In the history of the world, only one tomb has ever had a rock rolled before it, and a soldier guard set to watch it to prevent the dead man within from rising: that was the tomb of Christ on the evening of the Friday called Good. What spectacle could be more ridiculous than armed soldiers keeping their eyes on a corpse? But sentinels were set, lest the Dead walk, the Silent speak, and the Pierced Heart quicken to the throb of life.
The King lay in state with His guard about Him. The most astounding fact about this spectacle of vigilance over the dead was that the enemies of Christ expected the Resurrection, but His friends did not. It was the believers who were the skeptics; it was the unbelievers who were credulous. His followers needed and demanded proofs before they would be convinced.
In the dim dawn of Sunday morning several women were seen approaching the tomb. The very fact that the women brought spices proved that they did not expect a Resurrection. It seemed strange that such should have been the case after the many references by Our Lord to His death and His Resurrection. But evidently the disciples as well as the women, whenever He predicted His Passion, seemed to remember more His death than His Resurrection. It never occurred to them as a possible thing; it was foreign to their thoughts. When the stone was rolled to the door of the sepulcher, not only was Christ buried but also all of their hopes.
“Who would roll away the stone for them from the entrance to the tomb.” [Mark 16: 3]
It was the cry of hearts of little faith. Strong men had closed the entrance to the tomb by placing this huge stone against it; their worry was how to remove the barrier in order that they might carry out their errand of mercy. But as they approached, they found the stone rolled back. Before their arrival, there had been a great earthquake, and an Angel of the Lord, who descended from Heaven, rolled back the stone and sat upon it:
Fear nothing; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He has been raised again; He is not here; look, there is the place where they laid Him. But go and give this message to His disciples and Peter: He is going on before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He told you. [Mark 16: 6-8]
Until then they had not understood the scriptures, which showed that He must rise from the dead. [John 20: 9]
Only purity and sinlessness could welcome the all holy Son of God into the world; hence, Mary Immaculate met Him at the door of earth in the city of Bethlehem. But only a repentant sinner, who had herself risen from the grave of sin to the newness of life in God, could fittingly understand the triumph over sin. To the honor of womanhood it must forever be said: A woman was closest to the Cross on Good Friday, and first at the tomb on Easter Morn.
Nor did He tell Mary to inform the Apostles that He was risen but rather that He would ascend. The Resurrection was implied in the Ascension, which was as yet forty days off. His purpose was not just to stress that He who had died was now alive, but that this was the beginning of a spiritual Kingdom which would become visible and unified when He sent His Spirit.
On that same Easter Sunday, Our Blessed Lord made another appearance to two of His disciples who were on their way to a village named Emmaus, which was a short distance from Jerusalem. It was not so long ago that their hopes had been burning brightly, but the darkness of Good Friday and the burial in the tomb caused them to lose their gladness. No subject was more in men’s minds that particular day than the Person of Christ. As they were discoursing with sad and anxious hearts on the awful incidents of the last two days, a Stranger drew near to them.
Their eyes, however, were held fast so that they did not recognize that it was the Risen Savior; they thought Him to be an ordinary traveler. As the story unfolded, it became clear that what blinded their eyes was their unbelief; had they been expecting to see Him, they might have recognized Him. Because they were interested in Him, He vouchsafed His Presence; because they doubted His Resurrection, He concealed the joy and knowledge of His Presence. Now that His Body was glorified, what men saw of Him depended on His willingness to reveal Himself and also on the disposition of their own hearts. Though they did not know Our Lord, they nevertheless were ready to enter into discussion with the Stranger concerning Him.
The Resurrection (by the hand of Theodore Papadapoulos)
These men had hoped great things, but God, they said, had disappointed them. Man draws a blueprint and hopes that God in some way will rubber-stamp it; disappointment is often due to the triviality of human hopes. Original drawings now had to be torn up – not because they were too great, but because in the eyes of God they were too little. The hand that broke the cup of their petty desires offered a richer chalice. They thought that they had found the Redeemer before He was crucified, but actually they had discovered a Redeemer crucified.
They had hoped for a Savior of Israel, but were not expecting a Savior of the Gentiles as well. They must have heard Him say on many occasions that He would be crucified and rise again, but they could not fit catastrophe into their idea of a Master. They could believe in Him as a Teacher, as a political Messiah, as an ethical reformer, as a savior of the country, a deliverer from the Romans, but they could not believe in the foolishness of the Cross; nor did they have the faith of the thief hanging on the cross. Hence they refused to regard the evidence of which the women had told them. They were not sure even that the women had seen Angels. Possibly it was only an apparition. Furthermore, it was the third day which had come and gone, and He had not been seen. But all the while they were walking and talking with Him.
There seemed to be a double purpose in the appearance of Our Savior after His Resurrection, one to show that He Who died had risen, the other, that though He had the same Body, it was now glorified and not subject to physical restrictions. Later on, He would eat with His disciples to prove the first; now, as with the Magdalen whom He forbade to touch Him, He stressed His risen state.
With these disciples as with all of the Apostles, there was no predisposition to accept the Resurrection. The evidence for it had to make its way against doubt and the most obstinate refusals of human nature. They were among the last people in the world to credit such a tale. One might almost say that they were resolved to be miserable, refusing to inquire into the possibility of the truth of the story. Resisting both the evidence of the women and the confirmation of those who had gone to verify their story, the final word was that they had not seen the risen Lord.
Then the risen Savior said to them:
How dull you are! How slow to believe all that the prophets said! Was the Messiah not bound to suffer thus before entering upon his glory? [Luke 24: 25, 26]
They are accused of being foolish and slow of heart, because if they had ever sat down and examined what the prophets had said about the Messiah – that He would be led like a lamb to slaughter – they would have been confirmed in their belief. Credulity toward men and incredulity toward God is the mark of dull hearts; readiness to believe speculatively and slowness to believe practically is the sign of sluggish hearts.
Then came the key words of the journey. Previously, Our Blessed Lord had said that He was the Good Shepherd, that He came to lay down His life for the Redemption of many; now in His glory, He proclaimed a moral law that in consequence of His sufferings men would be raised from a state of sin to fellowship with God.The Cross was the condition of glory. The Risen Savior spoke of a moral necessity grounded on the truth that everything that happened to Him had been foretold. What seemed to them an offense, a scandal, a defeat, a succumbing to the inevitable was actually a dark moment foreseen, planned, and preannounced. Though the Cross seemed to them incompatible with His glory, to Him it was the appointed path thereto. And if they had known what the Scriptures had said of the Messiah, they would have believed in the Cross.
Then he began with Moses and the prophets, and explained to them the passages which referred to Himself in every part of the scriptures. [Luke 24: 27]
He showed to them all the types and all the rituals and all the ceremonials that were fulfilled in Him. Quoting from Isaiah, He showed the manner of His death and Crucifixion and His Last Words from the Cross; from Daniel, how He was to become the mountain that filled the earth; from Genesis, how the seed of a woman would crush the serpent of evil in human hearts; from Moses, how He would be the brazen serpent that would be lifted up to heal men of evil, and how His side would be the smitten rock from which would come the waters of regeneration; from Isaiah, how He would be Emmanuel, or “God with us;” from Micheas, how He would be born in Bethlehem; and from many other writings He gave them the key to the mystery of God’s life among men and the purpose of His coming.