Move: The Hidden Mass on the Road to Emmaus

Today’s Gospel of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13ff) does more than present a resurrection appearance. It also presents the Mass in seminal form as I will show. In doing this Luke and the Holy Spirit teach us that the Mass is the essential and most vivid way that we encounter Christ now. The two disciples also learn this lesson for as soon as they recognize Christ “in the breaking of the bread” he vanishes from their earthly eyes. In effect Christ teaches them they will no longer see him in an earthly  way but now they will see him with the eyes of faith in the Eucharist, the liturgy and, by extension, in all the sacraments.

So for us to who to encounter the risen Lord Jesus, this Gospel teaches us that the Mass is the most perfect way and place we will encounter him. Let’s examine this resurrection appearance and see it for what it is, a Mass.

  1. Gathering Rite – The Curtain rises on this Mass with two disciples having gathered together on a journey: Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus  (Lk 24:13). This is what we do as the preliminary act of every Mass. We who are pilgrims on a journey come together on our journey. It so happens for these two disciples that Jesus joins them: And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them (Luke 24:15). The text goes on to inform us that they did not recognize Jesus yet. Now for us who gather at Mass it is essential to acknowledge by faith that when we gather together, the Lord Jesus is with us,  for Scripture says, For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matt 18:20). it is a true fact that for many of us too, Jesus is unrecognized! Yet he is no less among us than he was present to these two disciples who fail to recognize him. Liturgically we acknowledge the presence of the Lord at the beginning of the Mass in two ways. First, as the priest processes down the aisle the congregation sings a hymn of praise. It is not “Fr. Jones” they praise it is Jesus whom “Fr. Jones” represents that they praise. Once at the Chair the celebrant (who is really Christ) says, “The Lord be with you.” And thereby he announces the presence of Christ among us promised by the Scriptures. The Mass has begun, our two disciples are gathered and the Lord is with them. So too for us at every Mass.
  2. Penitential Rite – The two disciples seem troubled and the Lord inquires of them the source of their distress: What are you discussing as you walk along? (Lk 24:17) In effect the Lord invites them to speak with him about what is troubling them. It may also be a gentle rebuke from the Lord that the two of them are walking away from Jerusalem, away from the site of the resurrection. Clearly their sorrow and distress are governing their behavior. Even though they have already heard evidence of his resurrection (cf 24:22-24), they seem hopeless and have turned away from this good news. The text describes them as “downcast” (24:17). Thus the Lord engages them is a kind of gentle penitential rite and  wants to engage them on their negativity. So too for us at Mass. The penitential rite is a moment when the celebrant (who is really Christ) invites us to lay down our burdens and sins before the Lord who alone can heal us. We too often enter the presence of God looking downcast and carrying many burdens and sins. We too like these two disciples may be walking in wrongful directions. And so the Lord says to us, in effect, “What are thinking about and doing as you walk along. Where are you going with your life. And thus again we see in this story about two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Mass that is so familiar to us.
  3. The Liturgy of the Word – In response to their concerns and struggles the Lord breaks open the Word of God, the Scriptures. The text says: Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures (Luke 24:27). Notice that, not only does the Lord refer to Scripture but he interprets it for them. Hence the Word is not only read, there is also a homily, an explanation and application of the Scripture to the struggles these men have. The homily was a good one too for later, the disciples remark: Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32) And so too for us at Mass. Whatever struggles we may have brought to the Mass, the Lord bids us to listen to his Word as the Scriptures are proclaimed. Then the homilist (who is really Christ) interprets and applies the Word to our life. It is a true fact that the Lord works through a weak human agent (the priest or deacon) but God can write straight with crooked lines and as long as the homilist is orthodox, it is Christ who speaks. Pray for your homilist to be an obedient and useful instrument for Christ at the homily moment. After the homily we usually make prayers and requests of Christ. And so it is that we also see these two disciples request of Christ: Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over. (Luke 24:29) Is this not what we also say in so many words: Stay with us Lord, for it is sometimes dark in our lives and the shadows are growing long. Stay with us Lord and those we love so that we will not be alone in the dark. In our darkest hours, be to us a light O Lord that never fades away. Yes, this whole brief journey of Jesus and the disciples is surely familiar to us who attend the Catholic Mass!
  4. The Liturgy of the Eucharist – Christ does stay with them and then come the lines that no Catholic could miss: And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them (Luke 24:30). Yes, the Mass to be sure. Later, the two disciples will refer back to this moment as the breaking of the bread(Luke 24:35), a clear Biblical reference to the Holy Eucharist. The words of Mass come immediately to mind: “While they were at supper He took the bread, and gave you thanks and praise. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, take this all of you and eat it: this is my Body which will be given up for you.” A fascinating thing happens though: With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:31). First note that it is the very act of consecration that opens their eyes. Is this not what Holy Communion is to do for us? Are we not to learn to recognize Christ by the very mysteries we celebrate? The liturgy and the sacraments are not mere rituals, they are encounters with Jesus Christ, and though our repeated celebration of the holy mysteries our eyes are increasingly opened if we are faithful. We learn to see and hear Christ in the liturgy, to experience his ministry to us. The fact that he vanishes from their sight teaches us that he is no longer seen by the eyes of the flesh, but by the eyes of faith and the eyes of the heart. So though he is gone from our earthly, fleshly, carnal sight, he is now to be seen in the Sacrament of the Altar, and experienced in the liturgy and other sacraments. The Mass has reached it’s pinnacle, for these two disciples and for us.
  5. Dismissal Rite– Not able to contain their joy or hide their experience the two disciples run seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell their brethren what had happened and how they encountered Jesus in the breaking of the bread. They want to, have to,  speak of the Christ they have encountered, what he said and what he did. How about us? At the end of every Mass the priest or deacon says “The Mass is ended, go in peace.” This does NOT mean, “OK, we’re done here, go on home and haver nice day.” What it DOES mean is: “Go now into the world and bring the Christ you have received to others. Tell them what you have heard and seen here, what you have experienced. Share the joy and hope that this Liturgy gives with others.” Perhaps you can see the word MISSion in the word disMISSal? You are being commissioned, sent on a mission to announce Christ to others. The Lucan text we are reviewing says of these two disciples: So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them…..Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:33,35). How about us. Does our Mass finish as well, as enthusiastically?

So there it is, the Mass on the Move. For a Catholic this resurrection account is unmistakably a Mass. True it is in seminal form, but all the elements are there. The teaching is clear, the risen Lord Jesus is now to be found in the Liturgy and the Sacraments. It is for us only to have our eyes opened and to recognize him there.

A Chronological Sequence of the Resurrection Appearances

This Blog post is a follow-up from yesterday’s blog.

When we encounter the resurrection accounts in the New Testament we face a challenge  in putting all the pieces together in a way that the sequence of the events flow in logical order. This is due to the fact that no one Gospel presents all, or even most of the data. Some of the data also seems to conflict. I tried to show in yesterday’s blog that these apparent conflicts are not true conflicts. Another problem with putting all the facts together in a coherent and reasonably complete manner is that the time line of the events is often unclear in some of the accounts. Luke and John are the clearest as to the time frame of the events they describe but Matthew and Luke given us very few parameters. Both Acts and Paul also supply data wherein the time frame is not always clear.

Nevertheless I want to propose to you a possible, even likely, sequence of the Resurrection events. The work is my own and I make no claim that this scenario is certain or backed up by recognized ancient authority. It is simply the fruit of 20+ years of praying over and pondering the events of those forty days between the Lord’s resurrection and ascension. My reflections are based as solidly as possible on the actual biblical data with a small sprinkling of speculation. I realize that my attempt to do this will irritate some modern biblical scholars who, for reasons unclear to me, seem to insist it is wrong to attempt any synthesis of the texts. Nevertheless I boldly press on figuring that the average believer will benefit from it and find such a synthesis interesting. Take it for what it is, the work of an obscure pastor who has prayed and carefully sought to follow the sequence of the forty days. You may wish to offer correction or alternative interpretation and are encouraged to do so in the comments. I have posted a PDF of this Document that is easier to read here: Resurrection Chronological Sequence

  • I. The Morning of Day One
    • A. Very early in the morning a group of several women, including Mary Magdalene, approach the tomb to complete burial customs on behalf of Jesus (Matt 28:1; Mk 16:1; Jn 20:1).
    • B. They behold the tomb opened and are alarmed.
    • C. Mary Magdalene runs to Peter and John with distressing news of likely grave robbers (John 20:2)
    • D. The women who remain encounter an angel who declared to them that Jesus had risen and that they should tell this to the brethren (Mk 16:5; Lk 24:4; Matt 28:5).
    • E. They are filled with fear at first and depart from the tomb afraid to speak (Mk 16:8)
    • F. Recovering their courage they decide to go to the Apostles. (Luke 24:9; Matt 28:8)
    • G. Meanwhile Peter and John have gone out to the tomb to investigate Mary’s claim. Mary Magdalene followed them back out to the tomb arriving before they left. Peter and  John discover the tomb empty though they encounter no angel. John believes in the resurrection. Peter’s conclusion is not recorded.
    • H. The other women have reported what the angels say to the Apostles. Peter and John have not yet returned and these remaining apostles  are dismissive of the women’s story at first (Lk 24:9-11). 
    • I. Mary, lingering at the tomb weeps and is fearful. Peering into the tomb she sees this time two angels who wonder why she weeps. Jesus then approaches her from behind. Not looking directly at Jesus, she supposes him to be the gardener. Then he calls her by name, and Mary, recognizing his voice, turns and sees him. Filled with joy she clings to him. (APPEARANCE 1) (Jn 20:16)
    • J. Jesus sends her back to the apostles with the news to prepare them for his appearance later that day. (Jn 20:17)
    • K. The other women have departed the apostles and are on their way possibly back home. Jesus then appears to them (Mat 28:9) after he had dispatched Mary. He also sends them back to the apostles  with the news that he had risen and that he would see them. (APPEARANCE 2)
  • II. The Afternoon and evening of day one.
    • A. Later that Day, two disciples on their way to Emmaus are pondering what they have heard about rumors of his resurrection. Jesus comes up behind them but they are prevented from recognizing him. First Jesus breaks open the word for them, then sits at table with them and celebrates the Eucharist whereupon their eyes are opened and they recognize him in the breaking of the bread. (APPEARANCE 3) (Luke 24:13-30)
    • B. The two disciples returned that evening to Jerusalem and went to the Eleven. At first the eleven disbelieved them just as they had the women (Mk 16:13). Nevertheless they continue to relate what they had experienced. At some point Peter drew apart from the others (perhaps for a walk?) And the Lord appeared to Peter (APPEARANCE 4)(Lk 24:34; 1 Cor 15:5) who informed the other ten who then believed. Thus the disciples from Emmaus (still lingering with the apostles) were now told (perhaps by way of apology) that it was in indeed true that Jesus had risen (Lk 24:34).
    • C. Almost at the same moment Jesus appears to the small gathering of apostles and the two disciples from Emmaus. (APPEARANCE 5)  Thomas was absent (although the Lucan text describes the appearance as to “the eleven” this is probably just a euphemism for “the apostles” as a group)  They are startled but Jesus reassures them and opens the scriptures to them (Lk 24:36ff).
    • D. There is some debate as to whether he appeared to them a second time that night. The Johannine account has significantly different data about the appearance on the first Sunday evening from the Lucan account. Is it merely different data about the same account or is it a wholly separate appearance? It is not possible to say. Nevertheless since the data is so different we can call it (APPEARANCE 6) (John 20:19ff) though it is likely synonymous with appearance 5.
  • III. Interlude –
    • A. There is no biblical data that Jesus appeared to them during the week that followed. The next account of the resurrection says, “Eight days later” namely the following Sunday.
    • B. We do know that the apostles surely exclaimed to Thomas that they had seen the Lord but he refused to believe it. (Jn 20:24-26)
    • C. Were the apostles nervous that Jesus had not appeared again each day? Again we do not know, the data is simply silent as to what happened during this interlude.
  • IV. One week later, Sunday two.
    • A. Jesus appears once again (APPEARANCE 7) to the apostles gathered. This time Thomas is with them. He calls Thomas to faith who now confesses Jesus to be Lord and God. (John 20:24-29)
  • V. Interlude 2
    • A. The apostles received some instructions to return to Galilee (Mat 28:10; Mk 16:7) where they would see Jesus. Thus they spent some of the week journeying 60 miles to the north. This would have taken some time. We can imagine them making the trek north during the intervening days.
  • VI. Some time later –
    • A.  The time frame of the next appearance is somewhat vague. John merely says “After this.” Likely it is a matter of days or a week at best. The scene is at the Sea of Galilee. Not all the Twelve are present. They have gone fishing and Jesus summons them from the lakeside. They come to shore and see him (APPEARANCE 8 )  . Peter has a poignant discussion with Jesus in this appearance and is commissioned to tend the flock of Christ (John 21).
    • B. The Appearance to the 500. Of all the appearances you might think that this one would have been recorded in some detail since it was the most widely experienced appearance. Many accounts it seems would have existed and at least one would have made its way into the scriptures. Yet there is no account of it other than it did in fact happen. Paul records the fact of this appearance: 1Corinithians 15:6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (APPEARANCE 9) Where did this take place. What was it like. What was the reaction? We simply do not know. Proof once again that the Bible is not a history book in the conventional sense. Rather it is a highly selective telling of what took place, not a complete account.   The Bible makes no pretenses to be something it is not. It is quite clear that it is a selective book: (John 20:30).
    • C. The Appearance to James.  Here again we do not have a description of this appearance only a remark by Paul that it did in fact happen: 1Cor 15:7  Then he appeared to James. (APPEARANCE 10)  The time frame is not clear. Only that it happened after the appearance to the five hundred and before the final appearance to the apostles.
  • VII. The rest of the forty days.
    • A. Jesus certainly had other on-going appearances with the disciples. Luke attests to this in Acts when he writes: Acts 1: 3  To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. 
    • B. During this time there is perhaps the one appearance we can attribute to this time period as recorded by Matthew (28:16ff) and Mark (16:14ff). It takes place an “a mountaintop in Galilee.” Mark adds that they were reclining at table. For these notes this appearance (time frame uncertain) is referred to as  (APPEARANCE 11) It is here that he give the great commission. Although Mark’s text may seem to imply that Jesus was taken up from this mountain, such a conclusion is rash since Mark only indicates that Jesus ascended only “after he had spoken to them” (Mk 16:19).
    •  Evidently Jesus had also summoned them back to Jerusalem at least toward the end of the period of the forty days. There they would be present for the feast of Pentecost. We can imagine frequent appearances with on-going instruction for Luke records that Jesus “stayed with them.” Most of these appearances and discourses are not recorded. Luke writes in Acts: And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4)
  • VIII. The final appearance and ascension:
    • A. After forty days of appearances and instructions we have a final account of the last appearance  (APPEARANCE 12)  wherein he led them out to a place near Bethany, gave them final instructions to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit was sent. And then he was taken up to heaven in their very sight. (Luke 24:50-53;  Acts 1).

So here is a possible and, if I do say so myself, likely chronological sequence of the resurrection appearances. It is a kind of synthesis that attempts to collect all the data and present it in a logical order. There are limits to what we can expect of the Scriptural account, and fitting perfectly into a time frame and logical sequence is not what the texts primarily propose to do. Yet such a chronological sequence can prove helpful and it is in that spirit that I present this.

This video is a collection of the Johannine appearances that I stitched together and set to the Music of Mozart’s Regina Caeli.

Making Sense of the Resurrection Accounts: Are there Discrepancies?

When we read the various accounts of the Resurrection in the four Gospels, Acts and Pauline Epistles we can easily be puzzled by some apparent discrepancies in the details. The word “apparent” is important because some who wish to cast doubt on the historicity of the Resurrection often wish to make more of these differences than necessary. Many, if not most of the differences can be dealt with quite easily and we are able to ultimately stitch together a pretty clear account of the resurrection if we are disposed to do so. Sadly today, some are not. Some are downright hostile to the claim of the Church that Jesus rose. Others, many modern day Scripture Scholars among them, like to insist that the Scriptures are not history as we mean the term today (an exact chronological and comprehensive analysis of an event or era). Hence they like to leave the apparent discrepancies unresolved and consider attempts to resolve them as “simplistic” and “fundamentalist.” While I agree that the Scriptures do not convey history as modern histories do (for example they are selective, story based accounts rather than our modern journalistic approach to history), I will not concede that they are not historical. In fact they do convey what Jesus actually did and said. Hence apparent conflicts ought to be explored and explained.

What are the apparent conflicts that emerge in the accounts? They are these:

  1. How many women went out to the tomb that morning, one (Jn 20:21) two (Matt 28:1), or three (Mk 16:1)?
  2. Did Magdalene alone go to just Peter and John (Jn 20) or did the several women go to the Apostles (Matt 28; Mk 16)?
  3. How many angels did they see there that morning, one (Matt 28:2; Mk 16:5) or two (Lk 24:4; Jn 20:12)?
  4. Did the women run to the other disciples and tell what they had seen (Mt 28:8; Lk 24:9) or did they say nothing out of fear (Mk 16:8)?
  5. Did Jesus see them first in Galilee (Mk 16:7; Mt 28:9) or in Jerusalem (Jn 20; Lk 24:36)?
  6. Among the Apostles, did he appear to Peter first (Lk 24:34), all eleven at once (Mt. 28:16), or the eleven minus Thomas (Jn 20:24)?
  7. Did Jesus appear to them in a room (Jn 20:19) or a mountaintop (Mt 28:16)?
  8. Lastly, did Jesus ascend on Easter Sunday (Lk 24:50-53; Mk 16:19) or forty days later (Acts 1:3,9)?

At one level some react that some of these details are picky. Who cares really who many women went or how many angels? Perhaps but it does not seem wise to simply dismiss the differences this way. Some of the differences ARE quite significant. For example, did Jesus appear to them first in Jerusalem? Luke and John are quite clear that he did. But why then does Mark completely ignore this and have the angel instruct the women to have the disciples go to Galilee where they will see him? Now, as has been stated, these differences can be addressed in a thoughtful manner but they should not be simply dismissed as of no account.

In what follows I propose to address these difference and give possible resolutions. I am also aware and expect to hear from some who consider any attempts to resolve these matters “simplistic.” But I and others who have pondered these matters are not simpletons and would prefer if those who might have a different explanation or view would avoid dismissive, demeaning or ad hominem argumentum. If something seems wrong state why and give evidence or an alternative point of view. So, on to possible solutions.

  1. How many women went out to the tomb that morning, one (John 20:21), two (Matt 28:1) or three (Mk 16:1) and how many angels were there, one (Mk 16:5, Mat 28:2) or two (Lk 24:4, Jn 20:12)? One solution here is to recall that neither John’s Gospel nor Matthew’s absolutely deny that three women went to the tomb that day. They simply do not mention three whereas Mark does. John especially wishes to focus on Mary Magdalene and may have found it unnecessary to mention the others. Additionally, Matthew and Mark’s mention of one angel need not be seen as an absolute denial that there were two as described in Luke and John. Another solution is simply to acknowledge the discrepancies in the accounts but underscore the fact that the number of women and the number of angels is not the central point. The point is that the tomb was discovered empty by one or several women and they were instructed to tell the apostles what they saw and heard.
  2. Matthew (28:8) and Luke (24:9) indicate that the women went and told the disciples of the empty tomb but Mark (16:8) says they were afraid and said nothing. True but in the verses that follow in the appendix to Mark’s own Gospel (Mk. 16:10) Mary Magdalene does in fact tell the apostles. Rather than conflicting with the other texts, Mark may merely supply additional detail about the startled nature of the women, that at first they were startled and said nothing but soon after went on, as Mark in fact says, a did tell the apostles.
  3. Mark (16:7) and Matthew (28:9) indicate, according to the angel’s instructions, that Jesus would see them in Galilee but Luke (24:36 and John 20) describe the first appearances in Jerusalem. In addressing this difference we must recall that the gospels are not written as chronological or complete histories. The evangelists selected events from among the many things Jesus said and did and may also have altered the order. John (20:30 & 21:25) explicitly states that his account is selective. Hence we ought not conclude that any one gospel completely details all the resurrection appearances. It is true Mark and Matthew speak only of appearances in Galilee. Thus these accounts might only include the angelic instructions to go to Galilee since that they did not intend to describe appearances elsewhere. In other words it is possible to speculate that the angelic instructions were more elaborate and included instructions as to being prepared to meet Jesus first in Jerusalem. Matthew and Mark however paired these details down in their accounts since they did not intend to include the Jerusalem appearances in their accounts. This may not satisfy our notions of historical accounts wherein we expect and want a complete accounting of all the details. But, as has already been noted the Scriptures simply do not record history in this way. Rather they are selective accounts that open windows on history but do not claim to exhaustively report it. Note also that Matthew and Mark are not clear as to the time frame of the appearances they describe. Luke and John however, set the first appearance in Jerusalem and are rather clear that the day is the same day as the resurrection. Hence we reasonably conclude that the first appearances took place in Jerusalem and later appearances took place in Galilee. In other words the Jerusalem appearances do not conflict with the Galilean appearances in any way. Rather they simply add details that Mark and Matthew, for reasons of their own, chose not to include. Such a conclusion is speculative to be sure. It does, however, help us to see that the accounts do not absolutely contradict each other.
  4. Among the Apostles, did Jesus appear to Peter first (Lk 24:34), all eleven at once (Mt. 28:16), or the eleven minus Thomas (Jn 20:24)? There seems to be a good case for the fact that the Lord appeared first to Peter even though we do not have a direct account of this appearance in the scriptures. The Gospel of Luke makes mention of it, And they [the disciples travelling to Emmaus] rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”(24:33-34). Paul also records it [The Lord] was raised the third day in accordance with the scriptures…he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time…Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles (1 Cor 15:3ff). So it seems a pretty good case can be made that Peter did see the risen Lord before the other apostles. This quote from Paul also helps us recall that the gospel accounts are selective in terms of which resurrection appearances they report. Thus, as we read the various accounts, we get from each of them only a part of the full picture (see John 20:30). According to Paul there were appearances to Peter, to five hundred disciples, and to James. The details of these appearances are left to our imagination. It also follows that we do not need to see the accounts of John and Matthew cited above as conflicting. They may well be describing different appearances.
  5. Did Jesus appear to them in a room (Jn 20:19) or a mountaintop (Mt 28:16)? Again, we need not place these texts at odds with one another. Most likely they are describing different appearances. Since the time frame of John is clear that the appearances in the upper room took place on Resurrection Sunday and then a week later we can presume that these appearances took place first. The mountaintop appearance was in Galilee and the time frame is not clear. It may have been days or weeks later.
  6. Did Jesus ascend on Easter Sunday (Lk 24:50-53; Mk 16:19) or forty days later (Acts 1:3,9)? At first glance the texts from Luke and Mark do seem to imply that the ascension was the same day as the resurrection. However, a closer look will show that they are rather vague as to the time frame. Mark begins the passage leading up to the ascension with the word “afterward.” How long after the previous appearance is uncertain. Luke’s passage is also vague regarding the time. However Acts (1:3,9) also written by Luke is quite specific that the time of the ascension was forty days later. Thus, Acts need not be seen to conflict with the gospel accounts; it merely supplies the details that are lacking in them. This case is made stronger when we note that Luke is generally accepted to be the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles and it seems unlikely that Luke would directly contradict himself.

So here then is a short tour of some of the apparent discrepancies and possible ways to resolve them. In the end we simply have to accept that the Gospels do not record history in the same systematic and strictly chronological manner we moderns prefer. But they DO record history. It is for us to accept the evidence and accounts as they are given. The fact is that to develop a precise time frame and blow by blow chronological description may not be fully possible. However, careful study of the texts can help somewhat in this regard. In tomorrow’s blog I would like to propose a somewhat chronological account that attempts to weave the many strands into one narrative. Such an attempt as we will see involves some speculation given the nature of ancient historical accounts. But it can help us to sort our the many details by trying to order them. So stay tuned for tomorrow.

In this video Fr. Robert Barron does a good job of describing the sophistication that is necessary when approaching Scripture. Since the Bible is not A book but is rather a collection of books with many different genres we cannot simply read it all in the same way. We have to approach the scriptures on their own terms and understand the way they speak to us.

Easter Reflection: What is the Normal Christian Life?

At the Great Easter Vigil, after a lengthy series of Old Testament readings, the Gloria is intoned and the opening prayer is sung. Then all are seated for the first reading from the New Testament proclaimed in the new light of Easter glory. It would seem the Church considers this an important reading for our consideration, given it’s placement.

It is Romans 6, a kind of mini-Gospel where in the fact of our new status as redeemed transformed Children of God is declared. And within these lines is contained “Standing Order # 1” for the Christian who is a new creation:

No longer let sin continue to reign in your death directed bodies.”

Perhaps we can take a look at this central passage from the New Testament. Here it is in total and them some verse by verse commentary:

We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. 8Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  11In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Romans 6:1-14)

  1. THE PRINCIPLE We have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  – Here is a powerful and uncompromising statement. Paul is setting for the most fundamental principle for the Christian life. Namely that sin is not to have any power over us. This is the NORMAL (i.e. normative, to be expected) Christian life, a life that is victorious and that is seeing sin put to death and the blessings of grace come alive. Paul says, quite clearly, we have died to sin. Before returning to this concept it might be important to consider what the word “sin” means here. The Greek word is ἁμαρτίᾳ (hamartia). In its root sin (ἁμαρτίᾳ) means “missing the mark” or falling short of a designated goal. In the Greek tragedies the hero often had a “fatal flaw” wherein he misses the mark, or fails to obtain what he sought due to a moral failing or error in judgment. In scripture the word ἁμαρτίᾳ usually means something closer to what we mean by sin today, namely “a moral failing.” But we should not completely leave behind the notion that sin is a missing of the mark. It is not untrue to say that sin is not so much a reality unto itself as it is a “privation,”  a lack of something that should be there. In every sin, something is missing that should be there. Now St. Paul often describes sin (ἁμαρτίᾳ) at two levels: the personal experience with sin, but also as a “climate” in which we live. So we might distinguish between Sin (upper case) and sin (lower case). Hence, Sin is the climate in which we live that is hostile to God, that has values in direct opposition to what God values. It is materialistic, worldly in its preoccupations, carnal and not spiritual, lustful, greedy, self-centered, and alienated from the truth. It will not submit to God and seeks either o deny Him or to marginalize him. This is Sin. (We need to understand this distinction for in verse 10 of this passage Paul says Christ “died to Sin.”  But clearly Christ had no personal sin. But he DID live in a world dominated by Sin and it was to THAT which he died). As for (lower case) sin, it is our personal appropriation of Sin. It is our internalization and acceptance of the overall climate of sin. For example, a Bosnian child is not born hating a Croat or Serbian child. That hatred is “in the air” and the child often (usually) internalizes and then acts upon it. Hence Sin becomes sin. Now Paul says, we have DIED to all of this. That is to say the overall climate of sin cannot any longer influence us, neither can the deep drives of our own sin continue to affect us. But how can this be since most of us feel very strongly influenced by Sin and sin? Consider for a moment a corpse. You cannot humiliate or tempt, win an argument with or in anyway personally affect a corpse. The corpse is dead and you and I can no longer have any influence over it. Paul is saying that this is to be the case with us. We are dead to the world and its Sin.  It’s influence on us is broken. Because of this, our personal sins and drives of sin are also broken in terms of their influence. Ah but you say, “This does nto seem true.” Ah, but it IS the principle of Christian life. It is what is normative for us and what we should increasingly expect because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Death for us is a process, more than an event. But to the degree that the old Adam has been put to death in us, then his vital signs are diminishing. He is assuming room temperature and Christ Jesus is coming alive in us. Is he? It is a remarkable thing how little most Christians expect from their relationship with Jesus Christ. The best that most people hope for is to muddle through this life and just make it (barely) over the finish line to heaven. Mediocrity seems what most people expect. But this is not the normal Christian life! The normal Christian life is to be increasingly victorious over sin, to be experience the power of the Lord Jesus Christ at work in our lives. We have died to sin. It’s influence on us is waning, is diminishing. Increasingly the world and its values seem ludicrous to us and God’s vision becomes precious. So here is the principle – have died and are dying to sin, it is increasingly impossible for us to live in it or experience it’s influence.
  2. THE POWER –  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. When Paul (and scripture) use the word “know” it always means more that grasping something intellectually. To “know” in the Bible means to personally experience something and to have grasped it as true. And so Paul is really saying here, “Or is it possible that you have not experienced that we died with Christ and risen with him to new life?” In effect he is saying, grab hold of yourself and come to experience that you have died to your old life and now received a completely new life. Start to personally experience this. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation! (2 Cor 5:17). This is the normal Christian life and we ought to be experiencing it more and more. But here again, we have to fight the sloth of low expectations. Do you think that Jesus Christ died for you so that you would continue to be in bondage to anger, or lust, or hatred? Surely he died to free us from this. To see your life transformed is NOT your work, it is the work of the Lord Jesus. Since it is his power at work we ought to expect a lot. But low expectations yield poor results. So Paul is saying, come to know, come to personally experience and grasp his power at work in you. Have high expectations! How can we have anything less when the death and resurrection of Jesus are the cause of this?
  3. THE PERSONAL WITNESS  6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. – Once again Paul says we “know” this. This is the normal Christian life: to experience that our old self was crucified and has died and that increasingly we are no longer slaves to sin. In my own life I have experienced just this. Have you? I have seen many sins and sinful attitudes put to death in me. My mind has become so much clearer in the light of Christian faith and I now see and experience how silly and insubstantial are many claims of this world. So, my mind and my heart are being transformed. I have died to many of my former and negative attitudes and drives. I’m not what I want to be but I’m not what I used to be, praise God. A wonderful change has come over me. How about you? Do you have a testimony? Do you “know” (experience) that your old self has been crucified and that you are being freed from sin?
  4. THE PROCLAMATION – in various ways then in the verses that follow, Paul sets forth the essential proclamation of the Normal (normative) Christian life: count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires…..[you] have been brought from death to life….For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Some final questions:

  • Do you believe this?
  • Do you know (experience) this?
  • What do you expect from your relationship with Jesus Christ?
  • How are you different from some one who lived under the Old Covenant?
  • How are you different from the unbelievers in this world?
  • Are you living the normal Christian life of dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ,  or are you just muddling through?

This song says, Victory is mine, I told Satan, “Get thee behind” for victory today is mine.

The Easter Vigil

                Tonight in our parishes after sundown we gather for the Great Easter Vigil where we will experience Jesus rising from the dead. We gather in darkness and light the Easter fire which reminds us that Jesus is light in the darkness. He is the light of the world. We enter into the church and attentively listen to Bible stories describing God’s saving work of the past. Suddenly, the church lights are lit and the Gloria is sung as we celebrate the moment of Christ’s resurrection. He Lives! In the joy of the resurrection we experience the Risen Jesus ministering through the priest as Jesus confers the  Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist for our Catechumens and Candidates who have prepared for many months for this night. As a Church we sing Alleluia for the first time in forty days. Do everything you can to be present on this evening and invite friends and family to join. Our Vigil ushers in an Easter joy that never ends!

Where is Christ after he dies on Friday afternoon and before he rises on Easter Sunday?

       

Where is Christ after he dies on Friday afternoon and before he rises on Easter Sunday?  Both Scripture and Tradition answer this question. Consider the following from a Second Century Sermon and also a mediation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

An Ancient Sermon:

 Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him – He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.” [From an Ancient Holy Saturday Homily ca 2nd Century]

   Consider also this from the Catechism which I summarize and excerpt from CCC # 631-635

 [The] first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell [is]  that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.[Acts 3:15; 1 Peter 3:18-19; Romans 8:11; 1 Cor 15:20; Heb. 13:20] Scripture calls [this] the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.[1 Peter 3:18-19] Such [was] the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they awaited the Redeemer: It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior …whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.”[cfPsalms 89:49; 1 Sam. 28:19; Ezek 32:17ff; Luke 16:22-26] Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him. [So] the gospel was preached even to the dead. The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption. Christ went down into the depths of death so that “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”[1 Peter 4:6] Jesus, “the Author of life”, by dying destroyed “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.”[John 5:25; Mt 12:40; Rom 10:7; Eph 4:9] Henceforth the risen Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades”, so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”[Heb 2:14-15; Acts 3:15]

For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead that, though condemned in the flesh in human estimation, they might live in the spirit in the estimation of God. (1 Peter 4:6)

Resurrection Meditation

Art and music come together in this video as a meditation on the Resurrection. The Latin Hymn to our Lady is Regina Caeli Laetare Alleluia. Quia quem meruisiti portare, Alleluia Resurrexit sicut dixit. Alleluia (Translation: Queen of Heaven rejoice, Alleluia. For He whom you merited to bear Alleluia has risen as he said. Alleluia).