Tag Archives: Resurrection

Why did Jesus rise from the dead?

April 14, 2017

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Resurrection

After Jesus died and his body was placed in the tomb, he could have ascended to heaven without appearing to anyone.  But Jesus rose and he appeared to his disciples, and he did so for a number of very important reasons.

Triumph and Victory.  The Resurrection was emphatic proof that Jesus had decisively and convincingly conquered sin and death.

Glorification.  God raised Jesus to glorify him.  God was pleased that Jesus had become obedient, even unto death on the Cross, and to praise him, God greatly exalted him with the name above every other name (see Phil 2:8,9).  Furthermore, the Father bestowed additional glory upon his Son by exalting him with a place at his right hand (Acts 2:33).

Fulfillment.  Jesus had foretold that he would rise from the dead:  “And three days after his death he will rise” (Mk 9:31; see also Mt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mk 8:31; 10:34; Lk 9:22; 18:33).  When Jesus rose, he proved that all that he had promised was reliable and true.

Reconciliation.  The disciples estranged themselves from Jesus when they fled and abandoned their Master at the time of his arrest (see Mt 26:56 and Mk 14:50).  Moreover, they did not testify on his behalf at his trial, were absent during the crucifixion, and when it came to being faithful friends, they were miserable failures.  Jesus rose so he could forgive them and reestablish a positive relationship with them.  Reconciliation was such an urgent necessity that only moments after his Resurrection, Jesus appeared to them and said,   “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26), words that are tantamount to “I forgive you.”

Teaching and Re-instruction.  The disciples were still confused about Jesus’ true identity.  “They doubted” (Mt 28:17).  Jesus rose and appeared to Cleopas and Simeon on the road to Emmaus to reinterpret for them all that referred to him in the scriptures (Lk 24:27; see also Lk 24:45).  For forty days Jesus spoke to them about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3b).

Faith-Strengthening.  After Jesus died, the faith of his disciples continued to waver.  Seeing is believing!  The risen Jesus appeared in the Upper Room and said, “Look at my hands and my feet” (Lk 24:39) to confirm and strengthen their faith.  Jesus showed himself to Thomas (Jn 20:27) so that, with faith strengthened, he could make his profession of faith, “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28).  “For many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:31; see also Acts 10:41 and 1 Cor 15:5-8).

Commissioning.  Jesus rose to commission his disciples. He told them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15); “make disciples of all nations,” “baptizing them,” and “teaching them” (Mt 28:19,20).  He also instructed Peter [and the others] to “Feed my lambs” (Jn 21:15), “tend my sheep” (Jn 21:16), and “feed my sheep” (Jn 21:17).

Reassurance.  Jesus rose so that he could reassure his disciples that even though he would ascend to heaven and be physically absent, he would always be their constant companion:  “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20b).

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Sprouting Green Plants Symbols of Easter and the Resurrection

March 23, 2016

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RisenChristStainedGlassGreen Plant Imagery.  A sprouting or fresh new green plant is a symbol of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Scriptural Basis for the Spiritual Symbolism.  The death of Jesus is not the last word, the final end.  After Jesus spent three days in the tomb, God the Father raised him from the dead (Acts 2:32a; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 13:30,34,37).  His death on the Cross resulted in new life, and because an emerging green plant is new plant life, it is a symbol of the Resurrection.  Jesus suggested this imagery when he said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24).

The Seed Metaphor.  The seed represents Jesus.  The planting of the seed in the ground represents the burial of Jesus in the earth in a tomb.  The seed’s germination period represents the time that Jesus spent in the tomb.  The sprout breaking through the ground, finally visible in the daylight, represents Jesus breaking past the stone that covered the entrance of his tomb, his resurrected body seen clearly at daybreak in the rays of dawning sunlight on Easter Sunday morning. The plant arrayed in beauty represents Jesus’ glorified body.  The emergent green plant represents Jesus’ victory over death and his triumphant new life.

Plant Locations.  The most common location for a green plant that represents the Resurrection is at the foot of the Cross.  Some of the droplets of blood that Jesus shed fell to the ground immediately beneath him, and the blood that flowed forth as he died is the seed of new life (see Jn 19:34), not only for Jesus himself, but for all believers, not only new spiritual life and grace on earth but also eternal life in heaven with God in glory forever (see Jn 6:54).  The other common location for new green plants is along the ground at the entrance to his empty tomb.

Plant Varieties.  A wide variety of green plants are used symbolically for this purpose:  a tuft of sprouting new green grass, a new green shoot off of a vine, unfolding green foliage on the stem of a fresh flower, or budding green leaves on a shrub or tree.

Easter Art and Decorations.  Fresh greenery is widely used decoratively on Easter and throughout the Easter Season.  Green plants and flowers frequently are positioned around the base of an Easter Cross, prominently displayed either inside the church or outdoors.  Greenery is also commonly displayed in front of the altar or the pulpit, around the Easter Candle, or elsewhere in the sanctuary, as well as in other locations throughout the church building such as entrances, gathering places, meeting halls, and office reception areas.

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Two angels at the tomb of Jesus

March 28, 2013

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Resurrection at St. Andrew in Fairfax revised

Resurrection at St. Andrew in Fairfax revised

A Miraculous Encounter.  On Easter Sunday morning when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and a number of other women from Galilee went to the tomb of Jesus, they encountered “two men in dazzling garments” (Lk 24:4).

A Curious Discrepancy.  Each of the four evangelists mentions the presence of one or two mysterious figures at the tomb.  Matthew explained that “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.  His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow” (Mt 28:2,3).  Mark reported that the women, upon entering the tomb, “saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe” (Mk 16:5).  In the Fourth Gospel John the evangelist recounted how Mary Magdalene “saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been” (Jn 20:12).  In Matthew and Mark there is one figure, while in Luke and John there are two.  Who are they?  Why is the number different?

Unique Identity.  There are multiple details that reveal the identity of the figures present in the tomb.  Both Matthew and John state explicitly that they were angels.  All four gospels say that the figures were clothed in white or dazzling garments, a sign they came from heaven, the abode of the angels.  Each delivered an announcement from God that Jesus was risen from the dead, and it is the duty of angels to serve as divine messengers.

One or Two Angels.  Modern rationalistic philosophy and the scientific method strive for factual accuracy and precision, while the evangelists use details to convey a symbolic message.  There are several plausible reasons why Luke prefers two angels to one.  Luke uses pairs throughout his gospel:  Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, the cure of a leper and the cure of a paralytic, Martha and Mary, and many others.  When it comes to the angels, it is preferable for them to work together in tandem rather than by themselves, alone.  Furthermore, when it comes to the strength of testimony, in the Mosaic Law a statement given by an individual is considered insufficient or unreliable, while the word of two gives necessary corroboration and verification (see Dt 19:15).

The Two-Figure Symbolism.  There is a strong likelihood that Luke wants the reader to make a connection between the Transfiguration and the Resurrection.  When Jesus was transfigured, two men in glory appeared with him (Lk 9:30,31), and when Jesus was raised two men in dazzling garments appeared (Lk 24:4).  Moses and Elijah came from heaven and the two figures in the tomb also came from heaven.  Moses and Elijah spoke of Jesus’ exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem (Lk 9:31), and men in dazzling garments spoke about the completion of Jesus’ exodus on earth in anticipation of his future and final exodus, his Ascension to heaven.

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How the Early Church Commemorated Christ’s Passion and Resurrection

April 4, 2012

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Some Triduum traditions date back to the Early Church--and some don't. Photo/Daniel Leininger Licensed under Creative Commons

If you’re looking forward to observing Holy Week and Easter as I am, hopefully you also see this as a good opportunity to grow in faith. Another aspect of the Triduum that I love is the tradition that shapes our prayer, worship and family customs during this important time.

This year marks the 1,979th time (approximately) that Christians have commemorated Holy Week and Easter.  That’s almost two millennia of celebrations involving hymns, incense and readings of the Passion, not to mention Easter lilies, ham and Peeps.

The early Christians unfortunately had no Peeps but they did have some prayerful and interesting ways of commemorating these holiest days of the year. Some of their customs have become part of our tradition and some of them are no longer practiced.

Fasting was an important part of the Early Church’s Holy Week observances. Second century Christians practiced an absolute fast from food for the 40 hours before Easter and a third century account indicates that some during that time fasted from food throughout Holy Week. It was the norm to fast on Holy Saturday, the hinge between the seasons of penance and Easter.

Walking in Jesus’ Steps

Some interesting details about Holy Week in Jerusalem are found in a document called the Pilgrimage of Egeria dating to about the year 388.

Christians began the week on Saturday evening before Palm Sunday in Bethany with dinner and the Gospel reading of the anointing of Christ’s feet. The next day they assembled at the Mount of Olives for hymns and readings, and then processed to Jerusalem with palms and branches.

On Holy Thursday, Christians attended the liturgy late in the afternoon and again traveled to the Mount of Olives where they commemorated Jesus’s agony and arrest all night. On Good Friday, they venerated a relic of the true Cross in the morning and commemorated the Passion for three hours in the afternoon. On Friday night clergy and laity who were strong enough held another vigil.

Another early Holy Week tradition that has endured is the Tenebrae (Latin for shadows or darkness) service. On the evening or early morning of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Christians of various denominations chant or recite psalms and readings while a series of candles is gradually extinguished leaving the church in darkness. At Catholic services, readings are from the Liturgy of the Hours. The tradition of putting out lights at the service dates back to the fifth century.

Baptism and Fire at the Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil was an all-night celebration during the Church’s first six or seven centuries, as sometimes hundreds and even thousands of catechumens were baptized at once.

The vigil blessing of new fire, during which Christians lit lamps, candles and the paschal candle, may have led St. Cyril of Jerusalem to comment that the night was bright as day. The Roman emperor Constantine illuminated Rome during the vigil with lamps and huge torches.

In the eighth century when the Church began administering the sacrament of baptism on Saturday morning instead of Saturday evening, Catholics in France, Germany and other countries developed a two-part ceremony to celebrate the Easter Feast on Sunday.

First, at midnight before Easter morning in the dark church the clergy brought the Cross from the sepulcher to the high altar. Candles were lit and the congregation processed solemnly with the cross through the church, the cloister, or cemetery. When they returned to the church, participants sang a hymn symbolizing Christ’s victorious entry into purgatory and hell.

Reenacting the Easter Story

Then before dawn on Easter Sunday, two priests representing the holy women went to a place designated as the empty tomb where another cleric representing the angel announced the Lord’s Resurrection. The first two priests brought the message to the choir prompting two other priests impersonating Peter and John to run to the tomb. Finding it empty, they showed the congregation the linen that had wrapped the body. These reenactments have been the basis for many Easter plays.

Whatever traditions you keep, I pray that during this 1,979th Triduum we may enter more deeply into the mysteries of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection. Finally, I hope this much-loved Paschal homily by St. John Chrysostom inspires you.

Blessed Holy Week and Easter!

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Cremation and the scattering of ashes

September 30, 2011

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grave

Photo by _Skender_. Licensed through Creative Commons.

For as long as I can remember, my grandfather used to tell my brothers and me that he wanted to be cremated. Not understanding what it was about, cremation seemed like a scary thing to me.

As I got older, I didn’t know if the Church would allow it. In the end, though, grandpa got his wish–by the time he passed away in 2000, cremation was becoming more common among Catholics.

While I was researching respectful treatment of cadavers in an anatomy lab for a story in the Catholic Spirit, I started wondering exactly how the Church looks at the body at death, what she teaches about cremation and how we’re supposed to treat a person’s cremated remains.

The Catechism states that “the bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection.” (CCC 2300) Though we don’t know if our bodies in this life will be the ones we will have in eternal life, our bodies are a gift and they deserve special care and treatment, said Dr. Paul Wojda, associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas who teaches a course in bioethics.

“The Catholic position takes the body seriously, it takes material creation seriously,” he said.” It takes the earth seriously because of its deeply sacramental significance.”

So how does cremation come into this?

For centuries the church didn’t allow cremation because it saw the practice as an open denial of the Resurrection by non-Christians, Wojda said.

Then in 1963 the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified the regulation, permitting cremation in cases of necessity, but prohibiting it for anyone openly denying the faith. The 1983 Code of Canon Law states that a person may choose to be cremated if they have the right intention. (No. 1176, 3)

“It’s no longer the case that the Church frowns on it,” Wojda said. “It permits it but I wouldn’t say it’s out there promoting it. If you were cremated that used to be a clear sign that you were not religious, or not Christian or not Catholic but that’s no longer the case.”

While she permits cremation, the Church does not approve of scattering a loved one’s ashes or keeping them at home in an urn.

According to the Order of Christian Burial:

The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum  or columbarium (site for storage of cinerary urns). The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires.

Burial at sea is permitted, however. A person’s cremated remains “may be properly buried at sea in the urn, coffin or other container in which they have been carried to the place of committal.” (OCF 416)

A big problem with scattering someone’s ashes is that there’s no specific place to honor the person, Wojda said.

Also, he said, “I think what we have to recognize is that the scattering of ashes has been used historically and even up until the 20th century as a sign of contempt for the person who died.”

My grandpa had his reasons for wanted to be cremated. I’m glad he’s buried next to my grandma in a cemetery where I can honor them both.

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Summer Sunday Mass: Obligation or Option?

June 3, 2011

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Sunny day over Sava river

Sunny day over Sava river. Creative Commons license by Marko Cvejic

Sunday is the Lord’s Day. Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday morning, so Sunday is reserved as the “Lord’s Day,” the day to remember the Resurrection and to offer our praise and worship. God gave us the Third Commandment as a solemn obligation, not a suggestion or an option:  “Keep holy the Sabbath day” (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-15) (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Numbers 2174 – 2178).

Regular Sunday worship dates back to the first generation of the Church.  Early Christians instinctively gathered to study the teachings of the apostles and to break the bread (Acts 2:42).  The Letter to the Hebrews gets straight to the point:  “We should not stay away from our assembly [i.e., the liturgical assembly, the Eucharist], as is the custom of some” (Heb 10:25).

It is shocking the number of people who say that they believe they are excused from Sunday Mass when they are on vacation or traveling.  This is not the case!  Church teaching is clear:  “On Sundays the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass” (Canon 1247).

There are a few legitimate reasons to miss Sunday Mass: illness or disability, serving as the sole caregiver for someone in need of constant attention, a natural disaster like a flood or a blizzard, or the absence of a priest.  There is no exception for vacation or traveling (Catechism, Nos. 2180-2188).

All we have is a gift from God, so God is entitled to our weekly thanks. Time is a precious commodity, and how we spend it is a clear indication of our priorities.  There are one hundred and sixty-eight (168) hours in a week, and one hour spent in worship barely puts a dent in the praise that we owe our God.

We need to put first things first, and for Christians, God comes first!  If there ever was a time that God deserves extra thanks, it would be vacation time.  It is a huge blessing to be able to take time off, to have the resources to travel, to have the wherewithal to enjoy a cabin or a RV or a lake home, to be blessed with the beauty of the lakes and the forests, to be able to go fishing or boating, and to have the leisure time to spend with family and friends.

The common error is to make recreational activities the starting point in building one’s weekend vacation schedule, and to relegate God and Mass to an afterthought, something to fit in if there is time left over or to be skipped entirely.  The proper way is to decide on a Mass time and place first, and then figure out the rest of the weekend’s activities.  God never goes on vacation when it comes to providing for us; we should never go on vacation from offering God our thanks and praise.

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This year, all May is Eastertime

April 29, 2011

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Risen Christ Stained Glass

Risen Christ, St. Helen's in Milwaukee

There are thirty-one days in May, and this year because of the lateness of Easter, the entire month falls within the Easter Season. It is the fifty-day season from Easter to Pentecost, “The Great Feast,” a festival of weeks, seven weeks, seven sets of seven days, to commemorate and celebrate the greatest mystery of our faith, the Resurrection.

There are many indicators in the liturgy that Eastertime is special. The primary liturgical color is white, sometimes with gold as an optional color as trim, both which signify victory and glory, jubilation and exultation. The Glory to God and the Alleluia, both missing during Lent, are restored. The creed is replaced with a renewal of baptismal promises followed by a sprinkling rite. The Easter Candle, also known as the Paschal or Christ Candle, normally kept off to the side during other times of the year, is given a position of prominence in the sanctuary. The church is decorated with lilies and other brightly-colored flowers, all which symbolize joy and new life.

Two sacraments are featured during the Easter Season: Baptism and Eucharist. Baptism is highlighted to extend the celebration of the baptisms of the catechumens at the Easter Vigil, for the entire community to welcome the new members, and to celebrate the faith that all believers, new and old, hold in common. If possible, it is also desirable to celebrate infant baptisms within Sunday Mass during the Easter Season to give greater attention to the sacrament.

Eucharist is also given prominence during the Easter Season because it is one of the most important ways that the risen Christ continues his presence among us. For this reason, it is the ideal season to celebrate the reception of First Holy Communion.

Two books of the Bible are used extensively at Mass during the Easter Season: the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John. Acts is chosen because it tells the story of the early Christian community, an important place where the risen Christ can be found, because as Jesus promised, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20); and the Gospel of John because it emphasizes Christ’s divinity more than the other three.

Easter is the holy season when we celebrate the fact that Jesus is the true Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world. By dying, he destroyed our death; and by rising, he has restored our life. In Christ a new age has dawned, the long reign of sin is ended, and a broken world has been renewed. Alleluia!

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The Joy of Easter – Know the Joy! Share the Joy!

April 21, 2011

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The Risen Christ

Risen Christ from Light of Christ in Clearwater FL

Easter is the greatest feast of our faith.  We are an Easter people, a people marked by joyfulness.  Jesus is raised.  He has conquered sin and death.  His victory is our victory.  His death means our redemption.  His resurrection means our salvation.  How could a person not be filled with joy over such wonderful news?

Every genuine Christian cannot help but be transformed by the Easter event.  All is changed:  darkness to light, doubt to faith, selfishness to generosity, despair to hope, sin to grace, and death to eternal life.

Easter should have profound ramifications on our outlook and attitude, our disposition and demeanor.  How can a person be both a Christian and frowning, grumpy, pessimistic, sour, disagreeable, or negative?  They cannot!  These features are like oil and water.  They simply do not mix.  Easter Christians are just the opposite:  smiling, cheerful, optimistic, upbeat, happy, agreeable, and positive.

People can tell rather quickly whether someone is an Easter person or not.  We all “give off vibes,” “send out signals.”  Easter people radiate genuine positive energy, and in doing so, bear witness to the reality of the resurrection.

While Easter happens on one Sunday of the year, we are called to be Easter people all of the time:  in Lent and Easter, Advent and Christmas, and Ordinary Time too.  For Christians, every day is Easter!  Every day is a day to be joyful!  Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22), a trademark of the authentic Christian.  Jesus said, “People will know that you are my disciples by your love” (Jn 13:35).  Upon his rising Jesus could have easily also said, “People will know you are my disciples by your joy.”

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