Arguably the most sacred day on the Church Calendar is Easter Sunday, the day on which the Church celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It’s important to know what we are celebrating and why. What are the facts of the 1st resurrection Sunday?
- A group of women who’d been followers of Jesus came to the tomb very early on Sunday morning to anoint the body of Jesus. Due to the fact that he was crucified on a Friday, and the Sabbath was quickly approaching, he’d been buried in a hurry without the anointing process being completed. Which women did this group consist of? We know that it included Mary Magdalene (Matthew 28:1, Luke 24:10, John 20:1), the “other Mary” (Matthew 28:1), Mary the mother of James (Mark 16:1, Luke 24:10), Salome (Mark 16:1), Joanna (Luke 24:10) and the “other women” (Luke 24:10). There is some uncertainty as to whether “Mary, the mother of James”, listed in Mark 16:1 is the same woman referred to as the “other Mary” in Matthew 28:1. We also do not know whether or not the “other women” referred to by Luke were Salome and the “other Mary”, or whether he had additional women in mind as well. At any rate, we know that at least five women approached the tomb that morning, possibly more.
- Upon arriving at the tomb, the women found it empty. In Matthew’s account, an angel tells them that Christ is not there, but that he is risen. Matthew also specifies that an earthquake had occurred as an angel descended and rolled away the tomb’s stone. As the women excitedly leave the tomb, they are greeted by the Lord himself. They bow and worship him. Mark’s account states essentially the same thing—without the details of the earth quake—specifying that the Lord appeared first of all to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9). In Luke’s account, two angels speak to the women. In John’s account, Mary hurriedly leaves after finding the empty tomb, presumably not waiting around long enough to hear the angels’ report, which, in the canonical gospels, the other women received. She reports what she’s seen to Peter and John, who go and check things out themselves (Luke’s account also mentions that Peter went to the tomb to explore). Mary returns to the tomb, sees the two angels, and then she sees the Lord, whom she at first mistakenly thinks is the gardener. Though the details differ somewhat, depending on whose perspective the events are being told from, one can see there are no contradictions between the four gospels’ accounts.
- All four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—specify that Christ went on to appear to the entire company of disciples. In Acts 1, Luke tells us that Christ proved himself to be alive with many “infallible proofs” over the course of 40 days, before finally ascending to be with the Father.
The resurrection confirms that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that God has accepted his atoning sacrifice on the cross on our behalf. Because Christ has risen, we have confidence that we too will rise with glorified bodies—that the grave is temporary.
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:40
· Click here to read “The Mercy of Jesus”, an Easter sermon preached by Rev. Lane Townsend of Toomsuba Presbyterian Church (PCUSA—Presbytery of Mississippi).