Easter

It was still very early on this first day of the week. The grave had been under guard over the Sabbath right up until this morning. Along with some other women, Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb with the intention of embalming the body of Jesus according to Jewish custom. She was worried about how they would manage to roll the heavy stone away from the entrance to the tomb. When they arrived, "there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow." The guards took fright and became like dead men. The angel spoke to the women: "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said." Then he let them look inside the tomb and told them to inform the apostles. Thereupon the women left the grave.

But the guards went into the city and reported what had happened to the high priests. After consulting with the elders, the high priests bribed the soldiers with money. The soldiers were to claim that the disciples had come and stolen the body. The guards took the money and spread the lie.

The day of the resurrection

Mary Magdalene ran to Peter and John and told them what she had experienced. The two men hurried to the grave. John, the first to arrive, looked into the cave and noticed the linen cloths in which the body had been wrapped. When Peter arrived at the tomb, he went inside and found the cloth that had encircled the head of the Lord rolled up at a distance from the other linen cloths. Then John entered the tomb as well and saw the linen cloths lying there. But we read: "For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead." This understanding only began to develop gradually in the apostles. So the two apostles returned home.

Mary Magdalene went back to the grave and wept. Then she looked up and saw two angels in white clothes sitting in the cave, who said to her: "Woman, why are you weeping?" She replied: "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him." Then she turned around and saw a man who likewise inquired as to the reason for her weeping. Thinking He was the gardener, she asked Him if He had carried away the corpse. She asked Him to tell her where He had laid it, so that she could go and take it away. Then the Resurrected One addressed her by her name: "Mary!" She recognised Him and said: "'Rabboni!' (which is to say, Teacher)." What deep inner emotion must have welled up in this woman the moment she recognised that this was the Lord!

The Son of God spoke to her of His imminent Ascension and asked her to tell the disciples what she had seen. She did as she had been asked, but the disciples did not believe her.

That same day, two disciples-one was called Cleopas, the name of the other is not recorded-made their way to a village by the name of Emmaus. On the way they talked about the events that had taken place. Then the Lord Himself approached them, but they did not recognise Him. He asked them what they were discussing. They told Him of the events of Good Friday, and the news of the women that Jesus had supposedly risen from the dead, and that several of the disciples had also found the tomb empty. But the two had not seen the Lord in person. Then the Risen One explained everything to them using the biblical statements of Moses and the Prophets. When they were close to their destination, the Lord made as if to go further, but the two disciples urged Him to remain with them. So it was that they sat down to at the table together. Then "He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, 'Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?'"

That very same hour, the two disciples began making their way back to Jerusalem. There they met up with the apostles, who had locked themselves in a room for fear of the Jews. The apostles let the two disciples in and told them that the Lord Jesus had in the meantime appeared to Apostle Peter: "The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" Then the two reported what they had experienced.

In the meantime, evening had settled. While the two disciples told their story, the risen Son of God Himself appeared in the midst of the assembled group and said: "Peace to you." The disciples and apostles were frightened at first. But the Lord spoke to them, and showed them His hands and feet. They were so happy that they could scarcely believe what they saw, so He asked them to bring Him a piece of broiled fish, and ate some of it as they looked on. Then He spoke to them and explained the Holy Scriptures of Moses and the Prophets to them. Thereby they gained deep insight and finally understood that these old traditions were referring to Him, Jesus Christ.

Apostle John writes that the Lord equipped His apostles in a special way during the evening of the day of Easter: "So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also 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 them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'" Thus this striking and significant commission also transpired over Easter. He who had risen from the dead had equipped His apostles with divine authority and given them the power to forgive and retain sins.

Another 40 days passed before His ascension into heaven. During this time the Lord appeared to His own on several occasions and spoke with them about the kingdom of God, all the while strengthening and teaching them. The first apostles repeatedly proclaimed the humanly unfathomable miracle of Christ's resurrection from the dead. This central element of the gospel, together with the message that the Son of God would return, constituted a point of emphasis in the sermons and letters of the apostles. Exactly how the resurrection of the Lord transpired is not known to any human being, since there were no eyewitnesses to this exalted divine miracle. On the other hand, there were many eyewitnesses who saw the Risen Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8).

Christ's resurrection-a fundamental element of Christian faith

Nevertheless, many people have cast doubt on the fact that the Lord resurrected. Even in some Christian circles there are some who have their doubts that the resurrection took place in reality. There were already such tendencies in the congregation of Corinth. These doubts, which had been introduced by teachers of false doctrines, gave Apostle Paul occasion to write to the congregation in detail on the subject of the resurrection. We find his thoughts recorded in the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. There Paul professed his belief in the literal resurrection of Christ, and demonstrated that the entire Christian faith would be pointless without this resurrection (verses 12-19). However, he went on to explain that because Christ did resurrect as a kind of firstfruits-the first to resurrect-His own can look into the future with confidence in the knowledge that the day will come when the dead in Christ will arise and be taken up to the Lord along with those who have been transformed from the flesh (verses 20-23, 51-52; cf. also 1 Thessalonians 4: 16 and Revelation 20: 6).

As it was then, so it is today too. Belief in Jesus Christ as the firstling in the resurrection constitutes the firm foundation for our faith in the first resurrection, which will begin with the return of Christ. That is the heart of the gospel and the belief of all faithful children of God.

 

(From: © Our Family, "Doctrine and knowledge" vol. I, Friedrich Bischoff Verlag, Frankfurt)