• Holy Week: Chapter 8: Easter Joy & The Fourfold Easter Gospel

    by  • 10 April 2020 • Extract, Holy Week, Religion, The Christian Community • 0 Comments

    Here at Floris Books, we want to do all we can to support our community during these difficult times. To that end, we’re sharing a new chapter of Emil Bock’s Holy Week: A Spiritual Guide from Palm Sunday to Easter for every day of the 2020 Easter Holy Week. Check back each day for the latest entry.

    Holy Week will guide you from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. It will help bring the events of Easter alive, and provides opportunities for prayer and contemplation. Each day is accompanied by a gospel reading.

    As a special thank you for joining us throughout the week, we are also offering 20% discount on copies of the book when you order from our website. Simply enter special offer code HW0420 at checkout.

    Please note that we’ve split the material on Easter Sunday across two posts for ease of navigation. Click here for Sunday Part 2: The Angels at the Tomb. Both Parts 1 and 2 pertain to the bible extracts below.

    Matthew 28:1–15

    The Resurrection

    When the Sabbath was over, in the early morning light of the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary came to see to the tomb. (2) And see, there was a great earthquake, the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, came and rolled the stone away and sat upon it. (3) His appearance was like lightning, and his garment was shining white like snow. (4) His presence terrified the guards; they trembled and fell down as if dead.

    (5) And the angel said to the women, ‘Have no fear. I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. (6) He is not here. He has risen, as he himself said. Come and see the place where he lay. (7) Now go quickly to his disciples and say to them: He has risen from the dead and will lead you to Galilee where you will behold him. See, that is what I have to say to you.’

    (8) Quickly they left the tomb, filled with both fear and joy, and they ran to take the message to the disciples. (9) And see, Jesus­ came to meet them and said: ‘Greetings!’ And they went up to him and took hold of his feet and fell down before him. (10) Then Jesus said to them, ‘Have no fear! Go and give my brothers the message that they are to go to Galilee. There they will behold me.’

    (11) While they were going, see, some of the guard went into the town and reported everything that had happened to the chief priests, (12) who then assembled together with the elders, and conferred. They gave the soldiers a substantial sum of money (13) and said, ‘Tell people that his disciples came in the night and stole him away while you were asleep. (14) And if it comes to the governor’s ears, we will talk with him and see to it that nothing happens to you.’ (15) And they took the money and did as they were told, and this version has been handed down among the Jews to this day.

    Mark 16:1–14

    The Resurrection

    And when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic spices and took them to the tomb to anoint him.

    (2) And at dawn on the first day of the week they came to the tomb, just as the sun was rising. (3) And they said to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ (4) And as they looked up, they saw that it had been rolled back; and the stone was very large.

    (5) And they went into the tomb. There they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clad in a shining white garment. And they were beside themselves with amazement. (6) Then he said to them, ‘Do not be startled! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified one. He is risen and is not here. See, there is the place where they laid his body. (7) Now go and say to his disciples and to Peter: “He will lead you to Galilee.” There you will see him as he promised you.’

    (8) And they fled from the tomb in great haste, for they were trembling with agitation, and their souls were as if transported­, and, being awestruck, they were unable to say anything to anyone about what they had experienced.

    The appearance of the Risen One

    (9) When he had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary of Magdala, from whom he had driven out seven demons. (10) And she went and proclaimed it to those who had walked with him and who were now sunk in tears and lamenting. (11) When they heard: He lives and she has seen him, their hearts could not grasp it. (12) After this he revealed himself, transformed in appearance, to two of them on the way as they were walking over the fields. (13) And they came and proclaimed it to the others; but they could not open their hearts to their words either.

    (14) Finally he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were celebrating the meal. And he reprimanded them for their lack of openness and for their hardness of heart, because they had not wanted to believe those who had seen him, the Risen One.

    Luke 24:1–11

    The Resurrection

    But on the first day of the week, at the very first glimmering of dawn, they came to the tomb with the aromatic extracts that they had prepared. (2) And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, (3) but when they went into the tomb they did not find the body of Jesus, the Lord. (4) And while they stood there, completely at a loss, suddenly two men were standing before them in raiment which shone like continuous lightning. (5) They were overcome by terror and they bowed their faces to the ground. Then those beings said to them, ‘Why do you seek the Living One among the dead? He is not here, he has risen. (6) Remember the words that he spoke while he was still in Galilee: (7) The Son of Man must be betrayed and delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified; but on the third day he will rise.’ (8) And they remembered his words (9) and returned home from the tomb and proclaimed all this to the eleven and the others who belonged to his circle. (10) It was Mary of Magdala and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; they and the other women who were with them told this to the apostles. (11) But it seemed to them like empty talk; they did not believe them.

    John 20:1–10

    The Resurrection

    On the first day after the Sabbath at the first breaking of the day, Mary of Magdala comes to the tomb and sees that the stone has been taken away. (2) And she runs and comes to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and says to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ (3) And so Peter and the other disciple set off towards the tomb. (4) They both ran, and the other disciple ran faster and overtook Peter and came to the tomb first. (5) He bent forward and saw the linen cloths lying­ there, but he did not go in. (6) Then Simon Peter, who was following him, also came, and he went straight into the tomb. And he beheld the linen cloths lying there (7) and the veil which had been over his head; it was, however, not lying with the cloths but bundled up in one particular place. (8) Then the other disciple also went in, he who had come first to the tomb; and he understood, and faith entered his heart, giving certainty to his soul. (9) For as yet they had not grasped the meaning of the word of scripture, that he would rise from the dead. (10) And the disciples went again to their house.

    Easter joy

    The Easter message is the heart and fountainhead of the Christian faith. The saying of Paul: ‘If Christ did not rise again, then … the power of our faith in your hearts is an illusion’ (1Cor.15:14) justifies a description of Christianity simply as the religion of the Risen Christ. Christian devotion has ultimately no other purpose than this: to cherish community with the Risen Christ. Christ is not to be sought either in the past or in the future, but in the immediate present. His sphere is not a ‘beyond;’ he is near to us in this world in which we live.

    Where is the sphere into which we must enter in order to feel and experience the nearness of the Risen Christ? Every year, during the Easter season, the hymnlike texts spoken at the altars of the Christian Community point to this sphere, and suggest at once its tremendous magnitude. A jubilant breath pervades the prayers of Easter, expressing itself twice, as with inward necessity, in the word ‘rejoice.’ Who rejoices? Who is made to rejoice by the Easter mysteries? In the first place the text says, ‘the airy regions of the earth rejoice exceedingly,’ and soon after, ‘Christ has invaded man’s rejoicing pulse of life.’ First, the breathing soul-sphere of the whole planet rejoices, that renewed cosmic sphere of sunlit clouds, air and wind into which the earth grows in spring; then, the inward life of man, touched by the Risen Christ, rejoices too. We recognize the wide span of the soul at Easter; it comprises the outward and the inward world, macrocosm and microcosm.

    The fourfold Easter gospel

    The artistic fourfoldness of the gospels meets us nowhere so vividly as in the Easter stories; here, the gospels are more differentiated in their special quality and colouring than anywhere else. They become four separate books, each with its individual character; and the synoptic harmony of the four, with all their differences and apparent contradictions, makes the universal totality of ‘the gospel in the four gospels’ appear with greatest clarity.

    The composition of the Easter story in the Gospel of Matthew has a special grandeur. The first gospel completely surpasses the others in poetic design. A double drama, full of tension, frames the Easter scenes themselves. The cosmic drama of the earthquake prepares and attunes our soul from the beginning for the power and magnitude of the event. Only Matthew’s Gospel mentions the shocks of the earthquake which, beginning with the afternoon of Good Friday, tore open the ground of the earth, and continued reverberating until the morning of Easter Sunday. The cosmic drama at the beginning is followed by a human drama at the end, the deception of the priests at the sepulchre of Joseph of Arimathea. The high priests have posted watchers because they are afraid of fraud; but now they themselves attempt a fraud, by inducing the watchers through bribes to make false statements. Then the story proceeds in terse and dramatic stages. The Easter scenes themselves begin at the tomb. This forms a prelude, which is also contained in the other three gospels. Afterwards, we are taken at once to the summit of a high mountain. The angel at the tomb has asked the women to tell the disciples that the Risen Christ will go before them into Galilee; and now we also are immediately in Galilee. Together with the disciples we are transported to a height from which the world can be surveyed as if we were on the summit of that marvellous mountain where once the three most intimate disciples saw the Christ in his transfigured glory: on the summit of Tabor, the mountain of mountains, which rises in the sunny landscape of Galilee. Here, the Risen One speaks to his disciples: ‘Now all creative power in heaven and on the earth has been given me;’ and he sends his disciples as apostles into all the kingdoms of the world.

    In Mark, the framework of the external dramatic events is missing; an inward dramatic quality takes its place. After the meeting with the angel at the tomb, we see the women return to the room where the disciples are united. It is the Cenacle, the room of the washing of the feet and the Last Supper; the sacred, time-honoured place on Mount Zion; the centre of the spiritual history of humanity from times immemorial. In this room the events of Easter continue. Here the Risen One enters the circle of the disciples and, speaking to them, conquers their hardened hearts. Having been at first without understanding for the Easter message, and even for the words of the Risen Christ, they can now become bearers of the cosmic impulse which has come into the world through the Resurrection. And now they experience how the Christ is raised before their eyes into heavenly heights, although they remain in the house; a first glimpse of the Ascension moves them within the four walls of the room.

    Now we begin to see the deeper symbolism in the Easter stories, which belong together: Matthew leads to the top of the mountain, Mark leads into the house. In contrast to the dramatic study of Matthew, a great and wonderful inwardness lives in the Gospel of Luke. The transition from outside to inside which takes place in passing from the first to the second gospel is further deepened. This transition dominates the story of the two disciples who walk to Emmaus, which follows the scene at the tomb. For these disciples, too, the real meeting with the Risen One, by which they recognize him, occurs only at the moment when they have entered the house at the end of the way and have sat down at the table at twilight, in the stillness of the house. The theme of the transition from outside to inside is continued here; at a quick pace we return with the two disciples on the same evening to Jerusalem, and enter with them into the Cenacle, where the other disciples are assembled; and we are made witnesses of the Risen One appearing suddenly in the midst of the disciples and taking food and drink before their eyes, in order to unite himself with them in the sacred meal. In Luke, as in Mark, the interior of the house is the scene of the real Easter meeting, following the prelude at the tomb; but the scenes of the inward drama in Luke have more soul and are more richly differentiated.

    John presents us with a very great wealth of Easter scenes. Even the prelude at the tomb develops into a whole drama. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb; no angel is there to mitigate the shock which she feels at the sight of the empty tomb. She walks back all the way to find the disciples. Two of the disciples, seized with great anxiety, run through the whole city until they come to the tomb, but they also find it empty; no spiritual figure appears to them; they have to leave, taking with them an apparently insoluble riddle; in silence they return to the Cenacle. Mary Magdalene is left alone at the tomb. Only now, when she stands at the tomb for the second time, her soul is opened up for the presence of spiritual beings who are there; and the first meeting with the angels grows into the first meeting with the Risen One himself who appears to her as the gardener. And once more, but now charged with increasing content, the transition from outside to inside takes place. We find ourselves again within the room of the Last Supper, and share in the experience of how the Risen One manifests himself to the disciples. The following scenes develop with such rich detail that we begin to recognize how the Easter fellowship of the disciples with the Risen One extends beyond Easter Sunday, and fills the whole season. One week after, Thomas, the doubter, is permitted to convince himself through physical touch of the fact of the bodily resurrection. But the sequence in John is not yet at an end; the steps which have led us from outside to inside are reversed. The gospel leads us again outward. The interior scenes are followed by a series of scenes which take place under the open sky of Galilee. All of a sudden, the disciples are transported to the Sea of Galilee. During the night, they draw in the miraculous draught of fishes; and in the cool of the morning, on the shores of the blue lake, the radiant figure of the Risen One appears to them. A holy meal unites them with him. Then he addresses three times his earnest quesion to Peter; eventually he gives to the disciples their apostolic charge, pointing into the far distant future with mysterious words.

    We can now discern an important aspect in the wonderful composition of the gospels as a whole. In the scenes which follow the prelude at the tomb, we are led, in the sequence of Matthew to John, through three archetypal settings: on the mountain, in the house and on the sea. Apparently physical landscape is described, but in fact we are shown regions of the soul which we have to traverse in order to meet the Risen One. The Gospel, taken in its entirety in the four gospels, has given the first pictorial hint of his sphere.

    Continue to Chapter 9: The Angels at the Tomb

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