FROM THE WEEK ENDING EASTER TO CHRIST'S ASCENSION
There is some confusion about what Easter means to Christians. Let me clarify.
Easter starts on the last Saturday of the final week of Lent, and is also known as Lazarus Saturday. Palm Sunday follows, commemorating Jesus's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Next is Holy Monday, when Jesus cleared the Temple of money changers.
On Tuesday, Jesus left the city and went with his disciples to the Mount of Olives, which sits due east of the Temple and overlooks Jerusalem. Here Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse, an elaborate prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the age. This Tuesday was also the day Judas Iscariot negotiated with the Sanhedrin, the rabbinical court of ancient Israel, to betray Jesus.
The Bible doesn't say what the Lord did on the Wednesday of Passion Week. After two exhausting days in Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples probably spent this day resting in Bethany in anticipation of Passover.
Holy Week takes a sombre turn on Thursday. Peter and John made the preparations for the Passover Feast. That evening after sunset, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as they prepared to share in the Passover. During this Last Supper, Jesus established the Holy Communion, instructing his followers to continually remember his sacrifice by sharing in the elements of bread and wine. Later, Jesus and the disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed in agony to God the Father. Late that evening in Gethsemane, Jesus was betrayed with a kiss by Judas Iscariot and arrested by the Sanhedrin.
Good Friday is the most difficult day of Passion Week. Christ's journey turned treacherous and acutely painful in these final hours leading to his death. Judas Iscariot, the disciple who had betrayed Jesus, was overcome with remorse and hanged himself early Friday morning. At 9 am, Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion, one of the most horrible methods of capital punishment known at the time. At about 3 p.m., Jesus breathed his last breath and died. By 6 p.m. Friday evening, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus' body down from the cross and lay it in a tomb.
Jesus' body lay in its tomb, where it was guarded by Roman soldiers throughout the day on Saturday, which was the Sabbath. When the Sabbath ended at 6 p.m., Christ's body was ceremonially treated for burial.
On Resurrection Sunday, or Easter, we reach the culmination of Holy Week. The resurrection of Jesus Christ
is the most important event of the Christian faith. The very foundation of all
Christian doctrine hinges on the truth of this account. It is a happy day.
The resurrection of Jesus is the Christian belief that God raised Jesus on the third day after his crucifixion, Easter Sunday, restoring his exalted life as Christ and Lord. According to the New Testament writings he was firstborn from the dead, ushering in the Kingdom of God. He appeared to his disciples, calling the apostles to the Great Commission of proclaiming the Gospel of eternal salvation through his death and resurrection, and ascended to Heaven forty days later. There is a dichotomy here, since Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead some weeks earlier. For the Christian tradition, the bodily resurrection was the restoration to life of a transformed body powered by spirit, as described by Paul and the Gospel authors, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John that led to the establishment of Christianity. In Christian theology, the death and resurrection of Jesus are the most important events, a foundation of the Christian faith, as commemorated by Easter. Naysayers believe that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus were visionary experiences.
Paul the Apostle writes in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, “He was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the others, more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
The gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, as well as The Acts contain passages in which Jesus is portrayed as predicting the coming resurrection. Three end with his posthumous appearances after having been crucified. Mark does not.
The Gospel of Mark ends with the discovery of the empty tomb by Mary Magdalene, Salome, and "Mary, the mother of James". Apparently, there was an earthquake and the rock sealing the tomb lay opened. Each apostle has statements that do not tally. Apparently, two men clothed in pristine white tell Mary Magdalene that Christ has risen, and that she must return and tell his disciples He will meet them in Galilee. Elsewhere, He appears behind Mary Magdalene, asks her why she was weeping and tells her to go and inform his disciples that he would meet them in Galilee.
In Acts of the Apostles (Acts), Jesus appeared to the apostles for forty days, and commanded them to stay in Jerusalem after which Jesus finally ascended to heaven.
If after the Resurrection there was a period of 40 days in which the risen Jesus appeared to His disciples, what else did He do? The empty tomb was neat and clean. Why would the Son of God, who had just conquered death, bother to pause and leave His tomb tidy? The Gospel of John tells us that the cloth which had been placed over Jesus’ face was not just thrown aside, but was neatly folded (The Shroud of Turin). Traditionally, if people got up from the table, folded their napkin and laid it beside their plate, the message was "I'm not finished yet. I'm coming back!"
The Bible says two of Jesus' followers, Cleopas and a companion, were walking home from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. On the roadway, Jesus approached and began walking with them, but “their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” He said to them, “What are you debating between yourselves as you walk along?” Cleopas said “The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene, who became a prophet powerful in work and word before God and all the people; and how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to the sentence of death and crucified him. We were hoping He was the one destined to deliver Israel." Then Jesus gave them a history lesson, starting with Moses and all the Prophets as He interpreted to them things pertaining to Himself in all the Scriptures. He went with them to stay with them. But as they sat down to eat, He took the loaf, blessed it, broke it and began to hand it to them. At that, the Bible says, “their eyes were fully opened and they recognised him.” And He disappeared. The two men from the road to Emmaus found 10 disciples next day and were told that He had appeared to the women and to Simon Peter. The two related how He walked with them, then vanished before their eyes. Jesus reappeared,stood in their midst and said, “May you have peace.” He ate with them and left. Thomas was not with them when Jesus came. When he returned, the other disciples exclaimed, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails and stick my hand into His side, I will not believe you.”
Eight days later, Jesus appeared again, this time to the entire group. He stood in their midst and said, “May you have peace.” Then, He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands, and take your hand and stick it into My side.” In answer Thomas said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to Him, “Because you have seen Me have you believed? What about those who do not see Me? It is your task to make them believe in Me.”
Not long afterward, Peter announced, “I am going fishing.” Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John went with him, but caught nothing. However, just as it was getting to be morning, Jesus stood on the beach, but the disciples did not discern that it was Him. He said to them, “My children, you do not have anything to eat, do you?” They answered “No!” He said, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat.” They did and were unable to pull the net in because it was weighed down with so many fish. Peter exclaimed, “It is the Lord!” and jumped into the sea, hurrying to the shore. The other disciples brought the boat in, dragging the net full of fish. When they disembarked, they beheld lying there a charcoal fire and fish lying upon it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just now caught.” Peter drew the net to the land and Jesus said to them, “Come, take your breakfast.” He broke the bread and gave it to them, and then the fish.
Then He Ascended into Heaven
In the Book of Acts, the apostle Luke writes, “In the first account, I composed about all the things Jesus started both to do and to teach, until the day that He was taken up. He showed Himself alive after He had suffered, being seen by them through 40 days. And while He was meeting with them, He gave them His orders. And after He had said these things, while they watched, He was lifted up and a cloud caught Him up from their vision. And as they were gazing into the sky, two men in white garments stood alongside them, and they said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus who was received up from you into the sky will come thus in the same manner as you have beheld Him going into the sky.”
THE SHROUD OF TURIN
The Shroud is a centuries old linen cloth that bears the image of a crucified man. The image in faint straw-yellow colour on the crown of the cloth fibres appears to be of a man with a beard, moustache, and shoulder-length hair parted in the middle. Millions of believers swear that the man was Jesus. But a greater number of doubters discard the theory that it is really the cloth that wrapped his crucified body. They say it is a medieval forgery, a hoax perpetrated by some clever artist. As proof, many say that this linen is made of herringbone twill, something that did not exist in those times. Modern science has completed hundreds of thousands of hours of detailed study and intense research on the Shroud. It is, in fact, the single most studied artifact in human history. But there is no concrete evidence that the Shroud is genuine, or, for that matter, a hoax.
The Bible refers to this linen in four texts, those written by the disciples Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The texts are unequivocal. One Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man who was a secret admirer of Jesus, did buy and bring linen to cover the body prior to its entombment. But only John and Luke make passing reference to this linen after they rushed into the tomb when told that the body of Jesus was missing from the tomb.
The Shroud is currently placed in the cathedral in Turin, Italy. It is opened for public viewing once every few years. It has undergone several restorations and several steps have been taken to preserve it to avoid further damage and contamination.
Measuring 4.3 metres (14 feet 3 inches) long and 1.1 metres (3 feet 7 inches) wide, it seems to portray two faint brownish images, those of the back and front of a tall man—as if a body had been laid lengthwise along one half of the Shroud waist upwards, while the other half had been doubled over the head to cover the whole front of the body from face to feet, i.e. the parts of the body that were injured and had bled. The images contain markings that allegedly correspond to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, including thorn marks on the head, lacerations (as if from flogging) on the back, bruises on the shoulders, and various stains of what is presumed to be blood.
It was first found in the 1350s in France, in the possession of a French Knight, Geoffroi de Charny . There’s no record of how de Charny got his hands on the Shroud, nor where it was during the 1300 intervening years since Christ’s burial outside Jerusalem. The local Bishop wrote to the then Pope (Clement VII) that the Shroud was a forgery and that the artist had confessed.
Scholarly analyses have been applied to the Shroud since the late 19th century. In more recent times, stamp sized pieces were simultaneously subjected to carbon-dating in the USA, UK and Switzerland. All three laboratories concluded that the cloth of the Shroud had been made sometime between 1260 and 1390. This is as near a validation of the Shroud found in the 1350s in France as can be. However, some scientists raised doubts about the researchers’ methodology. The Vatican encouraged scientists to conduct further investigations of the Shroud’s authenticity and recommended that Christians continue to venerate the Shroud as an inspiring image of Christ. But no Pope has ever stated that it was indeed the linen from the body of Jesus.
Ultimately, it all comes
down to a matter of faith. You are either a believer or not. As National
Geographic puts it, “A leap of faith over questions without clear answers is
necessary—either the ‘faith’ of skeptics, or the faith of believers.”