The Narrative of the Resurrection

Anthony Zimmerman
Special for Catholicmimd
May 11, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

Jesus rose in power, and first of all gave thanks to the Father. He appears to women, faithful followers first, grateful for their fidelity. Then He gradually paves the way to help the apostles to believe. To Joseph of Arimathea we owe the relic of the Holy shroud.

The Church opens the solemn Easter Mass with words that Christ speaks to the Father: "I have risen. I am with you once more." All Christians rejoice with Jesus whose sufferings have come to a close, who lives again after He had died. Alleluia we say, as members of His Mystical Body, happy with "My Father." Jesus did not feel sorry for Himself that He had gone through the passion and death. As He said to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus: "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:26).

The translation of this entrance hymn is not quite correct. "I am with you once more" appears to convey that while He was dead He was not with the Father. But that is not true. While His body was dead, Jesus the Person, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, remained with the Father, and remained also with His corpse in the tomb, and with His soul in the region of the dead. The original Latin should be translated correctly: "I have risen. I am with you still" (adhuc). We hope that the new translations will be faithful to the original meaning.

Easter Morning was so filled with excitement for the early Christians that we should not blame them for now saying this, now saying that, never mind the precisions that news reporters and chroniclers might prefer. When we sing Alleluia we are supremely happy and don't ask about details. I say this because in what follows I will comment on the events as St. Matthew proclaimed them, without trying to fit things together with the proclamations of the other three Evangelists.

The women who followed Jesus

There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him; among whom were Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zeb'edee.

Note that the women from Galilee who had been following Christ and ministering were "many," and they stayed to the end. The mother or James and John is prominent among them. Perhaps more women than men comforted Christ unto the end. Where were the apostles? It reminds me of what I saw in Cuba, I believe it was in 1952, before Castro. While studying at Catholic University, the American military chaplaincy in Havana asked for priests to help out with the Christmas services and flew us down there for the purpose. Having helped here and there, I also saw that at the Christmas late morning Mass at the Cathedral, men were escorting their elegantly dressed wives up the steps and to the cathedral door, where the ladies then entered, and the men turned back, and sat on the sun-drenched steps and chatted and smoked cigars while the ladies attended Mass inside. Maybe if the men had attended Mass with their families instead of waiting for them outside. Castro might not have been inflicted on Cuba. Matthew continues:

The Holy Shroud

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathe'a, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed. Mary Mag'dalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulchre.

Is this not the very same Holy Shroud now in the Cathedral of Milan? Breathe a prayer of thanks to Joseph of Arimathea who thoughtfully purchased that expensive shroud, perhaps because his conscience hurt him for not having come out into the open more to defend Jesus. Note also that the sepulchre was originally his own. Those of you who have visited the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem, will have gone through the narrow entrance to the tomb, bending down as you went. Once inside there was more room and you saw the stone shelf about a yard high on which Jesus had lain for a night and a day and then the final night before the Resurrection. The holy women watched as Joseph and his helpers wrapped Jesus into the linen cloth and laid Him to rest. Then the great stone was rolled into place to close off the entrance. Such a stone can weigh several tons, not being easy to move. The women were already planning to bring spices and anoint Jesus properly once the Sabbath was over. But the huge stone presented a problem.

Matthew is the only evangelist among the four who relates that the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate to ask that a guard be stationed at the tomb, and that seals be set on the great stone. We might think of wax pressed between the stone and its housing, with the official seal of the high priest set into the wax. Matthew might have smiled a bit when he wrote this. The enemies of Jesus were so careful, they feared a possible Resurrection, whereas he himself and the other disciples had no such thought in mind. None of the disciples, apparently, had expected a Resurrection, whereas the enemies sealed the tomb "lest his disciples go and steal him away, and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first."

Jesus rises from the dead with grace and power

Matthew's words about the Resurrection are so beautiful, I don't want to disturb you as you read them:

Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Mag'dalene 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. But the angel said to the women, "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.

It was dawn indeed, the dawn of a new testament between God and man. The guards became like dead men, but the angel instructed the women to be calm. They were obviously shaken by the earthquake, and now blinked at the angel's appearance of lightning, not followed by a crash of thunder. Getting hold of themselves they did as the angel said, entered the tomb, and saw that it was now empty. The angel told them why: "He has risen as he said."

The angel then instructed them to "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." Apparently the disciples were still asleep, though the earthquake should have awakened them. Note the message that they were to go to Galilee, where Jesus would meet them. That is Matthew's distinct account of events.

The rest of the disciples should go to Galilee to meet Jesus, but these holy women did not have to wait for that. Jesus was pleased to reward them with a special treat. As they were running to awaken the disciples with the good news, Jesus stood athwart their path:

So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 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 interrupts the narrative to tell about the guards - some of them - going to the chief priests and telling everything that happened. Incredibly, the chief priests did not want to hear what they had feared would happen. They bribed the guards to keep silent. Apparently, someone leaked the story anyway, and Matthew recorded it for all the world to hear. They paid money to keep the truth from getting out, and they themselves hardened their hearts.

But to their credit "many" of the priests later converted, confessing their crime of participation in the killing of Jesus. Peter had confronted the people of Jerusalem with their crime and thousands came to their senses: "This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it" (Acts 2:23-24). "And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7).

The evangelist then relates that the disciples went to Galilee as Jesus instructed them through the women, and there bade His earthly farewell to them and to us:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted.

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."

From the Father Jesus had received authority in heaven and on earth - "all authority." He had merited this through His life on earth, especially through His strenuous battle of His passion and death.

Two thousand years ago Jesus rose from the dead and assumed the reins of power in heaven and on earth. Today about two billion of the six billion inhabitants on earth call themselves Christians. His commission stands unchanged: "Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Like the holy women on Easter Day, like the disciples on the mountain, we are blessed to be His disciples on earth, looking forward to the dawn of our life with Jesus in heaven.