Sunday, April 17, 2022

The Empty Tomb and the Subsequent Appearances

It is that time again, to make observations about the resurrection narratives. (For reccent previous years see: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018 (Pt 1), 2018 (Pt 2).)

This year a couple of things have struck me in reading the gospel accounts in preparation for two sermons (one re Luke 24:1-12 and one re John 20:1-18). I am treating Mark 16:1-8 as the original ending of that Gospel.

Empty Tomb then Appearances

Now, this is pretty obvious, but it has struck me that each of the gospel accounts tells us the tomb is empty (Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-13) and only then tells us of the first appearance of Jesus (Matthew 28:9-10; Luke 24:13-35; John 20:14-18 - Mark anticipates a later appearance, 16:7).

None of the accounts mixes up the Empty Tomb with an Appearance (e.g. imagines Jesus himself is in the tomb, waiting for visitors). The "guide(s)" at the tomb ("angel", Matthew 28:5; "young man", Mark 16:5; "two men ... in dazzling apparel", Luke 24:4; "two angels in white", John 20:12) are distinct from Jesus.

So, the appearances (with a modest exception in Matthew*) then become the second part of the resurrection narratives for each gospel (including Mark's narrative, by implication).

Clearly, picking up Paul's account of Appearances of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, there were - between "died ... buried ... raised on the third day" and Paul's conversion - appearances of the risen Jesus to a range of individuals and groups. 

Understandably, the Gospels tell us about Appearances. 

Not so understandable, of course, is that the Gospels (a) do not offer between them a particularly coherent account of these appearances, and (b) do not match well with Paul's list (with its air of authoritative tradition).

But, I muse ... were there a range of appearances of Jesus to people? From near the tomb to Galilee, were there many appearances during a limited period of time? And, so, from that range, are we now able to read in the gospels a selection of testimonies of those appearances? Thus: near the tomb (Matthew, John), in Jerusalem (Luke, John), near Jerusalem (Luke), and in Galilee (Matthew, anticipated in Mark, John).

Clearly there is a degree of creativity as the gospel writers (c) support the narrative of the Empty Tomb with a narrative or narratives of Appearances of Jesus, and (d) draw their overall accounts to a conclusion. So, we find on the matter of Jesus commissioning his disciples that there are three different commissionings by the risen Jesus (Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-53/Acts 1:1-8; John 20:21-23/21:15-22).

Then, Luke and John show extraordinary theological depth as well as the ability to include a wide range of theological themes as they respectively tell of the Road to Emmaus appearance (Luke 24:13-35) and the "third appearance" in the Big Catch of Fish (John 21). 

*That modest exception is that between Matthew's first appearance account (28:9-10) and second account (28:16-20), Matthew refers back to the Empty Tomb by wait of a story about how a rumour was initiated by the authorities to explain the emptiness of the tomb (28:11-15).

Sight and Recognition

There is a lot of "seeing" and "recognising" (or not) going on in each of the resurrection narratives, with respect to the actual or anticipated appearances of Jesus.

Matthew 28:6: "Come, see the place where he lay."

Matthew 28:7: "... he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him."

Matthew 28:10: "... there they will see me."

Mark 16:6: "... see the place where they laid him."

Mark 16:7: "...he is going before you to Galileee; there you will see him."

Luke 24:12: " ... But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves."

John 20:5: "and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in."

John 20:8: "Then the other disciples, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;"

John 20: 14: "Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus."

John 20:18: "Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; 

Luke 24:16: "But their eyes were kept from recognizing him"

Luke 24:24: "... but him they did not see."

Luke 24:31: "And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight."

Luke 24:37: "But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit."

Luke 24:39: "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have."

John 20:20: "When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord."

John 20:25: "So, the other disciples told him [Thomas], "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands ..."

John 20:29: 'Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."'

John 21:4: "Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus."

John 21:12: "Now none of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord."

Matthew 28:17: "And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted."

To be honest, I am not sure what to make of these texts. Perhaps, at the least, they make the point that the first witnesses to the risen Lord Jesus were eye-witnesses. They could be questioned as to what they saw, whether they understood what they saw, and what led to their recognition of the Lord.

Ultimately the gospel writers are painting word pictures of the risen Jesus for their readers (for you and me): we may not see Jesus with our own eyes, but we see Jesus with their eyes.

And we see Jesus with the eyes of faith: we believe because of their testimony.


Anonymous said...

Christos anesti, Peter!

And thank you for a series of intriguing OPs.

Jesus's bodily presence in heaven assures us that the jesus who rules is the same as the one who taught, healed, and died on the cross. The gospel is true.

However, moderns have mostly read the resurrection texts for direct proof (over against Enlightenment disbelief in miracles) that their lives of virtue feasibly could be rewarded by some rather epicurean afterlife. As you show, the texts do engage ancient hesitation, but not to directly support the personal eschatology that modern readers have expected to find in them. Hence there is some slippage in which the texts do not actually fit those readers' revisionist beliefs.

The question is: why were the evangelists interested in the failure of some to recognise the risen Jesus?


Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Bowman.
The honesty of the Gospel writers, as you highlight, is intriguing in the light of "modern" attempts to see them as somewhat hopelessly attempting to assert the unprovable etc.

Father Ron said...

Experience is ALL. "That which we have touched, seen and heard with our own ears" - the modern equivalent of this may be a believing reception of the Eucharist. HAPPY EASTER, Everyone!

Anonymous said...

Happy Easter to you, Father Ron! As usual, I enjoyed your comment on Easter at SMAA.

Hooray for experience. In this OP, + Peter investigates, less the fact that there was one, and more the actual content of it. The fact is important; the content is what we celebrate.

On this topic, Rowan Williams usually notes the moments in which the risen Lord has resumed a relationship (eg with Peter) from before the cross. With that in mind, it's interesting to meditate on your analogy from the Resurrection to holy communion.


Anonymous said...

Peter, a thought question, perhaps for next year: who are the beings at the tomb? One could narrow that one to this one: what in the OT or pseudepigrapha made them intelligible to the first readers of the gospels? I am doubting here that those readers could have thought of spirits in this context as generic.

They remind me somewhat of the Angel of YHWH. Patristic exegetes often interpreted that figure as the pre-incarnate Son. That could sound like fanciful retrojection from Nicaea, but such contemporary scholars of STJ as Daniel Boyarin and Peter Schaefer see continuity from the Angel of YHWH to the One on the second throne of Daniel vii to Jesus among others. If the figures represent the Son as in an OT text, it is less odd that, though not Jesus, they know about, and perhaps sound like, him.


Mark Murphy said...

Today's Lectionary offers us the road to Emmaus (Luke 12: 13-35), and its intriguing insights into what opens christian seeing.

It is Jesus visibly that appears to the disciples on the road ("Jesus himself"), "but their eyes were kept from recognizing him."

(= Recognition is not visual, immediate *alone*, not something that emerges from our direct sense experience, much as a modern or first century demander-of-signs might expect - 'I'm not believing in God until I see him' etc...?)

Nor is true seeing achieved after Jesus 'opens the scriptures', and teaches them how the man who has died recently in Jerusalem fulfills all that the scriptures have taught about the Messiah.

(= Recognition is not achieved through exegesis, through a comprehensive, authoritative teaching *alone*...even from Christ himself!...?)

It seems that the disciples need *time", and to move through a process (or liturgy?) of encounter: the presence of Jesus with them, opening up the scriptures, softening the ground, creating a burning in their hearts. But they need Jesus to come and "stay with" them some more.

But even this, in itself, isn't quite enough.

The disciples are finally able to recognize Jesus...or Jesus finally reveals himself (whichever you theologically prefer) only when Jesus takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it for them to eat;

"When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him...".

This passage is repeated again at the end of the Emmaus narrative, and this time in terms of the larger body recognizing him perhaps, as if to emphasize this moment as the decisive, christophanic experience.

"Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread."

Known in the breaking of the bread. What does this mean? It's so intriguing....

Does it mean that they needed Jesus to be with hem, to teach, to stay with them, to *eat with them* (in Maori kaupapa, the hakari/feast at the end of the powhiri process symbolizes becoming one), and to perform a unique, decisive, symbolic act that only Jesus could perform? Is that the meaning of 'recognition through breaking bread'? Like Jesus has finally shown them his birthmark or a unique tattoo: many Rabbis can teach, but only Christ breaks bread in this way?

Is the meaning, the recognition, also more than a 'memorialism'?

Sacrament achieves what sense experience and exegesis alone cannot?

Sacramental grace as the culmination of an encounter process that involves a strange, general encounter 'on the road of life', and subsequent wrestling with specific tradition and scripture?

And then there are other accounts of recognition, as you list, Peter, that don't involve breaking of the bread, that happen in other ways (but perhaps not less sacramental, or liturgical - involving moving through a process of encounter - for that).

Mark, on the road between Governor's Bay and Teddington.

Anonymous said...

A podcast interview explaining the real presence and why it matters from a Lutheran perspective--


Anonymous said...

Some Ukrainian clergy are directly petitioning the several Orthodox patriarchs to convict Kirill of the recognised heresy of *ethnophylitism* for teaching *Russian World* ideology--


Mark Murphy said...

In today's Lectionary Gospel (Kuke 24: 35-48), which carries on from the disciples reporting back from Emmaus, seeing the resurrected Jesus isn't enough to clear 'the doubts that arise in [the disciples'] hearts.' In fact, Christ's actual appearance seems to cause further consternation and mental chop.

Touch is needed for seeing. Encountering the Risen One is a whole-body, whole-senses 'event' or 'gestalt'. Once again, the decisive Christophanic experience happens in the world of flesh, food, and matter:

"Look at my hands and feet; see that it is myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."

"'Have you anything to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence."

This sets off two theological responses in me:

1. Resurrection is (of course!) corporeal - resurrection is not the releasing to heaven of a disembodied spirit (I don't know any orthodox theologian, of whatever stripe, who believes in the latter, but it is the most widespread, cultural understanding of what Christ is Risen means....Tom Wright thinks this shows the ongoing influence of Platonism on western christianity and spirituality). Subsequently, our contact with the Risen One involves our corporeal experience: including the 'proximal senses' of touch and taste. This one is still quite hard for our western way of thinking to embrace: resurrection is a scent or flavour as much as it is a sight or sound.

2. Linking to the talk Bowman (who is Bowman?) posted on a Lutheran emphasis on the 'two natures of Christ' being present in the Eucharist: the Real Presence is a crucified one (not just the Uncreated Word); the incarnation doesn't end with Jesus's crucifixion.

My family are up. Time for breakfast.


Anonymous said...

Who is most clear-eyed about what is happening in Ukraine-- geopolitical analysts like Zeihan or *great power realists* like Mearsheimer? If you believe that Putin's motivation is geopolitical or ideological (eg Russian World, Eurasianism), then Zeihan et al are right that only an unlikely victory in World War III could give Russians what they believe they need to be secure.

But do not let the brittle arrogance of the opposing *realists* blind you to the lede that they are burying. If Russia's *national identity* truly requires control of a vast periphery and nine points of entry to it-- and it does seems to do so-- then the present UN-recognised boundaries in that periphery are promoting a shift in which the empire of Catherine the Great shrinks further and Russians become mere St Petersbergers or Muscovites as Ottomans became Turks a century ago. The process is not hard to imagine--, especially

But the Turks of Anatolia (like some blood-and-soil Americans) had resented being submerged as a people by their own far-flung empire. They were happy to have a smaller republic answerable only to themselves. Today's Russians seem not to recognise the faces in their mirrors if they do not rule empty wasteland several time zones away.

Here up yonder, the Russian Federation was once dismissed as, not a nation, but a gas station with a flag. In Putin's final years, it can seem more like a nuclear arsenal in defense of a delusion of lost imperial glory.


Peter Carrell said...

Thank you all for comments to date!

Re Russian imperial ambitions:
Likely you do not know this, but in the late 19th century (possibly early 20th century as well, not sure about that), Russian imperial ambitions in the Pacific were such that in NZ we built gun emplacements in some of our harbours, and placed guns in them to ward off a potential Russian naval invasion!
(Now, in the 21st century, our concerns are with China and its recently signed security Treaty with the Solomon Islands).

Anonymous said...

"It is the very essence of the Christian faith that we live in a kind of rhythm — leaving, abandoning, denying the world, and yet at the same time always returning to it; living in time by that which is beyond time; living by that which is not yet come, but which we already know and possess."

-- Alexander Schmemann (1985) Liturgy and Eschatology, Sobornost 7, 6-14.

"Known in the breaking of the bread. What does this mean?"

The lazy guess is: Jesus the Messiah was recognised when he hosted a messianic banquet. Like resurrected bodies, such meals had been expected in the future age of the Messiah's rule. However, both in rising from the dead and in significant feeding, Jesus inaugurated that age "in the middle of history" (N T Wright). Which is to say that, when consciousness is in the Lord, it experiences daily life as situated in this *now and not yet*.

If and only if one's daily life feels that way, then the *mysteries* of the Body's gatherings make immediate sense. Without straining the imagination, they are at once memorial, present, and proleptic to those in that blessed condition. The most direct books on that imaginary may still include Geoffrey Wainwright's rich Eucharist and Eschatology and Robert W Jenson's more speculative Visible Words.


Anonymous said...

" NZ we built gun emplacements in some of our harbours, and placed guns in them to ward off a potential Russian naval invasion!"

Very prudent, Peter. In San Francisco, Russian Hill is called that because it once was that.

In the same era, the United States were ringed by 42 coastal forts, engineered on the Montalembert model and often star-shaped. After both sides of the civil war proved that rifled artillery could level anything, iron-clad gunships and mines were deployed for postwar coastal defense. Some year, I will admire your gun emplacements, along with your hops, grapes, cattle, etc.

In the future, your government may buy Neptunes from Ukraine.


Mark Murphy said...

Luke 24: 29, 35...Breaking bread after the walk to Emmaus.

Luke 24:41...With the disciples in Jerusalem: 'Have you anything to eat?'

Today's Lectionary (the third Appearance): John the Sea of Tiberius, a big catch of fish...

Feeding, feeding, Eating. Filling bellies.

Mark Murphy said...

In the world of flesh and matter...

Today's Lectionary Gospel: the long ending of Mark - Jesus appearing to the eleven; 'upbraiding them' for not believing in Mary, and in the two who had been "walking into the country"....

Instructing them to "proclaim the good news to the whole creation".

"Whole creation"? why not 'humankind' or 'everyone'? (Greek scholars please....).

"The one who believes *and is baptized* will be saved...".

Why not just 'the one who believes'?

Justification through faith *and water*.

Anonymous said...


Mark Murphy said...

“Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

What does this mean? That the disciples, especially bereft, are therefore in need of special evidence?

In this Johannine Christianity responding to Thomist Gnosticism? I.e. The Body is central to salvation.

Thomas, and this scene, has always been one of my favorites. I like his independence. That he doesn't just drift on with the rest of them. In my work as a therapist, I experience first hand many Christians who secretly feel unmoved by The Group, by extraverted, Christian faith and leadership, and then beat themselves up for not believing.

I cried this morning when I read Thomas's confession: such intimacy...putting your hand in the wound...such provocative defiance, such acceptance of this, and such authentic release.

And, finally: on seeing. You and I, I suppose, are of that generation who are asked to believe *without seeing*. I think for too long I have been thinking, on some level, that this means I/we must believe without tasting, touching, smelling, and feeling too....though of course, I wouldn't be here writing this if that were true.