A Spirituality blog from our Community

Of the following passages we asked:

  • What does the author want to say to us about the Resurrection event? (and why?)
  • What might the Resurrection mean for us? 

Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’

When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

  • The particular mention of the first day of the week and that the sun had risen are clearly rich in symbolism.
  • The narrative expresses the human fear of the unknown, particularly directed at the man in white robes- an angel? Perhaps the author wanted to convey a consoling thought to the audience- that even though they had direct knowledge of God, the earliest disciples also suffereed from weakness and fear.
  • Surprisingly, Jesus does not appear– unless the man is Jesus playing a trick on them! But we are told that he has kept his promise that they will see him again. And the mysterious presence of the man, together with their fear of him implies a divine warrant, and the moving of the stone implies a miracle, one which symbolises the breaking of the barrier between God and humankind.
  • Women –

> Salome is not mentioned anywhere else.

> Women were not viewed as important in that culture, and indeed they don’t feature in the gospels anything like as much as men.

> The testimony of women was viewed as worthless in that society, and was therefore inconvenient for Jesus’ followers- making the story even more incredible. Perhaps this is why they were afraid to tell anyone.

> Arguably the presence of women in the narrative is related to birth symbolism: the tomb is like the womb. It is even made of stone like the manger in which the new born Jesus lay, and was protected by a man named Joseph (of Arimathea).

  • The narrative seems deliberately ironic. First the women worry how they are going to open the tomb in their ignorance that it is already open. Then they don’t say what they’ve been told to say, in contrast to what happened all through Mark as people say what they’ve been told not to say (note that they also go against the instruction not to be alarmed).
  • If the author is telling the truth, how could they have got this information?
  • Peter is marked out as more important than the other disciples.
  • Jesus is going on ahead of them, he is pedestrian, moving among the people.
  • Our two earliest Greek manuscripts of this Gospel (‘Vaticanus’ and ‘Sinaiticus’) come to an abrupt end with this story. Many editions add an addendum from other manuscripts perhaps making use of Matthew to try and give a fuller explanation. Why is this necessary? It’s possible that the scrolls were damaged and the original ending was lost. But it is also possible that it ended here for liturigical reasons- at this point in a church service reading would give way to a personal testimony from a witness of the risen Christ.
  • Ultimately that we are not told what happened when they met the risen Christ back in Galilee encourages us to revisit the text from the beginning again and reflect upon Jesus’ ministry in the light of what we have been told. This cyclic flow of the text leads to the ritual practise of a liturgical year.

Matthew 28:8-20

“So the women left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, ‘You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

  • The existence of Matthew’s account implies that he thought Mark was wrong- or certainly in need of a lot of clarification. The author reuses Mark but then attaches this addendum with an (oddly abrupt) appearance of Jesus to the women. This says that they worshipped him (as the disciples did later), implying that they thought him divine.
  • Then there is the section that describes an alternative explanation for the events, an explanation which we are told has been popular for sometime between this version of Matthew’s text was finalised. This story introduces the information that there were soldiers (of some kind) guarding the tomb. Matthew’s answer to this objection is an early example of apologetics.
  • The final part of Matthew’s account is an event commonly called ‘The Great Commission’, where the risen Christ -presented quite regally- orders his disciples to convert others to belief in him. Crucial to this was the initiatory rite of Baptism– and this most simple baptismal formula is one of the very few references to the Trinity in the Bible. In the light of this, we thought that this account is very outward facing, it emphasises opening out to the gentiles, and engaging with the future.
  • Finally, Christ appears more loving and personal, promising ‘I am with you always’. So it is not simply that Christ is not ‘above’ us like a “celestial dictator” (as Christopher Hitchens called him), but at our ‘side’ like a true friend. While some do interpret this in an a hierarchical way also, as Christ legitimising the authority of church institutions, it is more commonly tied to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist (how the presence of the Holy Spirit is distinct is unclear).

Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day [as the other Resurrection story] two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad.

Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

He asked them, ‘What things?’

They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’

Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 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 told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

  • Luke’s account of what happened at the tomb (presented here in a second-hand form) is closer to Mark’s than Matthew’s.
  • Some pointed out that this account is richer in symbolism, which is not to say that it is not historical. The overarching image of the passage is that of a journey. This is echoed in linear progressions of stages of understanding. These can be read in both a personal way, as a kind of case study about doubt and the involvement of emotions in conversion to Christianity, and in a communal way, as a model of the church and the presence of Christ in its ritual life.
  • These disciples end up being surprised because they did not, indeed could not recognise Christ at first. Indeed we are told that when he first appeared to them it made them sad.
  • This narrative clearly identifies Jesus as the Messiah prophesised in the Hebrew scriptures, a Messiah whose suffering, we are told he demonstrated, was necessary. So Christ is found -imperfectly- in scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. This made the disciples hearts ‘burn’. Things are made anew.
  • Christ keeps on the moving on the journey- it is we who have to ask for him to stay. This corresponds to the doctrine that “faith is an act of the will  in accordance with grace” (St. Aquinas).
  • Finally, we see that Christ is found -more perfectly- in the hospitality of a shared meal, specifically in the food of the Eucharist. This allowed them to recognise Christ at last.
  • We noticed that Christ is not presented as here as an unambiguous, objectively physical sign of his resurrection. Instead this appearance is very subjective, requiring the right spiritual dispositions to perceive. This is, however, consonant with Matthew’s account where we are told (in the same verse) “When they saw him” that “some doubted.” But given the last line, Luke definitely wants to give more emphasis to Christ’s presence as something realised in spiritual practise (liturgical as well as sacramental).


Perhaps you can come up with some better answers to our questions?

See the Next Part of Bible for Bluffers.

Comments on: "The Resurrection in the Synoptic Gospels [Full Discussion]" (1)

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