Father Iain McKillop
Over the weeks between now and Pentecost, in church services we would normally be reading and exploring together the Gospel stories of Jesus’ appearances after his Resurrection. I’d recommend that we all read the encouraging final chapters of each Gospel for ourselves in these difficult times. Consider what you might say about each scene if you were writing a sermon about them. Instead of just retelling the story, consider how you might explain two things especially:
1/ What evidence do the different appearances give, which help to prove to you or to others that Jesus’ Resurrection was true? This was one of the reasons why the Gospel-writers recorded them. They needed to convince us.
2/ What do they say to you about faith in Jesus and God’s power at work for you? These are even more challenging and personal questions!
When I prepare a sermon I find that I always learn more about a passage of scripture, a challenging issue, or an aspect of belief, than if I was just reading the Bible as normal, prayerful study. Needing to clarify thoughts to explain them or think-them-through with others can help our own faith to grow.
Here are a few suggestions to start your thoughts going:
1/ The testimony of women was not considered legally valid in Jewish courts. So why do the Gospels put so much emphasis on Jesus’ first appearances being to his women followers? If the stories of Jesus’ Resurrection were being invented at the time, surely they would have stressed the evidence of men and put less emphasis on the evidence of women? This helps me to believe that the stories are authentic and not invented. [Matt.28:1; Mk.16:1; Lk.24:10; Jn.20:3-8].
2/ The Gospel records do not always concur over details. The passages above give different names to the witnesses. If the stories were being invented, surely the writers or later editors would have made the details agree. This implies that the writers were bringing together many diverse records which circulated from various sources, which were believed to be true. Do the differences between the Gospel details cause you difficulties, or are they helpful in convincing you that the basic story is true?
3/ Peter and John ran to the tomb (the first male evidence) [Jn.20:5-8]. What they found, which convinced them that Jesus had risen, isn’t as fully explained as one might have done, if one was making up the story. What do you think convinced them?
4/ When Jesus appeared to the disciples together in the Upper Room, on the road to Emmaus and to a multitude of others, his appearance was strong enough to convince their followers that he had truly risen from death. He wasn’t like a man who had swooned on the cross, not fully died and was recovering from torture. (The Roman soldiers knew how to kill men!) The followers were convinced that Jesus’ Resurrection was physical. [Mk.16:12-15; Lk.24:28-35; 1 Cro.15:3-6]
5/ The risen Jesus was not a ghost or the product of the disciples’ wishful thinking: He could be touched; his physicality convinced the sceptical Thomas, and he could physically eat with the disciples. [Lk.24:36-43; Jn.20:19-20, 24-29; 21:1-14].
6/ The risen Jesus had the power to perform miracles like the miraculous draught of fishes [21:4-8]. This suggests that, risen and ascended, his power can still work for us today.
7/ On the road to Emmaus Jesus explained to his companions why Christ needed to die and rise form death. Sadly we don’t know what Hebrew scriptures he used as evidence. How would you explain to others why Jesus had to die and ride?
8/ Does Jesus’ Resurrection help to convince you that life beyond death is promised to you? How might you explain this to others in ways that would convince them?
9/ What does it mean to you to have a risen and ascended Christ working for you in heaven? The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews had obviously contemplated this at length in order to discuss it: [Heb.4:14-5:10; 6:19; 9:11-15; 10:11-25].
10/ How does the gift of God’s Spirit to humankind after Pentecost influence and inspire you now? How do you experience God’s power and presence with you?
These are just a few questions to begin to consider. I’m sure that thoughtful reading of the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances will inspire you to more thoughts.
In trying to form answers, don’t worry that you’re not trained in theology, or that you may not be able to form a definitive argument: these are hard subjects to clarify. Just try to form an understanding that helps to convince you, and be honest in your thoughts. It is honesty before God that creates real and true faith. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well that God wants worship that is “in spirit and in truth” [Jn.24]. Don’t try to be sanctimonious; be real before God. The Resurrection appearances of Jesus bring up as many questions and challenges as solutions, partly because they are so brief. Yet there is enough evidence in them to convince many, including myself, and to strengthen our faith. Later I will send the details of the Resurrection that convince me!