By Fr Joseph Francis –
Why the third day?
The variation in the Nicene Creed is: “and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Just as he had on a number of occasions when he had predicted his forthcoming passion he also foretold his resurrection on the third day. One may wonder why this “third day” is mentioned. It is good to look at the account of the raising of Lazarus in the Gospel of John chapter 11. There we find Jesus does not come immediately after the news of Lazarus’ illness but delays further and by the time he reaches it was already the fourth day after the death of Lazarus. When he asks Mary that the tomb be opened, the sister of Lazarus protests that it is already 4 days i.e., it is too late (the Jews believed that the soul hovered around the body for 3 days and so 4 days is indeed too late) but Jesus raises Lazarus up alive. So by contrast, Jesus’ prediction that he will rise within 3 days is to say “before it is too late, my Father will vindicate and show that indeed I have come from him by rising me up.” So, just as he had said, he did rise again.
Is Resurrection of Jesus a concoction of the disciples?
Some anti-Christians have said that it is only a sham; it is part of mass hysteria, the extreme sorrow made the disciples imagine that he was alive; it often happens that we imagine that our dead parent has not left us but is really around us and such thoughts prevail for some time at least. Regarding the Resurrection of Jesus observe the following:
1. Women are presented as the first witnesses (Cf. Mt 28.1-10; Mk 16.1-8; Lk 24.1-11; Jn 20.1-2+11-18). This is surprising because, if the disciples had intended to deceive, they would not have mentioned the women at all as the first witnesses, leave alone as witnesses since according to the then Jewish law, a witness by a woman was not acceptable in a Jewish court of law (Cf. The two disciples of Emmaus who dismiss the whole thing as idle tale of deluded or hysterical women Cf. Lk 24. 22-24; also v.10-11 “Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them”). Even Mark says that they “fled from the tomb, for terror had seized them and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mk 16.8).
2. The Rationalists suggest that it was mass hysteria caused by the common grief of the disciples making them to imagine that he was alive and with them. But the evidences seem to point that the community was breaking up rather than continuing to remain together to keep alive the memory of a dead beloved prophet. The two disciples of Emmaus were on their way back home, going away from the community of disciples (Cf. Lk 24.13ff.); Thomas the apostle is also keeping away from the rest of the group (Cf. Jn 20.24ff.).
3. The discovery of the empty tomb is considered by some as an important and even a crucial proclamation but it is not so. We find that it could be interpreted in so many different ways e.g. Mt 28.11-15 where the guards are tutored by the priests to say a falsehood to explain away why the tomb is empty (St. Augustine laughs at their explanation and asks them in his homily: if they slept, as they say they did, how did they see the disciples taking away the body?). The positioning of the bandages and the napkin that covered his head is a better argument: “…and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wraps but rolled up in a place by itself”(Jn 20.6-7; read from vv5-8; also Lk 24.12). The argument is that the bandages preserved the shape as if a body is inside though the body was not there and anyone stealing the body would have left the bandages helter-skelter. Added to this is the fact that the cloth covering his face was left neatly folded (or rolled) by itself pointing out that he is coming back (the custom we are told in those days was: when the master is called away from the middle of his dinner and he left for a while he kept the napkin folded which meant for the servant that he has not finished and would be coming back and if it were not folded but just cast down on the table the sign for the servant was that the master has finished his meal and he would clear the table). Perhaps this is one way of telling about the faith of the Church that the Lord is going to appear again and his task is not completed till the day of Parousia [popularly called “the second coming” to judge at the end of time] (or quite simply the disciples will see him soon).
4. Remember also that resurrection is not to be confused with resuscitation of a dead corpse. The 12 year old girl, son of the widow of Nain, Lazarus were all resuscitated and were brought back to life, though really dead, to continue their interrupted life, whereas resurrection means a real transformation, a new stage of life with new properties.
5. St. Paul in the course of his preaching in the Greek world had much difficulty in speaking about the resurrection of Jesus and its significance for our salvation (Cf. Acts of the Apostles 17.31-32 where they laughed at Paul at Areopagus in Athens when he spoke of Jesus Resurrection. The Greeks on the whole took up Plato’s philosophy for anthropology: according to this, the body is considered as a prison for the soul exiled from the world of Ideas and death would be relinquishing the body to return to the World of Ideas. So any coming back to the body cannot be salvation but punishment continued or revisited! Paul however insisted on the fact of Resurrection of Jesus. Read also I Cor 15.1 ff where Paul defends the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead by saying that our own rising at the end of time is sure because God is capable of doing it for us since he did it in case of Jesus. There are witnesses who have seen the Risen Lord: the 12 and more than 500 disciples some whom were alive at the time of Paul’s writing.
6. The Resurrected Body of Jesus is not a phantom or metaphorical body but is a REAL physical body. They touch him, cling to his feet (Cf. Mt 28.9-10; Lk 24.38-40; Jn 20. 17+27; he eats with them, prepares breakfast for them Cf. Lk 24.41-43;Jn 21.12-14). There are some unfortunate people who claim that all apparition stories of Resurrection are colourful myths created by the Evangelists to show that the Resurrection is a matter of faith. They claim that they are stories that stand in need of “deconstruction”. Do not be taken in by this to say that the whole thing is false. It is like pealing the onion and in the end what is left?
7. Further note that if Jesus is not risen and alive with us, then our Christian faith is useless. St. Paul says: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (I Cor 15.14). The reason for this bold statement is the fact that if wages of sin is death as Scripture says, then Jesus taking upon himself the sins of the world died. If he remains dead then sin also remains as it was but if on the contrary Jesus rose again victorious over death, then sin from which death is shown to have come is also vanquished. Further all the Sacraments give us a contact with the living Risen Lord and if Jesus is only dead and gone, then the Sacraments in the Catholic Church are empty rituals. The Eucharist will be the biggest bluff and the worst idolatry if Jesus the Risen Lord is not really and substantially present in the Eucharist under the form of bread.
To be continued…