Despite the Easter glow, there was also at those gatherings a sober awareness that these are dark days and that the Lord is calling us to be willing to suffer and sacrifice for the truth of the gospel.
Recent readings from Scripture have also had this theme. The readings in daily Mass this past week (from the Acts of the Apostles) show the joy of a poor, lame man healed by Peter and John at the Gate called Beautiful. By week’s end Peter and John were arrested for the “dangerous” act of glorifying Jesus and forced to appear before the Jewish court. More suffering and arrests would follow.
In the Office of Readings, we are reading from the First Letter of Peter, which is a kind of survival guide for those who suffer on account of Jesus. Consider these excerpts from this past week:
Do not be surprised, beloved, that a trial by fire is occurring in your midst. It is a test for you, but it should not catch you off guard. Rejoice instead, in the measure that you share Christ’s sufferings. When his glory is revealed, you will rejoice exultantly. Happy are you when you are insulted for the sake of Christ, for then God’s Spirit in its glory has come to rest on you ….
The season of judgment has begun, and begun with God’s own household. If it begins this way with us, what must be the end for those who refuse obedience to the gospel of God? And if the just man is saved only with difficulty, what is to become of the godless and the sinner? Accordingly, let those who suffer as God’s will requires continue in good deeds, and entrust their lives to a faithful Creator….
Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith, realizing that the brotherhood of believers is undergoing the same sufferings throughout the world. The God of all grace, who called you to his everlasting glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish those who have suffered a little while. Dominion be his throughout the ages! Amen (1 Peter 4:12-5:14).
I have written before on the bloodiness of the Christmas Octave; the Easter Octave is not much different. The ancient Church had little time for the sentimentality we have introduced into the celebrations of Christmas and Easter. Indeed, there was no Santa Claus with flying reindeer, no Easter bunny, no Easter parades. Jesus was born to do battle and rose to show forth the victory. But a victory presupposes a battle and a struggle.
The Sequence that should be sung during the Easter Octave is as follows:
Mors et vita duello, (Death and life have contended) conflixere mirando: (in a stupendous conflict) dux vitae mortuus, (The Prince of life having died) regnat vivus! (Now reigns living).
Easter is serious business with a message that summons us to the battle with confidence. In effect the message is this:
Enough of all this cowardice. No more hiding out in upper rooms. Get out there like soldiers who know they are on the winning team. Manfully engage the battle and win some souls for Christ. As in any war, there is going to be suffering. Jesus says, In this world you shall have tribulation; but have confidence I have overcome the world (John 16:33). The Easter message is not that there is no battle, but rather that the battle is a glorious one whose outcome has already been decided. Choose sides!
Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His Blood, who has made us into a Kingdom, priests for His God and Father, to Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him. All the peoples of the earth will lament Him. Yes, Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:5-8).
Make sure you are on the winning team. Some people foolishly choose the wrong side, thinking that winning means having power, popularity, money, and possessions—that is not victory. A team can be ahead until the final play of the game yet still lose. You already know who is going to win; present appearances mean nothing. Choose the winning team even if, for now, it means being subjected to ridicule, disapproval, and desertion. Be ready and willing to suffer for the Kingdom. The Easter message is not that there is no suffering, but that our suffering, united to Jesus’, will lead to glory and victory.
Stop acting like a loser, hiding out and being afraid to announce the truth of the gospel. Stop being so anxious about what others are saying. You may be called hateful, bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, backward, and uptight—anything but a child of God. Do not hate them, but keep on summoning them to join us; know that some will do so if you persevere. Be willing to suffer for the truth and still remain joyful.
Peter and John were arrested in the first week after Pentecost; can’t we at least tolerate a raised eyebrow or some laughter at our expense? The martyrs stared down deadly threats; they endured the swords and lions of a hateful, scornful world. Must they bear the cross alone?
The Easter message is not one of cheap joy. It is about a courageous transformation that equips us to be willing to face down death in order to proclaim the truth of the gospel. We are going to need this in the years ahead. This fallen world is going to get darker, and a people used to the darkness despises the light. To those who hate the truth, it seems hateful; they will call themselves righteous as they expel us from the public square. They already label themselves victims at the mere utterance of moral truth. “Safe zones” will have no room for us. Despite all their calls for tolerance, there will be no tolerance shown to us. Our speech and our actions will be increasingly criminalized.
Jesus is risen from the dead and He is not going away. He has won the victory and I will either gather souls with Him, or I will scatter and squander. I will work for Him and win, or I will contend with Him and lose. I think I’ll choose Jesus!
The song in the clip below has these lyrics:
I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
And He told me that I would go hungry if He changed my name
And He told me that I would go hungry if He changed my name
Yes He told me that I would go hungry if He changed my name
But I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
So I told Him it would be alright and the world would hate me
That I would go hungry if He changed my name
Several of the Resurrection accounts stress that Jesus showed the disciples His wounds. On one level we can understand that He was trying to make clear to them that the same Christ who was crucified stood before them; He was not a ghost or an apparition or simply someone who looked like Jesus.
When Christ rose, He took up His same, true body, but it now manifested a perfected glory. When we rise on the last day, the same will be true of our bodies. Why, then, were Christ’s wounds visible in His glorified body? Are not wounds and scars inconsistent with a glorified body?
St. Thomas Aquinas provides five reasons that Christ’s wounds are fitting in His glorified body. His reflections, from the Summa Theologiae III, Q. 54, Art. 4, are beautiful and poignant. St. Thomas’ words are presented below inbold, black italics, while my remarks appear inplain red text.
It was fitting for Christ’s soul at His Resurrection to resume the body with its scars. In the first place, for Christ’s own glory. For Bede says on Luke 24:40 that He kept His scars not from inability to heal them, “but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory.” Hence Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xxii): “Perhaps in that kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ’s name: because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them, in the body, though not of the body.”
Christ’s wounds are a dignity not a deformity, a sign of love not of loss, an indication of obedience not of onerousness. Through His wounds the Lord can say, “Here is what the world did to me, yet I live. Here is the cost of your redemption and the lavishness of my love.”
Secondly, to confirm the hearts of the disciples as to “the faith in His Resurrection” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).
This is what theologians refer to as “continuity.” The wounds demonstrate that the body that died on the cross is the same one the disciples see standing before them. Jesus has not taken up or fashioned a new body or a similar one; He is truly risen. The Greek word for resurrection is anastasis, which literally means “to stand again.” The word “resurrection” means the same thing: re (again) + surrexit (he stands). None of this would be true if a different body were before them, no matter how similar. Thus, Christ’s wounds confirm the truth of the resurrection.
Thirdly, “that when He pleads for us with the Father, He may always show the manner of death He endured for us” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).
Beautiful! The picture here is of the Son, Jesus, showing His wounds to His Father and saying, “See how I have loved them, Father. Have mercy on them.”
The Book of Hebrews says, Consequently, Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself (Heb 7:25-27).
Fourthly, “that He may convince those redeemed in His blood, how mercifully they have been helped, as He exposes before them the traces of the same death” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).
To those who doubt the Lord’s love or His understanding of our trials, Christ’s wounds speak tenderly and clearly of His love and of the price He was willing to pay for us. His wounds are more eloquent testimony than any words could be. Is God merciful? Does God understand or care at all about our condition? Look to the wounds of Christ; dwell in them; take shelter in them.
Lastly, “that in the Judgment Day He may upbraid them with their just condemnation” (Bede, on Luke 24:40). Hence, as Augustine says (De Symb. ii): “… So will [Christ] show His wounds to His enemies, so that He who is the Truth may convict them, saying: ‘Behold the man whom you crucified; see the wounds you inflicted; recognize the side you pierced, since it was opened by you and for you, yet you would not enter.’”
Such powerful and moving word, in this case from St Augustine. There is also a refutation of the idea that God is simply harsh on Judgment Day. In effect, He will say, “I endured suffering from you out of love for you. When I was on the cross, the soldier pierced my side. My heart was literally opened for you and still you would not enter. What more could I have done than to allow your own sins to be your redemption? Still you refused.”
In spite of receiving lifelong graces and unmerited favors and blessings, in spite of God’s call echoing in their depths, many still refuse God’s offer. It is a tragedy that some hearts are so hardened. Christ’s wounds testify to the justice of God’s only (and final) recourse: allowing them to live apart from Him. Accepting the choice of their free will, God’s last act is simply to recognize their refusal and say, “you would not enter.”
We live in times in which mercy, like so many other things, has become a detached concept in people’s minds, separated from the things that really help us to understand it. For indeed, mercy makes sense and is necessary because we are sinners in desperate shape. Yet many today think it unkind and unmerciful to speak of sin as sin. Many think that mercy is a declaration that God doesn’t really care about sin, or that sin is not a relevant concept.
On the contrary, mercy means that sin does exist. Thanks be to God for the glory, the beauty, and the gift of His mercy! Without it, we don’t stand a chance. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly going to need boatloads of grace and mercy to make it. Only through grace and mercy can we be freed from sin and healed from its effects, or ever hope to enter the presence of God’s glory in Heaven, of which Scripture says, But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false (Rev 21:27). Somebody say, “Lord, have mercy!”
Mercy does not mean there is no judgment; mercy exists because there is a day of judgment. Mercy does not mean there is no Hell; mercy exists because Hell does. Somebody say, “Lord, have mercy!” Without mercy we are lost. With it we stand a chance, but only if we accept our need for it. Mercy, Lord, have mercy!
Oh, thanks be to God for mercy! So let’s consider the glory and the gift of mercy on this Sunday of divine mercy. The Gospel for today’s Mass speaks both to the need for mercy and the glory of it. Let’s look at four teachings on mercy, God’s perfect mercy.
I. The Prelude to Mercy – There is an old saying that if you don’t know the bad news, the good news is no news. And thus as this Gospel opens we enter a room where ten Apostles are gathered in fear; the doors are locked. These are broken, troubled, and disturbed men. All of them but John had fled, deserting the Lord. One of them had denied even knowing Jesus, not once but three times. Here they are, humiliated, downcast, and sinfully without faith. Never mind that Jesus had told them on numerous occasions that He would rise on the third day. Even though several women and two disciples from Emmaus had said they had seen Him alive, on this the third day, these men persist in sinfully rejecting this news that conformed to His promise. Yes, we enter a locked room of fearful men who are downcast, disgraced, and disbelieving.
But it is here that we find the prelude to mercy! They are about to blessed and to experience profound mercy. But don’t miss this prelude. Again, if you don’t know the bad news, the good news is no news; so don’t miss this picture.
One of the great errors of our day is the proclamation of mercy without repentance, without reference to our sinful condition. So many pulpits have gone silent on sin! And therefore are silent on the true glory of mercy and the astonishing gift that it is! Ah, mercy! Divine mercy! Perfect mercy!
But the point of mercy is not to go out and tell others how terrible they are, but rather to tell them about the forgiveness of sin! Now this is why we need a mercy Sunday. On the one hand we’re living in rebellious times, times in which many are dismissive of sin and have refashioned God into just a nice fellow who doesn’t really care all that much about sin (despite what His own scriptures say to the contrary), reducing mercy is to mere kindness and a sort of blindness on God’s part.
On the other hand these are also times when many are scared and angry with God, rejecting His judgments and glorious moral vision. A lot of people know that their lives are in disorder: their families are broken; they are confused; greed, materialism, lust, and other sinful drives are taking a heavy toll. Many are angry with the Church because deep down they know we are right; they don’t like being reminded that people don’t have any business calling good what God calls sinful.
But most of all, many are confused and angry because they don’t know forgiveness. Consider what Psalm 32 says so beautifully:
Blessed is the one whose fault is taken away, whose sin is forgiven, to whom the Lord imputes no guilt! … As long as I would not speak of my sin, my bones wasted away and your hand was heavy upon me. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I did not hide, and you took away the guilt of my sin!
You see, the key to having this blessed state is the acknowledgement of sin.
The Lord said to St. Faustina,
You see what you are of yourself, but do not be frightened at this. If I were to reveal to you the whole misery that you are, you would die of terror. … But because you are such great misery I have revealed to you the whole ocean of my mercy (Diary II. 718).
Now some reading this sort of text think, “There goes that Catholic guilt thing again.” But let’s be honest, it’s not really an exaggeration. The truth is that most of us can be thinned-skinned, egotistical, unforgiving, unloving, unkind, mean-spirited, selfish, greedy, lustful, jealous, envious, bitter, ungrateful, smug, superior, vengeful, angry, aggressive, unspiritual, un-prayerful, stingy, and just plain mean. And even if all the things on the list don’t apply to you, many of them do. In addition, even that long list is incomplete. We are sinners with a capital ‘S’ and we need serious help.
And thus, just as Psalm 32 says, the glory of mercy is unlocked by the acknowledgment of sin. Jesus said further to St. Faustina,
My love and my mercy [for you] know no bounds! … The graces I grant are not for you alone, but for a great number of other souls as well. … The greater the sinner the greater the right he has to my mercy (Diary II.723).
Do not forget this necessary prelude to mercy: the acknowledgement of our sin. If you don’t know the bad news, the good new is no news.
II. The Peace of mercy – Into this upper room filled with men who are dejected, disgraced, doubting, humiliated, hurt, sinful, and sorrowful, the Lord came. The text says, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.”
Do you see the glory and the gift of this moment? The Lord says to them, “Peace be with you.” Now I don’t know about you, but if I had been hiding out, denying Him, and running from responsibility at the critical moment, and then suddenly the Lord whom I had let down and offended appeared, I might be a little nervous! But what does the Lord say to these embarrassed and dejected men? “Peace be with you!”
What is peace? It is more than the absence of conflict or division. Peace is the presence in a relationship of all that should be there: justice, integrity, reciprocity, mutuality, and so forth. The Greek word used is eirḗnē, which is from the root eirō meaning “to join or tie together into a whole.” So it means wholeness, a state in which all essential parts are joined together. Peace is God’s gift of wholeness.
Do you see the glory of this moment? The Lord does not merely say, “I will not punish you for what you have done.” He says, “Between you and my Father there is now peace, there is wholeness, there is completeness, there is present in the relationship all that should be there, there is justice.” The Lord does not merely overlook what a mess we are, He makes us whole and pleasing to His Father.
All is well, all is complete, all that is necessary is supplied by my atoning death and resurrection!
Such mercy, such a grace, such a gift!
In English, the text says that they rejoiced. But here, too, the English translation does not capture the richness of the Greek word ἐχάρησαν (echarēsan), which means to delight in God’s grace. It means to powerfully experience God’s grace (favor), to be conscious of and astonished by (glad for) His grace! This is no mere passing happiness. This is abiding astonishment at the sheer gift of God’s mercy and grace. The Apostles do not just get happy for a moment; they are given the gift of stable, serene, confident joy at the unfathomable gift of God’s mercy and goodness. They had sinned and yielded to fear; they had run from the Lord and ignored His teaching; but the Lord stands before them and says “Shalom, Peace be with you. May the full favor of the Lord be with you. May you experience that God is pleased that you are well and seeks to draw you more deeply into His love.”
Here is mercy; sweet, beautiful, soul-saving mercy; and astonishing and unexpected grace! There is shalom; there is peace; there is deep, abiding, and confident mercy. It is a joy and mercy that is unmerited. It is stable because it is rooted in the stable and abiding love of God.
III. The Priesthood of Mercy – The text says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
There is not time here to develop a full apologetic of the Sacrament of Confession entrusted to the Church. But to those who say, “I don’t have tell my sins to any priest, I can just go straight to God,” the Lord Jesus never got your little memo. He gave the power to forgive sins to the Apostles and their successors. That is clear in this passage. The Lord does not do pointless, foolish things; what He says here is to be taken seriously. He tells these imperfect men, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
There is something deeply personal, even if imperfect (on account of the imperfection of priests), in the way the Lord wants us to experience his mercy. But the emphasis is on the personal.
There is a beautiful story of St. John Paul and a fallen bishop. The bishop had fallen from grace; he had had an affair with a woman, and although he ended it, the story came out later and he resigned. Some months later he was called to Rome to meet with Pope John Paul. As he waited to see the Pope, he was nervous. Had the Pope called him to rebuke him? He sat alone, waiting for the Pope to enter. The door opened and the sainted pope walked across the room and greeted the fallen bishop. “I have one question to ask you,” said Pope John Paul. “Are you at peace?” “Yes,” he replied. “Thanks be to God!” said Pope John Paul. The fallen bishop took the joy of that mercy into the remainder of his life and went on to care quietly for the spiritual needs of religious who were underserved in a certain part of this country. He never forgot the mercy he experienced and the story was told at his funeral, for he himself told it often.
There is just nothing that surpasses the way the Lord can convey his mercy in the deeply personal way of the confessional. There is nothing more precious than those words that conclude every confession: “I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Go in peace. Thanks be to God!”
The Lord did not want his mercy to depend on some self-generated notion that mercy was extended. He wanted us, for whom faith comes by hearing, to hear those precious words: “I absolve you from your sins … Go in peace.” There is nothing more wonderful and certain than those words spoken by the Lord through His priests.
IV. The Prerequisite of Mercy– But one of the Apostles, Thomas, was missing. Here was the most wounded of all the Apostles, so wounded that he drew back from the only place mercy could be found, for where two or three were gathered the risen Lord appeared in the midst of them. In drawing back, Thomas blocked his blessings.
The point is this: the Lord unfailingly offers His mercy. He says, No one who calls on me will I ever reject (Jn 6:37).
The question is, will we call on him? There is only this one need, this one requirement for mercy: that we ask for it. Jesus says, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20). The door to our heart and to repentance must be opened from the inside. The Lord will not force His mercy. This is why there is a Hell. Without God’s mercy we are doomed; we don’t stand a chance. His mercy is free except for this price: we must surrender our pride, admit our need, and open the door.
Thanks be to God that St. Thomas did not persist in his impenitent stance, but instead rejoined the community where mercy and the Lord were to be found. Sure enough, where two or three were gathered the Lord appeared once again and St. Thomas found mercy. The Lord rebuked Thomas’ lack of faith but rewarded his penitence.
St. Thomas opened the door from the inside of his heart. The Lord lovingly entered and built up his faith so that never again would Thomas think that he could find the Lord on his own terms. Rather, Thomas would seek the Lord where He could be found: in the Church, among those gathered in His name. Mercy is found where God is found. He knocks but it is we who must open the door and receive Him into our hearts on His terms not ours.
St. Thomas fell to his knees, astonished by the Lord’s mercy; such mercy, such a glorious gift. “My Lord and my God!” The Lord never stopped calling Thomas. The Lord did not give up but waited until Thomas answered the door. “Peace, Shalom, Thomas. I am glad you are here. Now never again stop believing in my mercy and love for you. Never again draw back thinking I am lost to you. I love you with an everlasting Love. I have called you and you are mine. Peace to you, and mercy, Thomas.”
Mercy! So great, so divine, so perfect. It is a mercy that does not deny the need for its own existence. When humbly received, it conveys peace through the priesthood that Christ Himself established. It is a mercy which, as a prerequisite, respectfully knocks and waits for our “yes.” Lord, give us your perfect mercy.
I have it on the best of authority that Thomas sang a song later that night, a song that sang of the Lord’s mercy and persistence, of His abiding call when we would give up. Yes, I have it on the best of authority that he sang,
I almost let go; I felt like I just couldn’t take life any more. My problems had me bound; Depression weighed me down; But God held me close so I wouldn’t let go. God’s mercy kept me; so I wouldn’t let go
I almost gave up; I was right at the edge of a break through, but couldn’t see it. The devil really had me, but Jesus came and grabbed me, and He held me close, so I wouldn’t let go. God’s mercy kept me, so I wouldn’t let go.
So I’m here to day because God kept me I’m A live today only because of His grace Oh He kept me, God kept me God’s mercy kept me, so I wouldn’t let go
When I gave a talk recently at the Institute of Catholic Culture on the subject of the Second Coming, I was I asked to describe what our resurrected bodies will be like. Here is an article I wrote a few years back that details some aspects of our resurrected bodies:
St Paul writes to the Philippians of the glory that our currently lowly bodies will one day enjoy:
He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified Body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself (Phil 3:19).
I once spoke with an older woman who wasn’t all that pleased to hear that her body was going to rise and be joined again to her soul. “Oh, Father, you don’t mean this old decrepit body, do you? If my body has to rise, I’m hoping for an improved model!”
I think most of us can relate to the desire that our current body be improved. And it surely will be. Notice that the passage above says that our lowly (weak, diseased, and often overweight) bodies will be changed and will reflect the glory of the resurrected body of Jesus. Yes, this old general issue clunker is going to be upgraded to a luxury model; I’m headed for first class.
When we recall the four last things (death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell), we ought to consider for a moment what Scripture and Tradition have to say about what our resurrected bodies will be like.
Now an important starting point in discussing this matter is a little humility. The fact is, a lot of what I am going to say here is speculation—but it is not wild speculation; it is rooted in Scripture. However, Scripture is describing things that are somewhat mysterious and difficult to reduce to words. Further, Scripture does not always provide as much detail as we might like. Sometimes we are left to infer qualities of the resurrected body based only on scriptural texts whose main purpose is something else (the resurrection of Jesus). For example, in one passage Jesus is described as appearing and disappearing at will in a room with locked doors. The point of the text is to tell us that He appeared, not necessarily to convey that the resurrected body has something we have come to call “agility” (see below). The text does not elaborate further, so we are left to note things about Jesus’ resurrected body and then apply them to our own. It is not wrong to do this, for Paul above says that our resurrected bodies will have qualities that conform to Jesus’ resurrected body. But the point is that the biblical texts do not elaborate on this or other qualities in a detailed manner and so we are left to speculate and make inferences.
St. John the Apostle expresses some of the humility we should bring to this discussion:
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be like. But We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2).
I do not interpret John to mean that we know nothing, for if that were the case he would negate other Scriptures. Rather, I interpret him to mean that we do not fully grasp the meaning of what we are discussing, and that much of it is mysterious. Some things are known and revealed but much more is unknown and far beyond what we have yet experienced.
With the need for humility in mind, let’s consider some of what we might be able to say of the qualities of a resurrected body. Perhaps it is well that we start with the most thorough passage in the New Testament on this subject and then list the seven traditional qualities of a resurrected body.
St. Paul writes of the resurrected body in First Corinthians:
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body …. The splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another …. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man …. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:35-55 selectae)
Using this and other passages we can distinguish the seven traditional qualities of a resurrected body. Here we will allow our source to be St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. For each quality I’ve included a link to the corresponding section of the Summa.
1. Identity– The very same body that falls in death will rise to be glorified; we will not get a different body. St. Thomas says, For we cannot call it resurrection unless the soul return to the same body, since resurrection is a second rising, and the same thing rises that falls: wherefore resurrection regards the body which after death falls rather than the soul which after death lives. And consequently if it be not the same body which the soul resumes, it will not be a resurrection, but rather the assuming of a new body (Suppl. Q 79.1).
This does not mean that the body will necessarily be identical in every way. As St. Paul says, our current bodies are like the seed. A seed does not have all the fully developed qualities of the mature plant, but it does have them in seed form. Similarly, our current body is linked to our resurrected body causally and essentially, though not all the qualities of the resurrected body are currently operative. St. Thomas goes on to say, A comparison does not apply to every particular, but to some. For in the sowing of grain, the grain sown and the grain that is born thereof are neither identical, nor of the same condition, since it was first sown without a husk, yet is born with one: and the body will rise again identically the same, but of a different condition, since it was mortal and will rise in immortality. (Ibid).
Scripture attests that the same body that dies will also rise. Job said, And after my flesh has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another (Job 19:26-27). And to the Apostles, shocked at His resurrection, Jesus said, Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have (Luke 24:39).
Hence the same body rises and so there is continuity. But there is also development and a shining forth of a new glory and of capabilities that our bodies do not currently enjoy.
2. Integrity – We will retain all of the parts of our current bodies. This means every physical part of our body, even the less noble parts (e.g., intestines). It is clear from the Gospel that Jesus ate, even after the resurrection. He ate a fish while in their company (Luke 24:43). He also ate with the disciples in Emmaus (Luke 24:30). He ate breakfast with them at the lake shore (Jn 21:12). Hence it follows that even less noble parts of our body will rise, for eating and digestion are still functions of a resurrected body. St. Thomas argues (I think rightly) that food will not be necessary to the resurrected body (Suppl. 81.4), but it is clearly possible to eat, for Christ demonstrated it.
St. Thomas reasons that every aspect of our bodies will rise since the soul is the form of the body. That is, the body has the faculties it has due to some aspect of the soul. The soul has something to say and hence the body has the capacity to talk and write and engage in other forms of communication. The soul has the capacity to do detailed work and hence the body has complex faculties such as delicate and nimble fingers, arms and so forth, to carry out this work. Now body is thus apt for the capacities of the soul, though now imperfectly, but then even more perfectly. (cf Summa Suppl. Q. 80.1).
On some level it seems we should keep our speculation within limits. The Summa goes into matters that I think are highly speculative; you can read some of these speculations by clicking on the link above. Personally I think we should refrain from trying to ask questions such as whether hair and nails will grow or what bodily fluids will still be necessary and why. For example: Will latrines be needed in Heaven or will food be perfectly absorbed and nothing wasted? We just have to stop at a certain point and say that we just have no business knowing this sort of thing and it is purely speculative to discuss it. The bottom line is that the body shall rise, whole and complete. Its functions will be perfected and will be perfectly appropriate for the soul. But as for the intimate details, we ought to realize that humility is our best posture.
3. Quality – What about age, gender, and other physical characteristics? Our bodies will be youthful and will retain our original gender. Youthful here does not necessarily mean 21 years old. In the Philippians text that began this post, Paul says that our glorified bodies will be conformed to Christ’s glorified body. Jesus’ body rose at the age of 30-33 years. Elsewhere, St. Paul exhorts Christians to persevere: Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13). Hence it would seem that Christ’s resurrected body is the perfect age.
St Augustine also speculates that because Christ rose again of youthful age (about 30), others also will rise again of a youthful age (cf De Civ. Dei xxii).
St. Thomas further notes,Man will rise again without any defect of human nature, because as God founded human nature without a defect, even so will He restore it without defect. Now human nature has a twofold defect. First, because it has not yet attained to its ultimate perfection. Secondly, because it has already gone back from its ultimate perfection. The first defect is found in children, the second in the aged: and consequently in each of these human nature will be brought by the resurrection to the state of its ultimate perfection which is in the youthful age, at which the movement of growth terminates, and from which the movement of decrease begins (Suppl. Q. 81.1).
Further, since gender is part of human perfection, all will rise according to their current gender. Other qualities such as height and hair color will also be retained, it would seem, since this diversity is part of man’s perfection.
Here, too, we have to realize that merely picturing Jesus as a 33-year-old man is not sufficient. All of the resurrection appearances make it clear that though still recognizable, His appearance was somehow changed—and this is a mystery. Further, the heavenly description of Jesus is far from simple to decode in manners of age and appearance:
and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (Rev 1:12-18).
Hence we must avoid oversimplifications when we speak of how our resurrected bodies will appear. We cannot simply project current human realities into Heaven and think that we understand what a resurrected body will look like in terms of age, stature, and other physical qualities. Those qualities are there but they are expressed at a higher level.
4. Impassability – We will be immune from death and pain. Scripture states this clearly:
The dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality (1 Cor 15:52-53).
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Rev 21:4).
St. Thomas goes on at some length in the Summa, and you can read this by clicking on the link above.
5. Subtlety – Our bodies will be free from the things that restrain them now. Subtlety refers to the capacity of the resurrected body to be completely conformed to the capacities of the soul. St. Thomas says of this quality, the term “subtlety” has been transferred to those bodies which are most perfectly subject to their form, and are most fully perfected thereby…. For just as a subtle thing is said to be penetrative, for the reason that it reaches to the inmost part of a thing, so is an intellect said to be subtle because it reaches to the insight of the intrinsic principles and the hidden natural properties of a thing. In like manner a person is said to have subtle sight, because he is able to perceive by sight things of the smallest size: and the same applies to the other senses. Accordingly, people have differed by ascribing subtlety to the glorified bodies in different ways (Suppl. Q. 83.1).
In other words, the body is perfected because the soul is perfected. The resurrected body is fully conformed to the soul. In my current lowly body, though I may wish to go to Vienna in a few moments to hear an opera, my body cannot pull that off. My current body cannot instantly be somewhere else on the planet. I have to exert effort and expend time to get there. After the resurrection, Jesus could appear and disappear in a room despite the closed doors; he could simply be where he wanted instantly. Before his resurrection he had to take long physical journeys (cf John 19:20, 26). This quality is very closely related to agility, which we consider next.
6. Agility – We will have complete freedom of movement. Our souls will direct our bodies without hindrance. St. Thomas says, The glorified body will be altogether subject to the glorified soul, so that not only will there be nothing in it to resist the will of the spirit … from the glorified soul there will flow into the body a certain perfection, whereby it will become adapted to that subjection … Now the soul is united to body not only as its form, but also as its mover; and in both ways the glorified body must be most perfectly subject to the glorified soul. We have already referred Jesus’ ability, in His glorified body, to be anywhere at once, unhindered by things such as locked doors. Consider these other description of the agility of the resurrected body:
As they talked [on the road to Emmaus] and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them (Luke 24:15).
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus, and he disappeared from their sight (Luke 24:31).
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).
7. Clarity – The glory of our souls will be visible in our bodies. We will be beautiful and radiant. It is written in the Scriptures:
The just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43).
The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds (Wisdom 3:7).
The body in sown in dishonor, it shall rise in glory (1 Cor 15:43).
One option for Easter Sunday morning’s Mass is from the Gospel of John (20:1-8). (I have written before on the Matthean Gospel option (here)). Like most of the resurrection accounts, John’s version paints a portrait of a journey that some of the early disciples have to make: out of fear and into faith. It shows the need to experience the resurrection and then come to understand it more deeply. While the Gospel account begins with Mary Magdalene, the focus quickly shifts to St. John; let’s study his journey.
I. Reaction Mode – The text begins by describing everyone as being in reaction mode, quite literally running about in a panic! On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”
The text describes the opening moments as “still dark.” John is likely trying to do more than tell us the time of day. The deeper point is that there is still a darkness that envelops everyone’s mind. The darkness makes it difficult for us to see; our fears and sorrows can blind us.
Mary Magdalene sees direct evidence of the resurrection but presumes the worst: that grave robbers have snatched the Lord’s body! It doesn’t even occur to her to remember that Jesus had said that He would rise on the third day and that this was that very third day. She goes immediately into reaction mode instead of reflection mode. Her mind jumps to the worst conclusion; by reacting and failing to reflect, she looks right at the blessing and sees a curse.
We also tend to do this. We look at our life and see only the burdens instead of the blessings.
I clutch my blanket and growl when the alarm goes off instead of thinking, “Thank you, Lord, that I can hear; there are many who are deaf. Thank you that I have the strength to rise; there are many who do not.”
Even though the first hour of the day may be hectic: socks are lost, toast is burned, tempers are short, and the children are loud; we ought to be thinking, “Thank you, Lord, for my family; there are many who are lonely.”
We can even be thankful for the taxes we pay because it means we’re employed, for the clothes that fit a little too snugly because it means we have enough to eat, for the heating bill because it means we are warm, for the weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day because it means we have been productive.
Every day millions of things go right and only a handful go wrong. What will we focus on? Will we look right at the signs of our blessings and call them burdens or will we thank the Lord? Do we live lives that are reactive and negative or do we live reflectively, remembering that the Lord says that even our burdens are gifts in strange packages? And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Do we know this, or are we like the disciples on that early morning when it was still dark, looking right at the blessings but drawing only negative conclusions, reacting and failing to reflect?
II. Recovery mode – The text goes on to describe a certain subtle move from reaction to reflection. So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
Mary Magdalene’s anxiety is contagious. She comes running to the disciples, all out of breath, and says that “they” (whoever “they” are) have taken the Lord (she speaks of Him as a corpse) and “we” (she and the other women who were with her) don’t know where they put Him (again, she speaks of Him as an inanimate corpse). Mary’s panic triggers that same reaction in the disciples. Now they’re all running! The mad dash to the tomb has begun.
Notice, though, that they are hurrying so that they can verify the grave robbery, not the resurrection. Like Mary, they didn’t take the time to reflect and perhaps remember that the Lord had said He would rise on the third day and that this was the third day. Instead, they also panic, rushing forth to try to confirm their worst fears.
But note a subtlety: John runs faster than Peter. Some scholars say it indicates merely that John was the younger man. I would argue, however, that it signals hope. The Holy Spirit, speaking through John, is not likely interested in passing things like youth. Some of the Fathers of the Church see a greater truth at work in the love and mystical tradition that John symbolizes. He was the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” the disciple who knew and experienced that love of God. Love often sees what knowledge and authority can only appreciate and later affirm. Love gets there first.
There is a different verse in Scripture that I believe explains John’s strength (manifested in his speed):
But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Is 40:31).
Perhaps John runs faster because he begins to move from reaction to reflection and remembrance. When you run quickly it’s hard to talk, so you tend to recede alone into your thoughts. There is something about love that enlightens, that recalls what the beloved has said. Perhaps John begins to think, to reflect and consider these things:
Didn’t Jesus say He’d rise three days later and isn’t this that day?
Didn’t the Lord deliver Daniel?
Didn’t He deliver Noah from the flood?
Didn’t He deliver Joseph from the hands of his brothers and from the deep dungeon?
Didn’t He deliver Moses and the people from Egypt?
Didn’t He deliver David from Goliath and Saul?
Didn’t He deliver Jonah from the whale?
Didn’t He deliver Queen Esther and the people from wicked men?
Didn’t He deliver Susanna from her false accusers?
Didn’t He deliver Judith from Holofernes?
Didn’t Jesus raise the dead?
Didn’t God promise to deliver the just from all their trials?
As for me, I know that my redeemer liveth!
Something started to happen inside John. I have it on the best of authority that he began to sing this song in his heart as he ran:
“I don’t feel no ways tired. Come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy but I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me.”
Yes, John is in recovery now. He has moved from reaction to reflection. He is starting to regain his faith.
The text says that John looked in and saw the burial cloths, but waited for Peter. Mystics and lovers may get there first, but the Church has a Magisterium that must be respected, too.
III. Reassessment mode – In life we must often reassess our initial reactions as further evidence comes in. Peter and John must take a fresh look at the evidence from their own perspective. The text says, When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths [lying] there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Mary Magdalene’s assessment was that grave robbers must have struck, but the evidence for that seems weak. Grave robbers typically sought the fine linens in which the dead were buried. Yet here are the linens while the body is gone. If they were going to take the body, why not also take the valuable grave linens? The Greek text describes the clothes as κείμενα (keimena)—lying stretched out in place, in order. It is almost as if the clothes simply “deflated” in place when the body they covered disappeared. Finally, the most expensive cloth of all, the σουδάριον (soudarion), lies folded (rolled up, in some translations) in a separate place. Grave robbers would not leave the most valuable things behind. And surely, even if for some strange reason they wanted the body rather than the linens, they would not have bothered to carefully unwrap and fold things, leaving them all stretched out in an orderly way. Robbers work quickly; they snatch things and leave disarray in their wake.
Life is like this: you can’t simply accept the first interpretation of things. Every reporter knows that “in the fog of war” the first reports are often wrong. We have to be careful not to jump to conclusions just because someone else is worried about something. Sometimes we need to take a fresh look at the evidence and interpret it as people of faith and hope, as men and women who know that although God may test us He will not forsake us.
John is now looking at the same evidence that Mary Magdalene did, but his faith and hope give him a different vision. His capacity to move beyond fearful reaction to faithful reflection is changing the picture.
We know little of the reaction of Peter or Mary Magdalene at this point; the focus is on John. And the focus is on you. What do you see in life? Do you see grave robbers, or are you willing to reconsider and move from knee-jerk fear to reflective faith?
Does your resurrection faith make you ready to reassess the bad news you receive and look for blessings, even in crosses?
IV. Resurrection Mode – Somewhat cryptically, the text now focuses on the reaction and mindset of St. John. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.
On one level the text says that St. John saw and believed. Does this mean merely that he now believed Mary Magdalene’s story that the body was gone? As is almost always the case with John’s Gospel, there is both a plain meaning and a deeper one. The text says that he ἐπίστευσεν (episteusen); he “believed.” The verb here is in the aorist tense, a tense that generally portrays a situation as simple or undivided, that is, as having a perfective (completed) aspect. In other words, something has come to fruition in him.
Yet the text also seems to qualify, saying, they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. It is as if to say that John came to believe that Jesus had risen but had not yet come to fully understand all the scriptural connections and how this had to be. He only knew in his heart by love and through this evidence that Jesus was risen. Deeper understanding would have to come later.
For our purposes, let us observe that St. John has gone from fear to faith. He has not yet seen Jesus alive, but he believes based on the evidence and on what his own heart and mind tell him.
At this moment John is like us. He has not seen but he believes. Neither have we seen, but we believe. John would see him alive soon enough and so will we!
We may not have an advanced degree in Scripture, but through love we too can know that He lives. Why and how? Because of the same evidence:
The grave clothes of my old life are strewn before me.
I am rising to new life.
I am experiencing greater victory over sin.
Old sins and my old Adam are being put to death.
The life of the new Adam, Christ, is coming alive.
I am being set free and have hope and confidence, new life and new gifts.
I have increasing gratitude, courage, and a deep peace that tells me that everything is all right.
The grave clothes of my old way of life lie stretched out before me and I now wear a new robe of righteousness.
I am not what I want to be but I am not what I used to be.
So we, like John, see. We do not see the risen Lord—not yet anyway, but we see the evidence and we believe.
St. John leaves this scene as a believer. His faith may not be the fully perfected faith that it will become, but he does believe. John has gone from fear to faith, from reaction to reflection, from panic to peace.
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 excerpt from a second century sermon as well as this meditation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday (ca. 2nd century A.D.):
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.”
Nothing could be more beautiful than that line addressed to Adam and Eve: “I am your God, who for your sake have become your Son.”
St Ephrem the Deacon also attests to this descent among the dead and describes it rather colorfully:
Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strongroom and scattered all its treasure. (Sermo de Domino nostro, 3-4. 9: Opera edit. Lamy, 1, 152-158. 166-168)
Scripture also testifies to Christ’s descent to the dead and what He did: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison. … For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does (1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 4:6).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Christ’s descent to the dead (excerpts from CCC # 632-635):
[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 [cf. 1 Pet 3:18-19]. Scripture calls 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 [cf. Phil 2:10; Acts 2:24; Rev 1:18; Eph 4:9; Pss 6:6; 88:11-13].
Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer [cf. Ps 89:49; 1 Sam 28:19; Ezek 32:17-32; Luke 16:22-26]. “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior … whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell” [Roman Catechism I, 6, 3].
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 fulfillment. 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” [Heb 2:14-15; cf. Acts 3:15].
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” [Rev 1:18; Phil 2:10].
Jesus was arrested late Thursday evening. The Scriptures recount,
They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law came together (Mark 14:53).
According to Mark’s chronology there was a sham of a trial, based on false evidence and distortions of Jesus’ teachings.
Now the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were seeking testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but they did not find any. For many bore false witness against Jesus, but their testimony was inconsistent. Then some men stood up and testified falsely against Him: “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple, and in three days I will build another that is made without hands.’” But even their testimony was inconsistent.
So the high priest stood up before them and questioned Jesus, “Have You no answer? What is it these men are testifying against You?” But Jesus remained silent and made no reply. Again the high priest questioned Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I am,” said Jesus, “and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
At this, the high priest tore his clothes and declared, “Why do we need any more witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. What is your verdict?” And they all condemned Him as deserving of death. Then some of them began to spit on Him. They blindfolded Him, struck Him with their fists, and said to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers received Him with slaps in His face (Mark 14:53-65).
According to tradition, Jesus spent the rest of the night in the dungeon under the House of Caiaphas. It had doubled as a kind of cistern for holding rainwater.
The events of this early Friday morning are tightly packed. In the space of three or four hours, Jesus is sent to Pilate, then to Herod, then back to Pilate, questioned, condemned to die, and led out to be crucified by 9:00 AM.
The events begin around 6:00 AM:
Early in the morning, the chief priests, elders, scribes, and the whole Sanhedrin devised a plan. They bound Jesus, led Him away, and handed Him over to Pilate (Mark 15:1).
Pilate is less than enthusiastic to be saddled with this interrogation, but fearing a riot if he does not, he enters into the fray. Pilate’s behavior is a portrait in vacillation. According to Luke, he first seeks to transfer the case to Herod, who is nearby in Jerusalem (See Luke 23:6-12). However, Jesus says not a word to Herod. So after making sport of Jesus, Herod sends Him right back to Pilate. In another attempt to placate the crowd and evade making a decision, Pilate presents to them what amounts to a fake Messiah, aptly named “Barabbas” (which means “son of the father”). Can Barabbas save the day? He cannot, for he is not the true “Son of the Father.” Only Jesus can deliver Pilate—or any of us, for that matter.
I will not be treating the whole trial before Pilate in today’s post. (I’ve written about it in more detail here: The Trial Before Pilate.) In the end, though Pilate concludes that Jesus is innocent of the charges, he hands Him over to be crucified. In so doing, he is likely trying to save his own career. He will not take a stand for Jesus. Rather, he sits upon the judgment seat, violates his own conscience, and condemns Jesus to death. It is about the third hour (9:00 AM).
There is some debate about the specific time of day in the various biblical accounts.Mark 15:25 says that Jesus is crucified at the third hour (9:00 AM). In John 19:14 the crucifixion is set at the sixth hour (Noon). Both Matthew 27:45 and Luke 23:44 hint at a time closer to noon in their reference to a darkness coming over the land from noon until 3:00 PM.
In considering these “issues” of the exact time of day, we ought to remember that the people of Jesus’ era did not have clocks and watches. They did not speak or think of time in the precise ways that we modern Westerners do. Time was spoken of in general ways; the mention of the third hour, or the sixth hour, or the ninth hour could include a broader swath of time relatively near that declared hour. It is a little bit like our terms “mid-morning” or “mid-afternoon,” which can refer to a period of several hours. Mark does not necessarily mean precisely at 9:00 AM nor does John mean precisely at noon.
There is a lot of overlap in references to the third hour, the sixth hour, and the ninth hour, softening the possible conflict between the accounts. The need to nail down the exact times of day of the various events says more about our modern obsession with time than it does about accounts that are close, even if not precise, descriptions of the events.
Comparing all the texts leads to a general time frame. Thus, it would seem that Jesus undergoes trials before Pilate and Herod in the early morning (somewhere between 6:00 and 9:00 AM). He is sentenced by Pilate to crucifixion somewhere in mid-morning. He is mocked and led out to be crucified in the late morning. Near noon, He is stripped of His outer garments and hung on the cross. From about noon through the early afternoon a darkness comes over the land and Jesus hangs on the cross. He dies in the midafternoon, at around 3:00 PM.
What of this darkness of some three hours? In Luke 23:44, we read, It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour (i.e., from noon until 3:00 PM).
Although this seems to describe a solar eclipse, it isn’t appropriate to insist that it was an eclipse (at least as we define the term today). Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak to the darkness of that day using the Greek term σκότος (skotos), meaning simply “darkness.” Only Luke went on to state the reason for the darkness: the sun was darkened (Luke 23:45). He even used the Greek word ἐκλιπόντος (eklipontos), from which the word “eclipse” was derived. In Greek, however, the word eklipontos simply means “darkened,” whereas our word “eclipse” refers to a darkening as a result of the moon blocking the light of the sun. However, that is not necessarily (or even likely) what Luke meant here.
As a general rule, one should avoid applying a scientific explanation to a text when that may not have been the author’s intention. That there was darkness over the land from about noon until three is certainly attested to in the sacred texts, but the cause of that darkness is not definitively stated to be an eclipse, at least not as we use the term today. Perhaps God made use of other natural causes, such as very heavy clouds, to cause the light of the sun to dim. It is also possible that the darkness was of purely supernatural origin and was experienced only by some of those present.
Trying to explain the darkness in terms of the laws of science risks doing a disservice to the text by missing its deeper meaning: that the darkness of sin had reached its zenith. Whatever the physical mechanism of the darkness, its deepest cause was sin and evil.
Jesus said elsewhere,“This is the judgment: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (Jn 3:19). Referring to His passion, He also said, “Night is coming, when no one can work” (Jn 9:4). When Judas left the Last Supper to betray Jesus, John observed simply and profoundly, And it was night (Jn 13:30). Yes, a deep darkness had come upon the world.
It is simply not possible here to fully comment on all the details of the crucifixion. While they are historical incidents, they are also of deep spiritual significance. I leave the consideration of most of those details to other posts and to your reflection. Jesus speaks seven times while on the cross: He asks the Father to forgive us. He bestows mercy on the repentant thief. He gives us His mother and asks us to take her into the home of our hearts. He expresses his feelings of abandonment. He voices his thirst. He announces the completion of His mission. He commends His spirit to the Father and gives up His spirit.
The earth shakes. While earthquakes were common in the region, interpreting the quake merely in scientific terms misses its theological significance. Christ has rent the earth and descended to Sheol, there to preach to the dead. The veil in the Temple has been torn from top to bottom, giving us access to the Father. He has rent our hearts and laid bare our thoughts. This also prefigures the Last Judgment:
Death is struck, and nature quaking,
all creation is awaking,
to its judge and answer making (from the Dies Irae).
It is three o’clock in the afternoon; a great silence is upon the earth. The Word of God has died in the flesh. He has gone among the dead to awaken them.
According to the Synoptic Gospels, sundown of Holy Thursday ushered in the Passover. Later on this evening, the Lord will celebrate the Passover meal with His disciples. We ought to be mindful that the unleavened bread Jesus will take in His hands is called “the bread of affliction.” Scripture says, You shall eat [the Passover] with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt (Dt 16:3).
Indeed, this is an evening of affliction for Jesus. Much transpires at the Last Supper that is emblematic of our human foibles and sinful tendencies, but thanks be to God, He takes this “bread of affliction” we dish out to Him and lifts it to the glory of the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.
Before being too critical of the Twelve, remember that we can be like them in many ways. Keep that in mind as you read through the commentary below; A large part of what I’ve written about the apostles applies to us as well. Indeed, they are we and we are they; and the Lord loved all of us to the end.
So on Holy Thursday let’s examine the sequence of events. It illustrates pretty well why the Lord had to die for us. We will see how earnest the Lord is about this Last Supper, how He enters it with an intense love for His disciples and a desire that they heed what He is trying to teach them. We shall also see, however, that they show forth a disastrous inattentiveness and a terrible lack of concern for the Lord.
COMING CLOUDS – Jesus knows that His hour has come; this will be His last meal. Judas has already conspired and been paid to hand Him over. Scripture says, Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come. He always loved those who were his own, and now he would show them the depths of his love. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over (John 13:1). Thus, in the gathering storm Jesus plans His last meal, which will also be the first Holy Mass. He sent two of His disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us” (Mark 14:13-15).
CARING CONCERN – This last supper is obviously important to Jesus. Luke records these heartfelt words: And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16). Yes, this will be a very special moment for Jesus.
COSTLY COMMUNION – Jesus, reclining at table, will now celebrate the Holy Eucharist for the first time—but it is to be a costly communion. He has already lost many disciples because of what He taught on the Eucharist (cf John 6:50ff). After the consecration at this Last Supper/first Mass, Jesus looks into the cup at His own blood, soon to be shed, and distributes His own body, soon to be handed over. This is no mere ritual for Him. Every priest before Jesus has offered a sacrifice distinct from himself (usually an animal, sometimes a libation), but Jesus the great High Priest will offer Himself.
COLLABORATIVE CONDESCENSION – During the meal Jesus rises and then stoops to wash the disciples’ feet. He instructs them to see in this action a model for those who would collaborate with Him in any future ministry. John records it this way: He rose from the supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded (John 13:5).
Jesus then teaches the disciples: Do you know what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (John 13:12-15). Just moments from now, we will see them demonstrate a complete disregard for what Jesus has just tried to teach them.
CALLOUS CRIME – Back at table after having taught them that they must wash one another’s feet, Jesus suddenly becomes troubled in spirit and says, I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me (John 13:21). This causes a commotion among the apostles, who begin to ask, “Who can it be?” As the anxiety builds, Simon Peter motions to John and says, “Ask Him which one He means.” Leaning back against Jesus, John asks Him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus responds, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. “What you are about to do, do quickly” Jesus told him (John 13:24-30).
CONFOUNDING COMPETITION – As Judas takes the morsel of bread and heads out into the night, no one even tries to stop him! Despite the fact that Jesus has clearly identified His betrayer, no one rises to block the door or even utters a word of protest. Why not? Luke supplies the answer: A dispute arose among them as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest (Luke 22:24). They should be concerned about Jesus’ welfare but instead they argue about which of them is the greatest.
How confounding! How awful! Yet is that not our history? Too often we are more concerned with our own welfare or status than with any suffering in the Body of Christ. So much that is critical remains unattended to because of this. Jesus has just finished teaching the apostles to wash one another’s feet, and the next thing you know, they’re arguing as to who among them is the greatest. Jesus patiently reminds them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves (Luke 22:25-27). Meanwhile, due to their egotistical response, Judas has escaped into the night.
CAUSTIC CONTENTIOUSNESS – Jesus continues to teach at the Last Supper. He surely wants to impress upon them His final instruction. How He must long for them to listen carefully and to internalize what He is teaching! Instead, all He gets are arguments. Both Thomas and Phillip rebuke Him. John records this outrage:
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” But Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him (Jn 14:1-8).
Thomas rebukes the Lord by saying, in effect, “We have no idea where you’re going; when will you show us the way?” Jesus answers, but Philip will have none of this promise to see the Father and boldly says, “Lord, show us the Father, and then we shall be satisfied.” Jesus, likely saddened by this, says to him, Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip?He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9) Jesus’ own apostles are being argumentative and contentious. They are caustic and seem to rebuke Him.
COMICAL CREDIBILITY GAP – Undeterred, Jesus embarks on a lengthy discourse (recorded by John) that has come to be called the priestly prayer of Jesus. At the end of it, the apostles—perhaps ironically, perhaps with sincerity—remark, Now at last you are speaking plainly, not in any figure. Now we know that you know all things, and need none to question you; by this we believe that you came from God (John 16:29-30). However, Jesus knows that their praise is hollow and will not withstand the test.
There is a quite a lack of credibility in what the apostles say; it is almost comical. Jesus replies to them, Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone (John 16:31-32). Peter protests, saying, Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away (Matthew 26:33). Here is another almost comic lack of credibility: [Jesus says to Peter,] Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times. [Still insistent, Peter replies,] “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples (Matthew 26:34-35). Well, you know the story, and you know that only John made it to the cross.
CLUELESS CATNAP– They finally reach the garden and the foot of the Mount of Olives. Jesus says to Peter, James, and John: My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me (Mat 26:38). They seem oblivious to His suffering, though, and doze off. Attempts to arouse them are unsuccessful; they sleep on.
Here we are at the pivotal moment of all human history and the first clergy of the Church are sound asleep. (Things have not changed, my friends.) Indeed, many are in a state of moral, spiritual, and emotional sleep as Christ still suffers throughout the world and is conspired against. Jesus says,
Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand” (Mat 26:45-46).
COMPASSIONATE CONSTANCY – Jesus went on and died for the likes of them and all of us. I wonder if He had this Last Supper in mind when He said to the Father, Forgive them, they know not what they do. It is almost as if He is saying, “They have absolutely no idea what they are doing or thinking, so have mercy on them, Father.”
What a grim picture the Last Supper paints of us! It’s a disaster, really, but the glory of the story and the saving grace is this: The Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross regardless. Seeing this terrible portrait, can we really doubt the Lord’s love for us?
May your Holy Thursday be blessed. Never forget what Jesus endured!