Why Was the Resurrection Such a Hidden Event?

easterThere is something of a hidden quality to the resurrection appearances that has always puzzled me. St. Peter gives voice to this when he says to Cornelius,

God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:41 to 42).

Note that Jesus did not appear openly to all but rather only to some. Why is this? It is so different from what most of us would do.

If I were God (and it is very good for you that I am not), I would rise from the dead very dramatically. Perhaps I would summon people to my tomb with trumpet blasts and then emerge amid great fanfare (including a multitude of angels), inspiring awe and striking fear in the hearts of the enemies who had killed me. Or maybe I would ride down on a lightning bolt right into the temple precincts and then go up to the high priest and tell him to seek other employment. Surely to accomplish such a feat would be an event that would never be forgotten! It would draw many to faith, would it not?

And yet the Lord does none of this! Not only did He appear only to some after His resurrection, but the actual dramatic moment of the resurrection itself seems to have been witnessed by no one at all. Instead of emerging from the tomb in broad daylight to the sound of trumpets, the Lord seems to have come forth before dawn to the sound of nothing but crickets chirping. Although St. Matthew mentions a great earthquake causing the rolling back of the stone and the guards stunned into unconsciousness, it seems that Jesus had already risen from the dead before the stone was rolled back.

Such a hidden event! It was the greatest event the world has ever known, and yet it was hidden from human eyes. No, this is not our way at all; Cecil B. DeMille would not be pleased.

And then when the Lord does appear, it is only to some. Two of the appearances have often intrigued me because the details are so sparse; they are really mentioned only in passing:

One is the appearance to Peter. It would seem that the Lord appeared to Peter before appearing to the other apostles on that first resurrection evening. For when the two disciples return from Emmaus they are greeted with the acclamation, The Lord has truly been raised, he has appeared to Simon (Luke 24:34). Shortly thereafter, the Lord appears to ten of the apostles, along with some of the disciples.

Why is there so little information about this appearance to Simon Peter? We are told in great detail about a conversation between Jesus and Peter two weeks later in Galilee (John 21), but of this first appearance in Jerusalem we get only this passing reference.

In a certain sense it is a very significant appearance because it elevates the resurrection from just “some news” that the women were sharing, to the apostolic proclamation, the Lord has truly been raised. What moves it from rumor to fact? The difference is that he has appeared to Simon. Here is a kind of early and seminal act of the Petrine office and the Magisterium! But of this crucial apparition, no details are supplied.

The other appearance cloaked in obscurity is His appearance to the five hundred, which Paul relates here:

He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:5-6).

This is an amazing appearance; it’s not to two or three, or even to a dozen, but to five hundred at once. And yet no details are supplied. Where did it happen? When? For how long? What did the Lord say? What did He do? Silence.

And then there are the resurrection appearances that never happened (but to worldly minds should have): Jesus’ appearance to His accusers and persecutors, to Caiaphas, to the Sanhedrin, to Pilate, and to all who jeered at Him as He hung on the cross. Surely they deserved a good dressing down—and they probably could’ve used it. Who knows, maybe they would have fallen to their knees and converted on the spot; maybe they would have worshiped Jesus.

Such are my thoughts on the strange and hidden quality of the resurrection. Why so hidden, why so selective an audience? Ultimately, I cannot say why; I can only venture a guess, a kind of theological hunch, if you will.

My speculation is rooted in the identity of God: God is love (1 Jn 4:16). Love is not merely something God does, nor is it just one of His many attributes. Scripture says that God is love. And it is the nature of true love (as opposed to lust) to woo the beloved, to invite rather than overwhelm, importune, force, or coerce. The lover wants to be loved, but to force the beloved to love or to overwhelm the cherished into a fearful love would mean not receiving true love in return.

It is in the nature of Satan to pressure, tempt, and overwhelm, in order to coerce us into sin. Satan is loud and loves to use fear as a motivator.

By contrast, God whispers. He calls us and gently draws us in. He supplies grace and evidence but does not overwhelm us with fearsome or noisy events. He is the still, small voice that Elijah heard after the fire and the earthquake (1 Kings 19:12). He is the One who has written His name in our hearts and whispers there quietly: Seek always the face of the Lord (1 Chron 16:11). At times He does allow our life to be shaken a bit, but even then it is more often something that He allows rather than directly causes.

God is not interested in loud, flashy entrances or in humiliating His opponents. He does not have a big ego. Even if He chose to compel the Temple leadership to worship Him by using shock and awe, it is unlikely that their faith response would be genuine. Faith that needs to see isn’t really faith; one doesn’t need faith to believe what he can plainly see with his own eyes.

Thus the Lord does rise from the dead and He does supply evidence to witnesses who had faith—at least enough faith to be rewarded. He then sends these eyewitnesses, supplies His graces, and gives us other evidence so that we can believe and love. But none of this is done in a way that overwhelms us or forces us to believe.

God is love, and love seeks a free and faithful response. The hiddenness of the resurrection is an example of tender love. There’s only so much that the human person can take. So the Lord rises quietly and appears (but only briefly) to some and then seems to withdraw—almost as if respectfully giving them time to process what they have experienced. He gives them time to deepen their faith and to come to terms with what was, for them, a completely new reality, one that would change their lives forever.

How different this is from the way we operate! So many of us think in terms of power, fame, glory, vindication, conquest, and so forth. How different God is! He is so often tender, hidden, and whispering. He doesn’t need to get “credit” for everything He does. He doesn’t need to crush His enemies. Rather, ruing the day on which their “no” might become a forever “no,” He works to win their love, always hoping for their conversion. Until then, He is always calling, willing, and giving grace. His mercies how tender, how firm to the end, our maker, defender, redeemer, and friend.

Why was the resurrection so hidden? God is love. And love woos, it does not wound. It invites, it does not incite. It calls, it does not crush. It respects, it does not rule or seek revenge. Yes, God is love.

Of her glorious Groom, the Church and Bride says,

Listen! My beloved! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice … [He speaks to her and says], “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me” (Song 2:9-10).

Here’s how Cecil B. DeMille would do the Easter fire:

8 Replies to “Why Was the Resurrection Such a Hidden Event?”

  1. That the Resurrection is “hidden” is one explanation. But I take the lesson here — as well as Jesus being born in the middle of the night — to be in the greater context of the human condition. What is the world doing at the time of Jesus’ birth and Resurrection? They are asleep.

    The greatest thing in the history of the world is happening, but because of sin, mankind is basically asleep, if not physically then spiritually and in conscience. Even the Apostles were asleep, both when Jesus was praying in agony and when He rose. The thing is — if the Resurrection had happened at high noon, humanity still would be fast asleep. Not really living life, but sleepwalking through life.

    But Jesus intends to wake us up. The His birth and His Resurrection in the middle of the night are signs that He is rousing mankind from its slumber, “Awake, O sleeper . . .”

    1. Thankyou Msgr. Pope for offering an answer to the question I have wondered about.

      And Bender, In all my years I’ve never thought about that – the world being asleep both during Christ’s birth and resurrection….what great food for meditation, thank you!

  2. The mighty strong arm of GOD was shown in the Pillar of Fire and the parting of the Red Sea with HIM fighting for the Israellites agains the Egyptians. Powerful in deed and in spectacle and the whole nation proclaimed the Glory of GOD, yet in a little while, the very ones HE saved had forgotten all about it and formed a flimsy bullock to worship. What an amnesiac reaction of stupid ingrates! Yes, loud and flashy spectacles they do not work. But whispers and wooing did so, for many scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees and zealots and priests, I believe turned their hearts as described in Acts. With the profuse and blatant writings against them by the gospel writers, I believe it was a product of converted hearts from persecutors to believers. That was the result of Love that pursues every soul even the hardened of souls. I know, for I was one of them amnesiac stupid ingrates.

  3. Thanks, Msgr. Pope, for your reflection on the resurrection. I have often wondered the same thing. It makes so much sense when seen as an invitation to love.

  4. Well, out of love The Resurrection has to be hidden. It is for the followers an opportunity to announce to the world by personal testimonies. It is for me to proclaim in my little ways, how HE touched me and my family into being a new creation. Yes, Monsignor, thank GOD I am not god either, else this world will even more in turmoil. Thank you, Monsignor for your reflection.

  5. Actually, most of the mysteries of the Rosary follow the same pattern. How many witnessed the Annunciation? Only the Blessed Virgin. The greeting of Elizabeth? Only Mary and Elizabeth. The birth of Our Lord? Only Mary and Joseph. It goes on like this.

    A related question to what you ask, of course, is why Jesus ascended rather than remaining in obvious bodily form. I suspect the main reason is related to what you say, but I would put the emphasis on how He is leaving us room for repentance. This way, faith has real merit, and there is a partial excuse for those who do not believe, so that their sin is not magnified.

  6. Hi Mgr Charles and all . . . . .
    Thanks for this. This has always been a bit of a vexed question for many – including myself.
    But, as I suddenly became aware when I thought and prayed about it some time ago, I realised, as always, that Our blessed Lord has already given us the answer.
    After the resurrection He appears to poor old doubting Thomas and gives in to his demands to see and touch His wounds in order to believe. And when Thomas says, “My Lord and my God.” – (effectively, “I now believe . . .”), Jesus almost admonishes him for not believing, with His words, which could almost form a question in itself; “Because you have seen me, you now believe . . (?)” – (my question mark). And then goes on to say a most beautiful thing, “Blessed are those who believe and yet have not seen.” (John 20:29)
    I truly believe that if we sincerely 7look for the answers in spirit and in prayer, we always find them there in God’s word.
    God bless all – and a truly happy and blessed Easter-tide to you.

  7. If Jesus had appeared to the people in His resurrected state, many of them would probably have died of it. The theophany at Mount Sinai took them to the verge of death anyway.

Comments are closed.