The Easter Season: The Resurrection Narratives
by Raymond E. Brown, S.S.
The Resurrection of Christ is at the center of our faith. The Church devotes eight days of worship to retelling the Resurrection narratives. From Easter to the following (Low) Sunday the readings at Masses present one by one the many New Testament accounts of the appearances of the risen Lord.
Our four Gospels, written 30 to 70 years after the Resurrection, tell us what happened in different ways. Each Gospel narrative should be allowed to contribute its own wealth to what we know and believe about the risen Christ.
Throughout the Gospel Mark emphasizes how difficult it was for those who followed Jesus to believe in him fully because they did not understand that suffering and rejection were an essential part of the identity of God's Son. But pain leads to light.
The added ending (Mark 16:9-20) recognizes how an encounter with the risen Jesus brought about faith. We also hear how those whom Jesus upbraids for lack of faith and hardness of heart are entrusted with preaching the gospel to the whole world.
These are messages pertinent to our own lives. Mark's Gospel reminds us that Jesus' first disciples were struggling human beings like ourselves.
As always, Matthew, although he draws on Mark, is the more skilled teacher, kinder to readers who do not always see implications.
One of the tragic elements in Matthew's Christian experience is a hostile relationship between synagogue authorities and Christian believers. Matthew reminds us that the Christian proclamation of the gospel will not be without struggle.
Matthew describes what Mark only promised: the appearance of Jesus to the disciples. From a mountain in Galilee the risen Jesus sends his disciples forth to teach "all nations," making them disciples by baptizing them.
Matthew is careful to show that God's plan for Jesus was consistent from beginning to end. The revelation given about Jesus before he was born (1:23) proclaimed that he would be Emmanuel ("God with us"); Jesus' last words are "I am with you all days to the end of time" (28:20).
Like Matthew, Luke follows Mark in the basic story of the empty tomb, but then goes his own way in the appearances he reports.
Luke sees the Resurrection as fulfilling the Scriptures. The risen Jesus teaches the Eleven about his death and resurrection by explaining the Scriptures, "All the things written about me in the Law of Moses and in the prophets and in the psalms must be fulfilled" (24:44).
Luke spotlights Jerusalem as the setting for Jesus' appearances and ascension. For him the Gospel began with the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah in the Jerusalem temple; it ends with Jesus' disciples in the temple blessing God.
Jesus' return to God begins the life of the Church that starts in Jerusalem (Judaism) and extends to Rome (the Gentile world).
John's Gospel narrates a series of encounters as character after character comes to meet Jesus and reacts to him. Peter and the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene, the disciples and Thomas encounter the mystery of Jesus' Resurrection.
The last word of Jesus is about the Beloved Disciple. He is given no role of authority, but he retains a primacy in being loved, which is more important in this Gospel. To this disciple is held open the possibility of being there when Jesus returns. Symbolically that would be the final fruit of the Resurrection: a believing community of Christian disciples that would remain until the last days.
What can we learn from the fact that the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection differ from one another? Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever; but the world addressed by God's revelation in Christ is varied indeed. By the way the Church preserves the varied Gospel messages, it lets Jesus speak to the differing needs of the audiences of our times.
—From the book Reading the Gospels With the Church: From Christmas Through Easter
Father Raymond E. Brown (d.1998), a Sulpician priest, was Auburn Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Union Theological Seminary, New York. He was twice appointed a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, by Pope Paul VI in 1972 and by Pope John Paul II in 1996. He wrote extensively on the Bible. Brown's last book was A Retreat With John the Evangelist: That You May Have Life (St. Anthony Messenger Press).