Tag Archives: tomb

The Resurrection

Matthew’s account of the resurrection pays a lot of attention to the soldiers who guard the tomb of Jesus. I think most illustrations of the resurrection in our churches and our books, like the above, follow his account.

There are the soldiers surrounding the tomb, who “became like dead men,”  fearful after an earthquake shook the tomb open and he appeared “like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” (Mt 28, 2-4)

Matthew wants to assure us that his disciples didn’t steal Jesus’ body away after his death. That was a story circulating in his day and it circulates today.  But Jesus really died, Matthew claims, and the soldiers are his proof.

When Joseph of Arimathea asks to take the body for burial, Pilate first called the Roman centurion to certify that Jesus was dead, according to Mark’s gospel. ( Mk 15,44-45) The Romans certify his death.

 The Jewish leaders are worried his body would be stolen and ask Pilate for a guard to watch the tomb for three days. Pilate tells them to put their own guard at the tomb, a further assurance the body wont be taken. Often in illustrations the guards are pictured as Roman soldiers, but they are really the same kind of guard who came to seize Jesus in the garden and take him to the Jewish leaders. (Mt 27,64-66) 

When the guards go to them to report the body of Jesus is missing, they are told to say his disciples stole the body while they were asleep. (Mt 28.11-15)  The evangelist extends his resurrection account to make sure we know this.

Jesus really died, and he really rose again.

Raising Lazarus

John 11,1-45

The wonderful story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus helps us appreciate the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Lazarus belongs to an influential family that welcomed Jesus to their home in Bethany, a village about two miles from Jerusalem. Martha and Mary were his sisters. Jesus stayed with them when he visited the Holy City.
When Lazarus died some days before the Passover, Jesus had left Jerusalem because of threats to his life and was staying in the safety of the Transjordan, the region where John the Baptist had baptized. Notified of his friend’s death, Jesus returned to Bethany, unconcerned for himself.
Death in its many forms was what Jesus came to take away, our gospel wants us to understand, and the dead Lazarus was a sign of what he wishes to do for all humanity. Lazarus was his friend, but Jesus, the Word made flesh, befriends the whole human race.
In the stirring conclusion of today’s gospel, Jesus calls the dead Lazarus from the tomb and “the dead man came out,” bound with the burial cloths that claimed him for death. “Untie him and let him go,” Jesus says. Those powerful, hopeful words are said to us too. We are called, not to die, but to live.
Later, on Calvary Jesus himself becomes our sign. A painful death does not claim him, nor will the grave hold him. He is our hope.
The same hope nourished Paul of the Cross: “ You ask me how I’m doing. I’m more sick than well and full of ailments. I can hardly write this…(but) I find it very good. Bearing the chains, the ropes, the blows, the scourges, the wounds, the thorns, the cross and death of my Savior, I fly to the bosom of the Father, where the gentle Jesus always is, and I allow myself to be lost in his immense Divinity.” (Letter 1925)
Like Martha, the sister of Lazarus, O Lord,
I believe you are the Resurrection and the Life.

Mary Magdalene

Besides Peter, Mary Magdalene is a key witness to the resurrection of Jesus. Her story is told in John’s gospel which speaks of their meeting in the garden. For the rest of her years Mary would remember those moments by the tomb.

In the morning darkness she had come weeping for the one she had thought lost forever. She had heard him call her name, “Mary”. She had turned to see him alive and the garden became paradise.

Like a new Eve she had been sent by Jesus to bring news of life to all the living. She was his apostle to the apostles. The belief of Christians in the resurrection of Jesus would be founded on this woman’s word.

On Easter Sunday the church questions her:

“Tell us, Mary, what did you see on the way?
‘I saw the tomb of the now living Christ.
I saw the glory of Christ, now risen.
I saw angels who gave witness;
the cloths, too, which once covered head and limbs.
Christ my hope had indeed arisen.
He will go before his own into Galilee.'”
–Easter sequence

Fascinated by her story, medieval spiritual writers added simple human details to the Gospel accounts. According to the author of the Meditations on the Life of Christ, Mary held the feet of Jesus when he was taken down from the cross, because she had kissed them and washed them with her tears once before.

“(At the tomb) she could not think, or speak, or hear anything except about him. When she cried and paid no attention to the angels, her Lord could not hold back any longer for love… ‘Woman, whom do you seek? Why do you weep?’ And she, as if drugged, not recognizing him said, ‘Lord, if you carried him away, tell me where, and I will take him.’ Look at her. With tear-stained face she begs him to lead her to the one seeks. She always hopes to hear something new of her Beloved. Then the Lord says to her, ‘Mary’.

“It was as though she came back to life, and recognizing his voice, she said with indescribable joy, ‘Rabbi, you are the Lord I was seeking. Why did you hide from me so long? …I tell you so much grief from your passion filled my heart that I forgot everything else. I could remember nothing except your dead body and the place where I buried it, and so I brought ointment this morning. But you have come back to us.’

“And they stayed there lovingly with great joy and gladness. She looked at him closely and asked him about each thing, and he answered willingly. Now, truly, the Passover feast had come. Although it seemed that the Lord held back from her, I can hardly believe that she did not touch him before he departed, kissing his feet and his hands.”
For more on Mary Magdalene, see http://www.cptryon.org/holylives/nt/magd/