July 23, 2019
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    April 20, 2019

    The Apostles of Jesus were full of fear after the crucifixion and death of Jesus. They were hiding in an upper room of a house in Jerusalem. It took nearly seven weeks after the resurrection for them to fearlessly and boldly proclaim that Jesus Christ who was crucified, put to death and buried in a tomb has risen from the dead and had appeared to Simon Peter and then to his fellow apostles. So the first preaching by the apostles of Jesus was of his death, resurrection and ascension to God and his continued real spiritual presence with them. They preached the news of their unheard human experience of Jesus, living in a new way, after his death. The transparent truth of their witness was very strong and convinced many who changed their way of living and embraced a new way of life. Jesus himself had said, “You shall be my witnesses” (Acts of the Apostles Ch 1: 8) and the apostles testified and said that they are witnesses of the Risen Christ (Acts 2:22, 3:15).

    Comprehensive narrative of the end

    All four Gospels of the Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) record the last days of Jesus’ life and his resurrection from the dead. His agony in the Garden of Olives, his suffering and ignominious death are described in some detail. Jesus while agonizing in the Garden of Olives was arrested by the Roman soldiers with the help of the betrayer Judas. He was judged by Pontius Pilate the Governor of Judaea and by Herod, beaten with whips, a crown of thorns was put on his head and unjustly condemned to death by crucifixion after a mob trial instigated by the Jewish high priests. He was made to carry his Cross and walk with it from the Antonia Fortress to Golgotha known as the Place of the Skull, a distance of 600 metres or so and crucified between two thieves. Above his head was written the charge “King of the Jews” in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The chief priests objected to it, telling Pilate, “Thou shouldst not write, ‘The king of the Jews; thou shouldst write, ‘This man said, I am the King of the Jews”. But Pilate said, “Quod scripsi, scripsi”. What I have written, I have written” The soldiers after crucifying Jesus divided his garments among themselves, casting lots for his seamless robe.

    As he hung on the Cross he was insulted by the thief on his left who said, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us too” But the thief on the right rebuked him saying, “Have you no fear of God? We receive no more than the due rewards for our deeds, but this man has done nothing amiss.” And then he asked Jesus “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus assured him saying, “You will be with me in Paradise.”

    Jesus entrusted his mother to his youngest disciple that he loved much, who was there with her near the Cross. And he asked his mother to accept his disciple as her son. From then on it is said that the disciple looked after Mary in his home. He also prayed for his persecutors. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do”. Finally he said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” “Everything is finished” and bowing his head, he died. After Jesus’ death a soldier opened his side with a spear and blood and water flowed out. After Jesus’ death on Friday evening, his body was taken down from the Cross by Joseph of Arimathea, wrapped in a shroud and laid in a new tomb hewn from rock. (Confer Gospels of Matthew 26:14 – 27:66, Mark 14:1 – 15:47, Luke 22:14 – 23: 56 and St. John 18:1 – 19:42).

    History attests to death by crucifixion

    Besides the Evangelists, secular historians of that time record Jesus’s death by crucifixion. Josephus was a Jewish author who wrote in his Jewish Antiquities around 93 AD that Jesus was crucified by Pilate. Tacitus, considered one of the greatest Roman historians, writing in The Annals [FAF1] about the year 110 AD describes the persecution of Christians by Nero and that Pilate ordered the execution of Jesus. The Babylonian Talmud of the 2nd century says that Yeshua was ‘hanged’. (Luke 23:39 and Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 3.13 refers to hanging from a cross).

    Though the dying of Jesus was seen by all, his rising from the dead was not seen by anyone. He was humble even in his triumph over death. The resurrection had taken place early in the morning of the first day of the week. It was Mary Magdalene who went to the tomb at dawn who found the stone moved away from the tomb door. So she came running to Simon Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved much and said to them, “They have carried the Lord away from the tomb; and we cannot tell where they have taken him.” Hearing this Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb, the other disciple reaching the tomb first. He looked in but did not enter the tomb. Then Peter came, went into the tomb, saw the linen cloths lying there and the veil which had been put over Jesus’ head.

    Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and saw this, and learned to believe. They had not yet understood what was written of him, that he was to rise from the dead. The disciples went back, but Mary stood there, weeping. She bent down, still weeping, looked into the tomb and saw two angels, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ ‘Because they have taken away my Lord and I cannot tell where they have taken him’. Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, without knowing that it was Jesus. Jesus said, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are thou searching? She supposed that it was the gardener and said to him, ‘If it is you who have carried him off, tell me where you have put him and I will take him away. Jesus said to her, Mary. And she turned and said to him, Rabboni, (which is the Hebrew for Master). Jesus said to her, don’t cling to me. Return to my brethren, and tell them this. So, Mary Magdalene brought the news to the disciples, how she had seen the Lord and had spoken to her. And on the evening of the same day, into the midst of the disciples assembled in the locked room for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and greeted them saying, “Peace be upon you” and showed them the marks of the wounds on his hands and his side. And he commissioned them to proclaim forgiveness of sins and salvation to all the people.

    Resurrection summons to love

    The Resurrection of the Lord has brought to the apostles and all of his disciples not only a great gladness but also an altogether new understanding of human life on earth and the meaning of the universe. The Resurrection was an event of human history, a unique event. Many were the witnesses of this event. The very first witnesses were some women. Though the witness of women were not given much importance at the time, the Apostles of Jesus not only believed them, they proclaimed in their preaching the credibility of these women witnesses even after they themselves experienced seeing the Risen Christ.

    Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room a second time to show himself to Thomas who was not there that Sunday evening and invited him to see the marks of the wounds made by nails in his hands and feet and the mark of wound on his side made by the soldier’s lance. Thomas who expressed his doubts to his fellow disciples exclaimed, “My Lord and My God” and believed. The Apostle Paul testified to seeing Jesus as one born ‘out of time’. Jesus also appeared to a few hundreds of people, some of whom were still living while some were dead when Paul’s disciple Mark was writing the Acts of the Apostles.

    The persons witnessing to events subsequent to the fact of the empty tomb point to the historicity of the Resurrection. Those who saw the Risen Christ identified him as Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and related to him even with greater intimacy and love. In Jesus name people were summoned to repentance of their sins, conversion of heart and genuine love of fellow human beings without any discrimination.

    Responsibility of Christians

    Peter, the First Apostle among equals tells the followers of Jesus, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people God meant to have for himself. God has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. I call upon you to resist those natural appetites which besiege the soul. Your life amidst others must be beyond reproach; decried as malefactors you must let them see, from your honourable behaviour what you are: they will praise God for you when he visits his people and brings liberation. (Cf 1 Peter 2:9-12, Luke 1.68).

    Christians are called upon to live exemplary and irreproachable lives of genuine love of all human beings and selfless service to them. They should love even those who are manifestly their enemies, never curse them but bless them and pray for their change of heart and recovery of the nobility of integral human dignity devoid of all wrong doing and injustice.

    May all Christians in Sri Lanka face up to this challenge and be ever more true and faithful followers of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.


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