The readings during the Easter Season, especially during the octave of Easter, the eight days from Easter Sunday to Divine Mercy Sunday, go through several apparitions of the risen and glorified Jesus to his apostles and disciples. There are several different stories, and not all of them appear in all the Gospels. This may lead one to question their veracity: Why didn’t the Gospel writers share the same stories? Why did some talk about Jesus’ Resurrection appearances in detail, like John, and some almost not at all, like Mark? Do such discrepancies mean that the Resurrection is a falsehood?
Quite the contrary, actually. The diversity of the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection attests more strongly to their authenticity. The reasoning goes like this: if the Gospel writers were going to make up the Resurrection of Jesus or if the Apostles taught a made-up doctrine to the first Christians, they would have been united in their story. It would have been something rehearsed, perhaps even memorized, among the Apostles and evangelists. Instead, each Gospel writer offers a unique perspective. As Craig Blomberg, author of The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, writes: “ … [T]he fact that the four writers each include enough unique material to their narratives, while overall clearly narrating the same event, suggests a greater degree of literary independence … decreasing the likelihood of collusion” (B&H Academic, 2016). In other words, the Gospel writers each had a way to tell the great story of Jesus. They also had audiences they were attempting to reach, so their Resurrection reports, like the rest of their Gospels, vary in some of the details, while agreeing in the essential points.
One of those essentials is that the new humanity of the risen Jesus was different than before. The Resurrection seemed so unbelievable that Jesus himself had to convince his Apostles time and again that it was really he who was in their midst. That is why he ate with them, even cooked for them, and invited St. Thomas the Apostle to touch His wounds. Thomas’ exclamation has echoed down the ages in the Church as the quintessential act of faith in the risen Jesus: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).
In fact, the Apostles were absolutely certain that the Jesus who appeared to them was the same Jesus who had died on Good Friday. His humanity was changed, but he was the same person. Only God could do such a thing, could create such a new reality. That is the message that the Apostles proclaimed from the very beginning when they preached. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “Christ’s apostles knew that they were called by God as ‘ministers of a new covenant,’ ‘servants of God,’ ‘ambassadors for Christ,’ ‘servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God’” (No. 859). Their relentless witnessing to Jesus, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit and mandated by Jesus himself, got them into trouble time and again, but they did not stop. They and their followers were arrested by the Jewish authorities and sometimes killed. If they were not executed by the Jews, then they were killed by the Roman government. Both St. Peter and St. Paul, for example, were martyred in Rome. The only apostle who did not suffer martyrdom was St. John, the beloved disciple, although he did endure torments and exile. They went to their deaths proclaiming the reality of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead and salvation for all people through him. Before they died, the Apostles ensured that the life and person of Jesus would continue to be preached and that the sacraments would be celebrated. Recall that during the resurrection appearances, Jesus conferred authority on his Apostles. In Matthew, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Mt 28:18).
In John, Jesus breathes on the disciples, imparting to them the Holy Spirit: “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (Jn 20:21-23). As the Catechism states: “Thus the risen Christ, by giving the Holy Spirit to the apostles, entrusted to them his power of sanctifying: they became sacramental signs of Christ. By the power of the same Holy Spirit they entrusted this power to their successors” (No. 1087). The apostles made sure that their authority would not die with them. Since it came from Jesus himself, it was meant to be a part of Jesus’ Church forever.
The Holy Spirit pushed the Apostles out and into the world, to preach and teach people about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Forgiveness of sins was offered in Jesus’ name, and the Apostles had the authority to teach that and to offer that forgiveness to each and every person. They were impelled to share the Gospel, to freely give away what they had received. They passed on that apostolic mission to their successors and, in this way, empowered the Church of all times to make disciples of all nations.
Sister Anna Marie McGuan, RSM, is director of Christian formation in the Diocese of Knoxville.