The First Glorious Mystery: The Resurrection

Anthony Zimmerman
April 15, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

The First Glorious Mystery invites us to reflect on our future life in heaven in the company of Jesus and Mary. Christ's resurrection from the dead gives us a vision of how we too will rise from the dead. As Paul writes: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The great future event of our lives is going to be the experience and thrill of getting back into our own bodies after they were dead.

The lifeless body of Jesus lay in the tomb now, but it was not subject to corruption. It was indeed the body of the living and eternal Son of God, of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, but the body, of mortal nature, now lay there lifeless. We may believe that angels were keeping vigil and standing guard beside the lifeless body of the Son of God.

In the meantime Jesus descended into abode of the dead with His soul to announce the good news of their liberation. The belief we have inherited from the Apostles is that He "descended into hell and the third day He rose again from the dead." Hell here means the abode of the dead as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

632 The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was "raised from the dead" presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection. This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ's descent into hell: 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 Saviour, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.

The people of the Old Testament thought of the conditions of the departed as living in a dark abode, sometimes called sheol. Kings and commoners alike dwelt there in darkness and inactivity. That changed now, when Jesus Himself entered that region of darkness of people in waiting. Jesus had given Himself for the salvation of all believers, including those of the Old testament, indeed, for all the descendants of Adam and Eve.

On Holy Saturdays the Divine Office presents us with a lively and interesting account of what Jesus might have done when -- separated from His body which was in the tomb -- He ventured with His soul into the abode of the dead. The passage is attributed to an ancient homilist. It is a beautiful sermon, filling us with a mystical feeling as we accompany Christ to Limbo where He greets, first of all, our Adam and Eve:

Something strange is happening~there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps 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 forever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search -- for our first parent, 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 the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: "My Lord be with you all." Christ answered him: "And with your spirit." He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: "Awake, 0 sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."

"I am your God, who. for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, 0 sleeper, to awake. 1 did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands,. you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot. be separated..."

We, who live after Christ's Good Friday and Easter Sunday, no longer expect to go to a waiting room of an abode of the dead after we die. Our personal judgment will follow after we take our last breath. The Catechism tells us that:

1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven -- through a purification or immediately, -- or immediate and everlasting damnation.

Holy Saturday is a time for serious reflection about eternal life. Once we close our eyes to this world we can no long walk on our own, or go where we will. We will be entirely in the hands of God. We can curry His favor here by living for Him and working for Him and finally dying for Him, trusting that He will give us a friendly welcome.

Friday has passed, and Saturday. Now it was Sunday morning in spring and the sun was about to rise. Christ now approached the tomb with His soul. The body lay there as Mary had last seen it, still bloody in places, the wounds of the nails very evident, and marks of the thorns and of the scourging. With divine power Jesus brought the dead body to life again. He spiritualized the body in an instant, making it completely subject to His spiritual soul, to its command of thought and will. He disengaged His body from the material bandaging powers of the electrons and protons, the valences of the molecules, the bonding of the magnetism and the pull of gravity. We may believe that as Jesus was chasing these material powers out of His body they escaped in the form of an electronic storm that seared the shroud in which the body had been wrapped; that these bits of lightning burnt a negative imprint into the shroud of the specific parts of the body from which they had escaped. The Holy Shroud, whose appearance puzzled Peter and John when they first saw it, is almost certainly the same as is now preserved in the Cathedral of Turin.

Of a sudden the eyes opened, the rigor mortis yielded to soft flesh, the hands and feet tingled again with sensation, but not now with pain. The body awoke to consciousness and to the joys of new life. How good it was! He stretched arms and legs as He tried out His resurrected body. Everything fit again and was in place, but He was no longer encumbered by the forces of mortal life.

"Resurrexi" He said to the Father, breathing the Spirit. "I have risen. I am with you once more. You placed your hand on me to keep me safe. How great is the depth of your wisdom, alleluia!"

Having repaid His respects and thanks to the Father, it was time to begin His mission in His spiritualized body. Did He visit His Mother? We may believe that He did so. She had brought Him into the world and He wanted now to greet her in his new apparition of glory. He would thank her for standing there under the cross until the end. "Brave woman," He said to her. Henceforth you and I will have much work to do together." The visit was brief, but its glow left Mary full of joy.

He then signaled to the angel to do his thing, to dazzle the guards and signal to the world by the opened tomb that He had risen:

Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men (Matthew 28:1-4).

This was not a minor angel, but one with muscle. He rattled and bobbled the area with an earthquake, then kicked the stone away, and postured like blazing lightning before the burly guards. They lost all nerve and fell down like dead men. After recovery they lost all thought about guarding that bewitching tomb, scrambled to their feet and, without looking back, ran away from the menacing angel as fast as their frightened feet could carry them.

St. Gregory Nazianzen, (329-389), flowery orator of his day, enlarged the status of this angel to make him a messenger trumpeting Christ's resurrection to the whole world:

And behold a man riding on the clouds and he is very high, and his countenance is as the countenance of Angel, and his vesture as the brightness of piercing lightning; and he lifts his hand toward the East, and cries with a loud voice. His voice is like the voice of a trumpet; and round about Him is as it were a multitude of the Heavenly Host; and he saith, Today is salvation come unto the world, to that which is visible, and to that which is invisible. Christ is risen from the dead, rise ye with Him. Christ is returned again to Himself, return ye. Christ is freed from the tomb, be ye freed from the bond of sin. The gates of hell are opened, and death is destroyed, and the old Adam is put aside, and the New is fulfilled; if any man be in Christ he is a new creature; be ye renewed. Thus he speaks; and the rest sing out, as they did before when Christ was manifested to us by His birth on earth, their glory to God in the highest, on earth, peace, goodwill among men. And with them I also utter the same words among you. And would that I might receive a voice that should rank with the Angel's, and should sound through all the ends of the earth (Oration 45, the Second Oration on Easter.)

Thus spoke the great bishop, his voice booming through the church calling people to rise from their sins because the "gates of hell are opened and death is destroyed." The sermon is longer than our homilies of today, 55 pages of computer scans, which might make it about two hours long.

The great angel, after having quaked the earth, having shoved the stone aside and menacing the guards, next turned with kindlier mean to the women who had come to visit the tomb and said to them:

"Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you." So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples (Matthew 28:5-7).

Now for the first time Jesus Himself made an appearance. He met the women as they were running back to tell the disciples what the angel had told them:

And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Hail!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me" (Matthew 28:8-9).

Why Jesus did not appear to the men first but to the ladies is His secret. St. John Chrysostom (347-407) said he favored them to foster their sense of dignity:

Therefore after then they had departed with fear and joy, "Behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail." But "they held Him by the feet," and with exceeding joy and gladness ran unto Him, and received by the touch also, an infallible proof, and full assurance of the resurrection. "And they worshipped Him." What then saith He? "Be not afraid." Again, He Himself casts out their fear, making way for faith, "But go, tell my brethren, that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me." Mark how He Himself sends good tidings to His disciples by these women, bringing to honor, as I have often said, that sex, which was most dishonored, and to good hopes; and healing that which was diseased (Sermon 90 on Matthew).

To every person whom Jesus met on Easter day, He gave peace and opened their minds to faith. Thus He did to the women, to Mary Magdalen, to the travelers on the way to Emmaus, and finally, in the evening, to the disciples. The peace He gave into their hearts binds them to Himself, and to each other, and has since then become the beautiful, loving, concerned, tender, universal peace of the Mystical Body of Christ, of Christian civilization. Having stirred up new hopes in the hearts of the disciples, Jesus finally greeted them, with His exuberant joy and gift of peace on the evening of the day of His resurrection:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:19-23).

Christ had given them His peace. Now they can give it to each other. Christ had forgiven sins. Now they can forgive sins. The world is new, Christianity has dawned upon it with that visit on the eve of Easter. St. Leo the Great, Pope during 440-461, articulates the joy that we feel when we pray the first glorious mystery of the Rosary, in this magnificent selection from sermon 71 made on Holy Saturday in preparation for Easter Sunday:

III. Christ's Manifestation After the Resurrection Showed that His Person Was Essentially the Same as Before.

And then there followed many proofs, whereon the authority of the Faith to be preached through the whole world might be based. And although the rolling away of the stone, the empty tomb, the arrangement of the linen cloths, and the angels who narrated the whole deed by themselves fully built up the truth of the LORDŐS Resurrection, yet did He often appear plainly to the eyes both of the women and of the Apostles not only talking with them, but also remaining and eating with them, and allowing Himself to be handled by the eager and curious hands of those whom doubt assailed.

For to this end He entered when the doors were closed upon the disciples, and gave them the Holy Spirit by breathing on them, and after giving them the light of understanding opened the secrets of the Holy Scriptures, and again Himself showed them the wound in the side, the prints of the nails, and all the marks of His most recent Passion, whereby it might be acknowledged that in Him the properties of the Divine and Human Nature remained undivided, and we might in such sort know that the Word was not what the flesh is, as to confess GOD's only Son to be both Word and Flesh."