The Resurrection of Jesus Christ | Sunday Observer

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

4 April, 2021
The “Breaking of the Bread” in Emmaus
The “Breaking of the Bread” in Emmaus

Today is Easter Sunday. It is indeed a wonderful, powerful, spiritual and mysterious feast. Christians across the world commemorate the glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day after his burial following his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary in AD 30. It is the culmination of the ‘Holy Week’ in which they observed Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday and the Crucifixion on Good Friday.

The Resurrection was a real, literal, physical raising of Jesus’ body from the dead. Without the resurrection, the belief in God’s saving grace through Jesus is destroyed. When Jesus rose from the dead, he confirmed his identity as the ‘Son of God’ and his work of atonement, redemption, reconciliation, and salvation. The earliest recorded observance of the Easter celebration dates back to the 2nd century.

Jesus does not waste our circumstances, trials or grief but draws near to us in our moments of deepest despair and in his own time, so that we might know him and the power of resurrection. And when our shallow belief is confronted with the presence of the Risen Lord, it is the ‘Word of God’ alone that becomes the framework and foundation for seeing Jesus for who he really is.

Liturgical observances of the Easter

In the Christian calendar, the Easter follows the Lent, the 40 days from Ash Wednesday (not counting Sundays), which traditionally is observed by acts of penance and fasting. The Easter is immediately preceded by the Easter Triduum (Three Days), which includes Maundy Thursday, the commemoration of Jesus’s Last Supper with his disciples; Good Friday, the day of his Crucifixion; and Holy Saturday, the transition between Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Easter comes after the Great Vigil which was well established in various liturgical expressions by the 4th century. It was characterised by a spirit of joyful anticipation of the Resurrection and the belief that Jesus’ Second Coming would occur on the Easter. In the Roman Catholic tradition the entire liturgical year culminates in the Easter Vigil which consists of four parts: the Liturgy of Light; the Liturgy of the Word; the Baptismal Liturgy; and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The use of the ‘Paschal Candle,’ to denote the appearance of light out of darkness through the Resurrection, was first recorded in AD 384. The prominence of baptism at the Easter goes back to probably the 4th century, when baptism was administered only once a year, at the Easter. In the Catholic service the priest blesses the water to be used in the forthcoming year for baptism, with the faithful taking “Holy Water” with them to receive protection from vicissitudes. 

Theological significance of the Resurrection

Jesus gave the Passover meal a new meaning in the Upper Room during the Last Supper. He identified the bread and cup of wine as his body, soon to be sacrificed and his blood, soon to be shed. Any person who chooses to follow Jesus receives ‘a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ’. Through faith in the working of God those who follow Jesus are spiritually resurrected with him so that they may walk in a new way of life and receive eternal salvation, being physically resurrected to dwell in the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.

Jesus was arrested, tried, and found guilty of claiming to be a King. His body was hung on a cross between two thieves. ‘His only crime was love’ (Isiah 53:12). After his death, Jesus’ body was wrapped in linen cloths and placed in a tomb with a large stone rolled across the opening. On the third day, an early Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and another Mary came to the tomb and found it empty.

She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not recognise him...Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned, and said to him, ‘Rabboni!’– which means ‘My Master’ Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them: I am ascending to my Father, who is your Father, to my God, who is your God” (John 20:14-17).The Church in her liturgy celebrates the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of Man, on the Easter.

All four Gospels date the Resurrection to the ‘first day of the week,’ but Matthew (28:1) and Mark (16:1) specifically add that it was ‘after the Sabbath’. The Paschal Mystery of Christ, his Passion, Death, Resurrection and Glorious Ascension, constitutes one action for the salvation of mankind, for Jesus “he, who was delivered for our sins, and raised to life, for us to receive true righteousness” (Romans 4:25).

Jesus predicted his Resurrection three times in the Gospel of Mark (8:31, 9:31 and 10:34), that after his death he will ‘rise on the third day’. All four Gospel accounts record Mary Magdalene present at the empty tomb the morning of the Resurrection (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 24:10 and John 20:1).

After God raised him from the dead, Jesus Christ made multiple appearances in several locations to his disciples for 40 days following his Resurrection. The discovery of the empty tomb coupled with his Resurrection appearances led the early Christians to believe Christ was the ‘Son of God’ (Matthew 16:16, John 20:31 and Romans 1:4). 

Great Commission of the Apostles

The Risen Christ gave his eleven Apostles the ‘Great Commission’ in Galilee: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations. Baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. I am with you always, to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Christianity is the Resurrection faith: Jesus opened the door to salvation and eternal life. St. Paul linked the Resurrection of Christ with the resurrection of all of us. “Don’t you know, that in baptism, which unites us to Christ, we are all baptised and plunged into his death? By this baptism in his death, we were buried with Christ and, as Christ was raised from among the dead by the glory of the Father we begin walking in a new life” (Romans 6:3-4).

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

The above passage is the earliest written evidence of the Resurrection. Paul continues on the Resurrection of the faithful: “A human being brought death; a human being also brings resurrection of the dead. For, as in Adam as all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. However, each one in his own time: first Christ, then Christ’s people, when he comes” (1 Corinthians 15:21-23).

St. Paul offers further reassurance in his first letter to Timothy (2:3-6) that God wills everyone to be saved: “This is good and pleases God. For he wants all to be saved, and come to knowledge of truth. As there is one God, there is one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave his life for the redemption of all.”

Breaking of the Bread

The Gospel of Luke, contains four major scenes: the empty tomb (24:1-12), his presence ‘that very day’ on the journey to Emmaus (24:13-35), the appearance to his disciples in Jerusalem (24:36-49), and the Ascension of Christ (24:50-53). After the women and Peter had discovered the empty tomb, Christ appeared to two forlorn disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognise him until at dinner, “when they were at table, he took the bread, said a blessing, broke it, and gave each a piece” (24:30). Reminiscent of the Feeding of the Multitude (9:10-17) and the Last Supper (22:14-20), the disciples recognised Christ, but at this point he suddenly vanished.

They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon.” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Undoubtedly, the two disciples would have been in Jesus’ presence often, and they likely would have witnessed his miracles, though they were not part of the original twelve. Luke’s ‘That same day’ (24:13) refers to the day of resurrection, and Luke seems to be underlining how on the very day that the heavens were celebrating. If there was a day in the history of the world that called for victory and renewed hope it was this day. Instead of ecstatic joy, these two disciples are let down and disappointed.

Luke informs that “their eyes were not able to recognise him” (24:16). Like the disciples on the Emmaus Road, Jesus walks with us and reveals himself in different ways and to different degrees from day-to-day. We cannot grow in our knowledge of God or His ways except that we are looking through the lens of Scripture.

The narrative unity of Luke’s Gospel and his acts of the Apostles is evident in Chapter One of Acts (1:3), where he continues to describe Christ: “After his passion he presented himself to them, giving many signs that he was alive; over a period of forty days he appeared to them and taught them concerning the kingdom of God.”

After the risen Jesus promises the Father will send the Holy Spirit, Luke then recounts the Ascension of the Lord (1:9-11). Following the Pentecost (2:1-4), Peter repeatedly affirmed his witness of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the people of Jerusalem (Acts 2:24, 2:31-32, 3:15, 4:33 and 5:30).The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.

Resurrection and eternal Life

Resurrection and eternal life are central to the Gospel of John. He begins in the Prologue, “found life in him; life which for human beings, was also light” (John 1:4). “Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Following the cure of the man who was lame in Jerusalem, Jesus states, “Truly, I say to you anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; and there is no judgment for him, because he has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

In the Bread of Life Discourse, Jesus continues: “The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:54). In the discourse on the Good Shepherd, Jesus says, “I come that they may have life, life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). During the raising of Lazarus on the fourth day in Bethany, Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection. Whoever believes in me, though he die, shall live. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25 - 26).

During the Last Supper, Jesus comforts his disciples: “In my father’s house there are many rooms; otherwise, I would not have told you that I go to prepare a place for you. After I have gone and prepared a place for you, I shall come again and take you to me, so that where I am, there you also may be. Yet you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going; how can we know the way?”Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:2 - 6).

John’s Gospel encompasses two chapters on the Risen Jesus. Chapter 20, emphasises the empty tomb, appearance to Mary Magdalene, appearance to the disciples, and visit a week later to ‘Doubting Thomas’, who made a beautiful profession of faith upon seeing Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). In Chapter 21, Jesus reveals himself for the third time to his disciples at the Sea of Galilee. John offers the descriptive picture of Jesus guiding the fishermen and then cooking breakfast. While Peter denied Jesus three times during the Lord’s Passion, Peter confesses his love for Christ three times; Jesus then instructs him to “Feed my sheep!” and “Follow me!” 

The Lord’s Day and the Resurrection

The Lord’s Day was recognised as early as the writing of the Book of Revelation (1:10). Sunday, the first day of the week, was the time the disciples gathered together to ‘breaking of the bread’ (Acts 20:7). St. Ignatius of Antioch who lived about AD 100, reported the Lord’s Day and the Resurrection in his Letters.

St. Thomas Aquinas in ‘Summa Theologica’ expressed in 1485, it was necessary for Christ to rise again, one reason being “for the raising of our hope, since through seeing Christ, who is our head, rise again, we hope that we likewise shall rise again.” The saint referred: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and he, the last, will take his stand on earth. I will be there behind my skin, and in my flesh I shall see God. With my own eyes I shall see him – I and not another. How my heart yearns!” (Job 19:25-27).

St. Thomas Aquinas further reasoned that Christ rose with a true body, for, in order for it to be a true Resurrection, it was necessary for his same body to be united with his soul. He had a glorified body from his Resurrection, as St. Paul relates, “For, there shall be a spiritual body, as there is, at present, a living body” (1 Corinthians 15:44).

The Sabbath, the seventh day of rest during the Creation, was celebrated as the day of worship for at least 2000 years. It must have been a miraculous event that so deeply moved the early Christians to produce the theological shift of the day of worship from the Sabbath to Sunday, the Lord’s Day.

It is not enough to ‘speak’ of Jesus. We must also let him be ‘seen’ somehow through the eloquent witness of our own life. St. Mother Teresa in her visiting card used the touching and inspiring words: “The fruit of silence is prayer; the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.”

The journey to Emmaus teaches us the immense beauty of being Catholic, having access to the fullness of truth, and the intimate communion with the Lord Jesus when we receive the divine Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. This is the way to meet Christ in our day to day lives.

Regardless of what prevents us from seeing Christ as we ought, may we all come to know Jesus as a friend who walks with us in our pain and disappointment, and like the disciples, may our hearts burn as well as Jesus reveals himself to us each day through his word.

Every moment of our lives is a time for believing, hoping and loving. This year, to experience the Easter with love means caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the C-19 pandemic.