LIFE AFTER DEATH, WITH JESUS
Jesus walks with the two on the road to Emmaus
Anthony Horan considers how Jesus showed the world that death is not the end and how the world responded
Following Jesus’ death on the Cross, there passed some time when the disciples were uncertain as to what was to happen next. They couldn’t find Jesus’ body in the tomb and they wanted to know if all the promises made before the Crucifixion would be fulfilled. They were still mourning his apparent death and now they could not find his body. It was a distressing time.
Yet, while Mary Magdalene crouched down near the tomb, Jesus came and stood alongside her and spoke to her. Mary didn’t recognise him at first but then she suddenly exclaimed “Rabbuni” which means ‘teacher’. Mary is our first witness to the Resurrection of Christ.
Then, on the road to Emmaus, two of the disciples are met by Jesus, though like Mary, they are unable to recognise him at first. The disciples are downbeat because the redemption of Israel has not yet come and they had hoped Jesus would have achieved this by now; it had been three days since the Crucifixion. Jesus then calls them “foolish” and “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke” and stayed with them that evening. As they sat at table he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them. With this their eyes were opened and they recognised him. Jesus then vanished from their sight. The disciples returned immediately to Jerusalem and told the Eleven and others gathered there what they had seen. The list of witnesses was growing.
A short time later, and while they were still talking Jesus came and stood among them saying “Peace be with you. It is I. Do not be afraid.” Jesus then showed them his hands and feet and the wounds he suffered during the Crucifixion. John’s Gospel tells us that Thomas didn’t believe that it was Jesus, and he had to place his finger in the holes of Jesus’ hands and put his hand into Jesus’ side before he would believe.
They then ate, Jesus too, and it is evident that this is pivotal in the story of the Resurrection as a ghost (or certainly a person who had evidently died) would surely be unable to eat or, at least, have no need for food. But Jesus’ eating reinforces the Resurrection of both body and soul. Jesus then blessed them and withdrew, being carried up to Heaven. St Mark tells us that, before he withdrew, Jesus told the disciples to “Go forth to the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. Whoever will have believed and been baptised will be saved. Yet truly, whoever will not have believed will be condemned.”
John then tells us that Jesus appears yet again, this time to Peter and Thomas while they were at the Sea of Tiberias. Nathaniel and other disciples were also present. They had gone fishing and Jesus was standing on the shore. Again, they didn’t recognise him at first. The disciples were struggling to catch any fish and when Jesus told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat they caught so many fish they were unable to draw in the nets. Peter then exclaimed “It is the Lord!”
The disciples then came ashore and ate with Jesus. It was at this point that Jesus instructed Peter to “feed my lambs” and “feed my sheep”. John explains in his Gospel that Jesus did so much during this time that the world would be unable to contain the books that would be written.
Jesus had said to the apostles that they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit and that they will be witnesses for him in Jerusalem and “even to the ends of the earth”. In the Acts of the Apostles this promise became a reality. When the days of Pentecost were completed, the apostles were together and a sound from Heaven, like a wind approaching violently, filled the entire house and separate tongues of fire settled upon each of them. They spoke in various languages as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. They spread the Gospel as instructed and performed miracles and many were converted. The number of witnesses was growing all the time.
Then Saul, or Paul as he is more commonly known, on his way to Damascus, was graced with the presence of Jesus who asked him “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” which may have been a direct reference to his influence over the death of Stephen, the first martyr. As soon as he heard these words Saul believed, but was also blinded by the experience. His sight was later restored by Ananias on the instruction of God.
St Paul of course then spread the faith, most evidently in his letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians and so on. And so the numbers of followers of Jesus grew and grew as a result of the witness of others.
Many of these witnesses, including Peter and Paul, would ultimately die as martyrs for their faith. Yet, despite this, many still did not believe. Why, you might ask, would they give up their lives for a lie? The truth is; they wouldn’t. They saw and heard the risen Christ and they believed. Similar encounters with Christ were experienced by people such as Maria Faustina when, on a number of occasions during her short life in the early 20 century, Jesus appeared to her with extraordinary revelations and messages which she committed to paper. The notes are known today as the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska.
Other witnesses to the Divine have come in the shape of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, to whom Our Lady appeared at Lourdes in the mid-19th century; Blessed Juan Diego, to whom Our Lady appeared near Guadalupe in Mexico in 1531; and the three children of Fatima who, in the early 20 century, were graced with apparitions of Our Lady over the course of several months. All three of the children of Fatima endured great suffering following the apparitions, particularly Blessed Francisco Marto and Blessed Jacinta Marto, who would both die soon after (their deaths were foretold by Our Lady). These children prayed endlessly following Our Lady’s visits; but they also suffered greatly and gave as much as they could to the poor children of their village. Is this the behaviour of people who lie? Shouldn’t these young children have been out running and playing with their friends? What compelled them, against the will of their own parents and families, to dedicate their young lives to God by suffering and giving? Divine revelation compelled them and the promise of greater things to come drove them.
In response to these Divine revelations, the number of witnesses to the message of Christ continues to grow today, with an estimated 2 billion plus Christians across the globe. In fact, the number of Christians has gone from around 600 million in 1910 to over 2 billion today and the numbers continue to grow.
From that very first appearance to Mary Magdalene a few days after his death, Jesus’ promise of eternal life has, through the centuries, continued to touch the hearts of billions of people with the promise of eternal life. And it is with great confidence that we can say the sure and certain hope of eternal life that we hold so dear today has come to us from those who witnessed Jesus’ Resurrection at first hand.