When we think about Easter, and particularly about the appearances of the post-Resurrection Christ, we are almost certainly going to be thinking about the Gospels of Luke and John. There is good reason for this: these two Gospels have by far the most material about the risen Christ. In fact, the “original ending” of the Gospel of Mark has none at all. I put it as “original ending” because the truth is that we don’t know how the Gospel originally ended – it may have stopped at verse 16:8, or there may have been something more that is now lost, but it is certain that the longer ending that appears in our bibles was added on later, and it seems to be mostly a summary of the endings of the other three Gospels. Perhaps St Mark really did end his Gospel by saying that the women said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.
St Matthew’s ending is not much longer: the woman do meet Jesus and are told to send the disciples to meet him in Galilee. This they do, to an unnamed mountain, from which Christ sends them out to proclaim the Gospel and baptise all the nations, and the Gospel famously closes with the words “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” In this way, the evangelist echoes the beginning of the Gospel, where we are told that Christ is “God with us” – because “I AM” is the name God gives himself in the Book of Exodus, at another mountain. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to see how the ending of Matthew also reflects the third of the three temptations of Jesus (Matthew 4:8-10), thus showing how the resurrection sets the seal of Christ’s victory over the devil.
Saints Luke and John offer us much more material, and it tells us two important things about Christ’s resurrection body. We need to keep hold of both of them, and yet they seem almost to be the opposite of one another.
The first of these truths is that there is something odd about Christ’s risen body. St Luke tells us the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who failed to recognise Jesus until he broke bread for them, whereupon he vanished. I can’t help wondering what a camera might have captured: would a video of this meeting show Jesus’s appearance changing, or did something rather change in the minds of the disciples? At the end of their meeting, would we see Jesus there one second and gone the next, like some kind of special effect? In both Luke and John, Jesus appears to the disciples suddenly, even when the door is locked. Presumably we are not to suppose he smashed his way in, but did he walk through the door like a ghost, or appear suddenly like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn?
My own favourite story of the risen Christ, though, is in the last chapter of St John’s Gospel: Christ is on the beach barbecuing fish when the disciples see him from their boats and, we are told, “none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord.” (21:12). If they knew it was the Lord, why would they need to ask him who he was? Clearly they both knew and didn’t know. These two Gospels are both telling us that Jesus’s body is in some important ways different after the resurrection. But the other thing I think they are telling us is that it is definitely the same body. He is not a ghost, not an illusion – he makes a point of eating in the presence of the disciples (Luke 24:42f) and famously he suggests that Thomas touch the wounds in his hands and in his side (John 20:27). This last incident is most important, because we see that Christ’s risen body still bears the marks of his passion. The body that is raised is the body that was tortured and killed.
Partly this matters because, like Jesus, we too are destined to be raised and utterly transformed, present in a new world in a new way of being present. And yet it will be unquestionably us, our real selves. And just as for Christ the resurrection did not undo the marks of crucifixion, so for us the resurrection will not be so much the reversal of death as its completion. Christ did not come back to life, he went forward into a new kind of life, and that mysterious and wonderful life is also stored up for us.
This article first appeared in the Easter 2022 issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe today.
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