In the early hours of the resurrection appearances on the first Easter Sunday news began to be circulated that Jesus was alive and had been seen. These reports were, at first disbelieved or at least doubted by the apostles. Various reports from both women and men were dismissed by the apostles. But suddenly in the evening of that first Easter Sunday there is a change and a declaration by the apostles that the Lord had truly been raised. What effected this change? We will see in a moment. But first note the early reports of the resurrection and how they were largely disregarded:
The women who go to the tomb first discover it empty (Mat 28:6; Mk 16:6; Luke 24:5; John 20:2). The Gospel of John, which is most specific indicates that Magdalene went straightway to Peter and John and speaks anxiously, not of resurrection but of a stolen body. Peter and John hurry to the tomb to investigate. But meanwhile the other women have had a vision of an angels who declare that Jesus had risen and that they should inform the apostles. They depart to do so. Here is first evidence though the risen Lord had yet to appear.
Peter and John arrive at the tomb after the women had departed. They saw only the empty tomb but it was clearly not grave robbers for the expensive grave linens were lying outstretched. Peter’s reaction is unrecorded but the text said, John saw (the grave clothes outstretched) and believed (Jn 20:8). Exactly what he believed is not clear. Did he believe what Mary had said? Or does the text mean he came to believe in that moment that Jesus had risen? It is not clear but let us suppose that he has come to believe that Jesus has risen. Does this mean that the Church now officially believes that Christ has risen because one of the apostles (one of the first bishops) believes it? It would seem not. That will have to wait for later in the day. Peter and John depart the tomb.
Mary Magdalene had followed Peter and John back to the tomb and, after they leave, Jesus appears to her. Here is the first appearance of the risen Christ. Does this now mean that the Church officially believes that Jesus is risen? It would seem not. That will have to wait until later in the day. For scripture testifies that Jesus appeared elsewhere to the other women who had gone to the tomb but that when Mary Magdalene and the other women report that they had seen Jesus risen, the apostles would not believe it (Mk 16:11; Luke 24:11) Hence, though we have appearances we cannot yet say that there is any official declaration by the Church that Christ is truly risen.
Jesus appears also to two disciples (not apostles) who are journeying to Emmaus that late afternoon. At the conclusion of that appearance they run to tell the apostles who, once again, do not believe it (Mark 16:13). So now we have had at least three appearances but no official acceptance by the Church’s leaders (the apostles) that there is any truth to these sightings.
So when does the resurrection become the official declaration of the early Church? Up till now the stories had been rejected by the apostles as fanciful or untrue. Even the possible belief of one of the 12 (John) was not enough to cause an official declaration from the early Church. What causes this to change? It would seem that, after the early evening report by the disciples returning from Emmaus, Peter slipped away, perhaps for a walk or some other purpose and according to both Paul (1 Cor 15:5) and Luke (Luke 24:34) the risen Lord appeared to him privately and prior to the other apostles. Peter then reports this to the others and the resurrection moves from being doubted to being the official declaration of the Church. The official declaration is worded thus:
The Lord has truly risen indeed, he has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34)
The resurrection is now officially declared. Notice, the world “truly” (some texts say “indeed”). It is not an officially attested fact that Jesus has risen. Neither Magdalene, nor the women in general, nor the disciples from Emmaus could make this declaration for the Church. It took the college of apostles in union with Peter to do this. Hence the dogma of the resurrection becomes so on very Catholic terms: The first bishops (the apostles) in union or in Council with the first Pope (Peter) make this solemn declaration of the faith.
It is a true fact that the Lord upbraids them later for being so reluctant to accept the testimony of the others (Mark 16:14). He calls them “hard of heart” for this reluctance but he does not undermine their authority to make the official declaration for in the very next verse he commissions the apostles to go forth and preach and teach in his name. Surely the Lord was not pleased after he had promised many times to rise from the dead that they were so slow to listen to the voices of the first witnesses. Should they not have concluded it was the third day and that the Lord had promised to rise and connected the dots? Did he have to personally appear before they would believe? Alas, it would seem so. Jesus’ first bishops were not perfect men, far from it. But they were the leaders he had chosen, knowing their weakness. So too for today, the Church’s leaders are not perfect and may take far too long at times to make decisions or give clearer teachings or impose necessary discipline. But, in the end it is they who are nonetheless commissioned to teach officially.
Finally it should be noted that one of the apostles, Thomas, was absent. Even after the official declaration of the Church went forth he still refused to believe (Jn 20:25). Here too the Lord is merciful to him but in the end is clear that Thomas has fallen short. And Thomas has fallen short in a more egregious manner for he has refused the collective and solemn declaration of the Church. He has not merely disbelieved the testimony of one or a few disciples. Jesus goes on to declare blessed those who accept the solemn testimony of the Church though they have not seen him with earthly eyes (Jn 20:29).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Today we acknowledge Jesus’ triumph over death. Just when all seemed a total loss, the disciples experienced his resurrected glory. To those of us who remain faithful, Jesus’ story is our story too. Whatever our crosses, trials, disappointments or set-backs, the truth is that troubles don’t last always. The Book of Psalms reminds us, Weeping may endure for a night, but joy will come with the morning light (Ps 30:5). The Easter message is one of victory for us. Whatever situation you may be going through just say, I’ll rise! Tell Satan, “Victory is mine!” Address every fear with the words of an old song: Because he lives, I can face tomorrow! This is the feast of Jesus’ victory and ours too. Rejoice today that you’re on the winning team!
Here is a video of Resurrection Scenes from the Movie The Gospel of JohnThe movie is well worth the purchase price and ought to be on your shelf. The music is Mozart: Regina Caeli (Queen of Heaven rejoice, the SOn whom you merited to bear has risen as he said, Alleluia!)
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).