In line with our equivalent textual comparison from the Synoptic Gospels, this session focuses on the depictions of Jesus’ return from the grave found in John and Paul (but not George and Ringo). As before we are asking what the author wants to say about the Resurrection and what that might mean to us today. We begin with the appearence of Jesus to his disciples in a house from the Gospel of John.
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’
After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’
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 them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’
Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’
Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’
Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
- The text makes explicit that it is not an exhaustive account, but while it sounds like it is presenting historical events (“these are written so that you may come to believe”), there is a lot more depth to it than merely a history. Like Luke (and Paul as we shall see) it is more richly theological than the accounts of Mark and Matthew, expressing more reflection upon implications of the Resurrection.
- This reflection seems to take place from a Christian rather than Jewish perspective, implying it is a later text. We are told the disciples were hiding from “the Jews”, which is perhaps this indicative of certain fear or dislike of Jews in the community that produced this text.
- It seems likely this is an alternative account of Pentecost, but in Acts 2 Jesus’ Resurrection appearances had already come to an end by this point.
- As throughout this Gospel, there is an emphasis on public signs. The power of Jesus’ breath and words in giving the Spirit are a sign of his identification with the Logos.
- While Jesus’ words “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” have sometimes been used to justify a ‘blind faith’ (a certainty lacking any evidence), given the much broader meaning of belief in the Greek text, these words could equally mean the opposite. Namely, blessed are those who follow Jesus’ teaching without being Gnostics (knowers).
- This is the only place in the Gospels where Jesus is actually called ‘God’. However, it is still ambiguous because the phrase “my lord and my God” was that used by the Romans to describe their emperor, so it is possible that the author was just trying to teach Christians that Jesus takes the place of the emperor.
- Fear (perhaps tied to the Jewish Law?) is contrasted here with the peace brought by Jesus/God.
- This also reveals a remarkable sense of unity between God and humankind. There is no experience that humans can go through that God hasn’t already gone through. Indeed, not only does Jesus remain unclean under the Law for having been executed a blasphemer, but it is clear that he also still bares the wounds of his suffering. These wounds have been called his crowning glory.
- It is difficult to read the text literally here because if Christ’s resurrection body was a human material one he couldn’t have walked through a locked door.
- The opening out of Jesus’ wounds to the doubting Thomas symbolises the Eucharist whereby this body is offered as a sacrifice to transform us-thereby being united to the living Body of Christ.
- This is a fulfilment of the more general opening out of God’s forgiveness through Jesus which is expressed here by the commission of the Apostles to forgive sins. This is the locus classicus for the sacrament of Confession (or Reconciliation) administered by priests as in some forms of Christianity.
- Likewise, this text also justifies the catholic church changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday (as Christ appeared to them on Sundays- “the first day of the week”).
What do the Gospel accounts have in common?
- In the passages from Matthew and John particularly, the risen Christ is not sought out but chooses when and how to appear to people.
- They are provocative and challenging.
- Such encounters, whether physical or not, dramatically change our expectations, and if taken seriously can change our whole life.
- They are related to other texts, and can be ‘performed’ through prayers and rituals.
Romans 6:3-5 & 9-11
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. …
Christ once raised from the dead dies no more; death has no more dominion over him. In dying he died to sin once for all; in living he lives to God. See yourselves, therefore, as dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who sleep.”
- This passage can be seen as an elaboration of the ending of the passage from John (“that through believing you may have life in his name”). This points to a common origin in Christ’s teaching, which given that Paul is thought to be the earliest writer in the New Testament, counts in favour of the accuracy of John.
- This ‘life being made anew’ has happened in (in human history) Jesus, it is happening now (through the Holy Spirit), and it will happen in the future (when we are re-united with our heavenly Father).
- In Paul there is a symbolic grandeur rather than an experience- it is not about seeing the risen Christ. Surprisingly, all the other elements we found in the Gospel accounts are here in at least prototype form.
- Something has to die before something can be resurrected.
- Like the Fall, the Resurrection is universal– for all people.
- A cyclic pattern in life: is sin permanently dead, or does it need to die every day? (Cf. 1 Cor 15:31) The Resurrection is symbolic of a return to God after any sinful act.
- Implies that Christ is just the first- a more general resurrection is coming.
1 Corinthians 15:22
“For since by one man came death, by another has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
- Here the word ‘as’ is critical. Paul is using analogy, not being literal as St. Augustine thought (because of his flawed understanding of Greek). Consequentially, the word ‘in’ is used figuratively and there is no way of knowing what Paul really meant by it.
- All we can say for sure is that Paul, like Luke, wants to show how the Resurrection is a logical fulfilment of the Hebrew tradition. To speculate instead, perhaps he wants to present the Crucifixion as the New Fall, albeit one which inverts its consequence.
- Like the Romans passage, this seems to imply that what Jesus gives us is immortality, which humankind had lost with the expulsion from paradise. But as we said in our discussion on that story this plausibly refers to a spiritual death. Worse than biological death, this a death of spiritual communion with the living God- a state known as sin. If this is correct, what the Resurrection means is that through the mediation of Christ, our spiritual life is re-united with that of God. We could call this at-one-ment.