Unpacking the Mysteries of Easter
It is a good idea to keep your eye on the calendar when making selections for your professional reading so that you can be prepared for the immediate turning of the pages of the liturgical calendar. For example, if you have never read a commentary on St. Luke’s Gospel, now is a good time to do some shopping so that you can study on the beach this summer in anticipation for Cycle C, which starts next Advent.
For this reason I wanted to bring to your attention two works on the Resurrection, with Easter only two months away. I attend the NCEA conventions every year, which are always in Easter week, so I have the opportunity to participate in the daily Easter week liturgies, where almost all of the Resurrection narratives are proclaimed except for the few on Easter Sunday and the Sunday next. Unless you are a daily Mass attendant, you yourself may not be familiar with this little library that proclaims any hopes we have about life after the grave.
It comes as more than a little bit of a shock when you realize that nowhere in the New Testament is the Resurrection described. Not at all. Scholars in modern times have come to categorize all Gospel accounts of Easter under two headings: the “empty tomb” tradition and “the appearances” tradition. Moreover, the four Easter narratives of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John are significantly different from one another, and each Gospel must be studied separately to grasp its revelation content.
Probably the greatest American Biblical Scholar of the twentieth century is Father Raymond Brown, S.S., who died suddenly in 1998. He was a vigorous scholar who produced classic commentaries on the Gospel of St. John, The Infancy Narratives, the Passion, to cite a few, and he served on multiple Vatican Scriptural commissions. For our purposes, though, he had this wonderful knack of condensing a thousand-page study into brief and eminently readable summaries for the general faithful. I recommend his Risen Christ at Easter, a rich 95-page overview of each of the four Gospels. While embodying the highlights of the best scholarship of the time (1992) there is a subtle but real meditational aspect to this work as well. It would make an excellent study for Lent, for example, as it challenges the reader to react to the powerful challenges posed by each evangelist. Commenting on the deeply troubling original ending of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16:8) Brown writes: “Mark, who has been somber in describing discipleship throughout the passion, remains somber about the requirements of discipleship after the resurrection.” (p. 17).
Father Francis Moloney’s The Resurrection of the Messiah is more recent (2013) and somewhat longer and more detailed at 182 pages, but it is also quite readable and accessible. I reviewed this work on Amazon (April 22, 2014) and it is the inspiration for my presentation at the April 2015 NCEA Convention here in Orlando. Moloney’s gift here is his ability to explain how the unique Resurrection narratives bring each evangelist’s themes to full completion. In discussing John, whose theological priority (among others) is establishing the full divinity of Christ, Moloney looks at John 20: 5-7, observing that the burial clothes and bindings were neatly folded in the empty tomb. He contrasts this to the raising of Lazarus, who came from his tomb bound and tied. Jesus’ burial site is a literary statement of providence, power, and control of events that implies a oneness of Jesus and his Father (p. 108) as opposed to a third party resuscitation experienced by Lazarus.
Moloney adds a chapter on the challenge of proclaiming a faith event in the context of a post-modern society, an essay that may be very helpful to catechists, teachers and preachers. This work is also rich in descriptive footnotes and contains a good bibliography for further reading. Moloney’s work was published by Paulist Press; Brown’s by Liturgical Press.
Looking ahead: Tomorrow (Sunday) I will address the controversy over Father Joseph Illo and his altar girls in San Francisco, which you may have already heard about in the national media. What lessons can be learned here?
Leave a Reply.