The Resurrection of the Lord
In the Solemn Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s square in Rome, when the time for ‘Alleluia’ comes the choir often sings George Frederick Handel’s magnificent Alleluia Chorus. When the symphony reverberates against Michelangelo’s superb dome and Bernini’s vast colonnade, the faithful automatically stand up, elevated by the majesty of the music and the sense of participating in the central and most important event of human history – the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus! The text of the chorus is meagre, just a few words, repeated again and again in a marvellous and intricate texture of melodies and counter-melodies. The chorus testifies that when the heart is exhilarated, the mouth needs to say very little!
“Hallelujah… For the Lord God, Omnipotent reigneth. The kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of our Lord and his Christ. And He shall reign for ever and ever, King of kings and Lord of lords, for ever and for ever. Hallelujah!”
There is another symphony played this night, more splendid, than in any other liturgical celebration – the Word of God covering the entire Salvation history from Creation to its ultimate fulfilment in Christ. It is a night when the Paschal Candle is lit, and the Church signs “Exultet” with jubilation, even defining the sin of Adam as a ‘happy fault’ that brought about so great a gift of the Saviour and his Glorious Resurrection!
Well, all these glorious symphonies and celebrations happen today, in our liturgy. But how did the Resurrection of Jesus really take place on that night? How glorious was it? The shocking answer is that no one even knew that it had taken place. It was simply a dark, sad, and for the apostles, a hopeless night. All that the women saw was an empty tomb early in the morning. Later a few apparitions to a few trusted disciples, all in private, without public fanfare. Even the soldiers guarding the tomb noticed absolutely nothing. It is only St. Paul who mentions of Jesus’ appearance to five hundred brothers at one time, ‘most of whom were still alive’ at the time he wrote his first letter to the Corinthians (Cfr I Cor: 15:6). All the proof of the resurrection of Jesus we have is only that his close friends told us that they saw him and touched him and ate with him, and that he had told them to spread the good news to the whole world!
Our problem is, we expect a big flash of light, an earthquake, and the coming out of Jesus from the tomb in a brilliant glow of light, carrying the victory sign of the cross. This is our way of portraying that event, based on a limited understanding of what resurrection actually is. It is not the bursting out of a body from a grave like the raising of Lazarus. That event is called ‘resuscitation’, that is, a dead body coming back to its old life. Resurrection is substantially different. It is the universalization of a presence that was so far restricted to a particular place and time. It is the same person, but somehow now superabundantly greater than what he was before. His existence breaks the physical laws of time and space. He is not living in one period of time, but in eternity, that is in eternal present. He is no longer bound by space. He is everywhere all at once. Now, this is not comprehensible to our minds, as this kind of existence goes far beyond the categories our minds can grasp. Even as we describe it, we do not understand it in real terms. Jesus who was in Palestine for just 33 years is now universalized and eternalized. Yet he is the same Jesus with body and soul. The empty tomb is only a “sign” of the resurrection and not its proof. Merely an empty tomb can have so many other explanations. The real proof of the resurrection is that he manifested himself even in body to several people later showing that his existence was now on a different plane, a higher level of existence, like that of God. Our only proof is that these disciples communicated to us, not without difficulty, that experience of the Risen Lord. He was the same Jesus, but somehow different. That is why the disciples could not recognize him straight away when they saw him, and yet they knew it was He! God raised him, not merely in the sense that he gave him back his life, but raised the level of his existence from being a limited one to an unlimited one. Now the whole of creation is imbued with the presence of Jesus. In him God fills everything with his own presence. We become assured of the same type of life like Christ, if we unite ourselves to him. This is what we could be calling, our “redemption”!
We have been long in this reflection, but it is important to understand the nature of our future life with God, which is existence similar to his own. And that is the glorious life that awaits all of us. The New Testament tries to convey this idea in so many ways. What awaits us is something that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, just as the actual resurrection of Jesus himself. Our own resurrection is not merely a coming back to life as before, but we will attain a different plane of existence, infinitely greater than what we have here. And that calls for the most exciting of celebrations. Handel’s Halleluiah Chorus is not enough to express that!
Readings at Mass During the DAY
Acts 10:34,37-43; Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6-8;
John 20:1-9 or Matthew 28:1-10 or Luke 24:13-35
‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’
The Gospels differ in the narration of the Resurrection; therefore, they are authentic!
The passion and resurrection of the Lord were the first pieces of the Gospels written down by the disciples. The details of his public life and teachings, were collected and put together later. The infancy narratives were written last, almost as an appendix or rather, a preface to the Gospels. In fact, two Gospels do not say anything at all about the infancy of Jesus. This is because the last and the most striking events in the minds of the first Christian communities were that of the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord.
These events were passed from one to another through word of mouth. No one worried about writing a book at that time. There was no time for that. They were all worried about proclaiming it, living it and forming the Church, because they thought that the second and the glorious coming of Christ to judge the world was to take place very soon. There was a sense of urgency in the proclamation of the good news, as preparation for this second coming. The first piece of writing in the New Testament is the First Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, explaining to the faithful how the Lord would come back soon to judge the world! That was in the year 52 A.D. The first account of the Resurrection was found in chapter 16 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, written a few years later. The oral traditions existing in various communities were slowly collected and put together by the evangelists, without the complete knowledge of each other, based on the living testimony of the apostles about 40 years or more after the Resurrection.
This process explains why there are various versions of the resurrection accounts, not a single, coherent one. In fact, the real proof of the authenticity of the Gospels is that they are different in details, because they wrote down as the oral tradition had passed them on. Oral traditions tend to change after every narration, as we all well know. Yet the basic facts are all exactly the same. If there had been one single coherent narration, written by all of them, one could even suspect of planning and even inventing some events. Instead, they are different, and the Church has preserved all of them as they are, without worrying about their discrepancies, calling them Gospels ‘according to’ the various communities that proclaimed them, written down by an apostle, or his disciples. There are pseudo-scholars every now and then who find that everything from the Gospels is wrong, because there are these discrepancies. The exact opposite is true. Precisely because the Church has preserved the Gospels along with these differences is the proof of the historical authenticity of the basic events!
Besides, the Gospels are not merely chronological documents. They portray real historical events, ‘interpreted’ and adapted to the mentality of each listening community, to ‘proclaim’ the message of Jesus, in order to evoke their faith! That is why they are not merely chronicles, but inspired Word of God! They are the Word of God speaking to a living community according to the needs of that community, based on the life and words of Jesus! Without understanding this nature of the four Gospels, one will always take them for what they are not and find problems with them!
What is the most convincing proof of the Resurrection of the Lord?
It was not the empty tomb, for that was only a sign. The fact that his disciples were ready even to sacrifice their very lives for it is the real proof. They had nothing to gain by telling lies but everything to lose. They were initially not even ready to believe this when Mary Magdalene informed them! If they were ready to be martyrs later, that probably is the strongest proof that they really saw and experienced Jesus alive after they had seen him really die and buried. That is why it is said that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.
Today, the real heroes of the faith are those who are ready to stake everything for this belief. We have hundreds of martyrs for the faith all over the world in our own times. On the other hand, a Church that is intent primarily on a comfortable worship of the Lord, without being radical and passionate about actually living the demands of the Gospel, does not convince anyone about the real presence of the Risen Lord in the world.