|The Resurrection did not look like this.|
In many popular depictions of the Resurrection, the Lord Jesus comes forth from the tomb clothed in glory and splendor, while the guards fall back to the ground. Seeing the Risen Christ, all are terrified and cannot speak. This is the scene: Christ rising from an open tomb, and the Roman guards cowering to the dust.
In two points, however, these artistic depictions of the Resurrection contradict the Scriptures. Last year, we considered that Christ rose from the tomb while it was still closed – in other words: Jesus walked through the walls of the sealed tomb, just as he would enter the locked upper room where the disciples had gathered.
Now, we consider the fact that, when Jesus rose from the dead, none saw him in his rising. He came forth from the tomb by walking through the walls which enclosed him, but the guards did not see this. No one witnessed the Resurrection, no one fell down before the glory of the rising Lord, there was no bright light and no glorious splendor (at least none that was visible to the human eye).
The night alone witnessed the rising of Christ, as the Church sings in her Easter Exultet: “O truly blessed night, which alone has merited to know the time and the hour in which Christ rose from the depths!” O vere beata nox, quae sola meruit scire tempus et horam, in qua Christus ab inferis resurrexit! Neither the guards who were on watch through the entire night, nor the women who came in the morning saw the Resurrection itself. That night alone! That most blessed of all nights! The mystery of the rising of Christ is hidden perhaps even from the angels.
|A depiction faithful to the Gospel accounts|
None saw Christ rise
We know that no one saw Christ rise from the dead because St. Mark tells us the he appeared first to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9), but we know that the Magdalene did not see the Resurrection for, when she arrived at the tomb, Christ had already risen from the dead. Therefore, if Mary did not see Christ rise, neither did any other. The Catechism puts it thus: "No one was an eyewitness to Christ's Resurrection and no evangelist describes it." (CCC 647)
The women who came to the tomb on the third day did not see the Resurrection itself, but they saw the work of the angels: And behold there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and coming, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. […] And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror, and became as dead men. And the angel answering, said to the women: Fear not you; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. (Matthew 28:2-6)
It is not the risen Christ which terrified the guards, but the angel. And the guards must have been terrified to realize that, though they had kept watch over the sealed tomb all night, yet the body of Christ was no longer inside! When had he risen? They had not seen it!
But to the women, the angel says He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. He is risen – it has already occurred, sometime in the night. The angel does not say, “He is rising” or “Behold, he rises;” rather, He is risen. In the night, before the women arrived at the tomb, the Christ had risen from the dead. None saw him come forth from the tomb, none saw him rise – but they knew he had risen, for the tomb was now empty, though it had been sealed. In his risen body, Christ had walked through the walls of the tomb and existed, invisible to the guards!
When did Jesus rise?
In responding to an objection – that because the day seems to start with the rising of the sun, and because Christ seems to have risen before sunrise, the Lord ought not to be said to have risen on the third day – St. Thomas considers the time of our Savior’s Resurrection.
“As stated above (51, 4, ad 1,2), Christ rose early when the day was beginning to dawn, to denote that by His Resurrection He brought us to the light of glory; just as He died when the day was drawing to its close, and nearing to darkness, in order to signify that by His death He would destroy the darkness of sin and its punishment. Nevertheless He is said to have risen on the third day, taking day as a natural day which contains twenty-four hours. And as Augustine says (De Trin. iv): ‘The night until the dawn, when the Lord's Resurrection was proclaimed, belongs to the third day. Because God, who made the light to shine forth from darkness, in order that by the grace of the New Testament and partaking of Christ's rising we might hear this – once ye were darkness, but now light in the Lord – insinuates in a measure to us that day draws its origin from night: for, as the first days are computed from light to darkness on account of man's coming fall, so these days are reckoned from darkness to light owing to man's restoration.’ And so it is evident that even if He had risen at midnight, He could be said to have risen on the third day, taking it as a natural day. But now that He rose early, it can be affirmed that He rose on the third day, even taking the artificial day which is caused by the sun's presence, because the sun had already begun to brighten the sky. Hence it is written (Mark 16:2) that the women come to the sepulchre, the sun being now risen; which is not contrary to John's statement when it was yet dark, as Augustine says (De Cons. Evang. iii), ‘because, as the day advances the more the light rises, the more are the remaining shadows dispelled.’ But when Mark says ‘the sun being now risen, it is not to be taken as if the sun were already apparent over the horizon, but as coming presently into those parts.’” (ST III, q.53, a.2, ad 3)
Jesus rose in the very first rays of the dawn, moments before the women had arrived.
Is it fitting that none should see Christ rising from the dead?
The Angel of the Schools tells us: “As the Apostle says (Romans 13:1): Those things that are of God, are well ordered. Now the divinely established order is this, that things above men's ken are revealed to them by angels, as Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. iv). But Christ on rising did not return to the familiar manner of life, but to a kind of immortal and God-like condition, according to Romans 6:10: For in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. And therefore it was fitting for Christ's Resurrection not to be witnessed by men directly, but to be proclaimed to them by angels. Accordingly, Hilary (Comment. Matth. cap. ult.) says: ‘An angel is therefore the first herald of the Resurrection, that it might be declared out of obedience to the Father's will.’” (ST III, q.55, a.2)
For a mystery so great, it is most fitting not that men should see the mystery directly, but that it should be revealed to them by the angels. Nor does this in any way compromise the testimony which the apostles and the other disciples have given of Christ’s Resurrection – for, although they did not see the Lord rise, they did see him risen. Moreover, of all the apostles, who has testified more compellingly of Christ’s Resurrection than St. Paul? Though he never knew Christ in his earthly life, nor did he witness the Lord rise from the dead, nor even did he see Jesus before his Ascension (for it was only by divine dispensation that the Apostle saw the Lord’s glorified body in the physical apparition on the way to Damascus); yet this Saint has been the greatest witness to the truth of Christ’s Resurrection.
The apostles’ faith in the Resurrection has been passed down to us. And, though we did not see him rise, we believe him risen.