by Pope Shenouda III (Coptic Orthodox Church)
The period between the crucifixion and the resurrection:
In His resurrection, He sanctified the mortal human nature, giving it power to rise.
Before rising, with His body lying in the tomb, He was working for us.
Death caused His spirit to separate from His body, but His divinity never separated from His spirit or from His body. His spirit, united with His divinity, accomplished wonderful salvation for those lying in hope.
By His death He paid off the wages of sin, and with His blood He purchased us. By redeeming all humanity, He had the power to transfer those lying in Hades to Paradise, which He actually did.
With His spirit united with the divinity, He went into Hades to announce the good tidings to those lying there in hope.
He descended into the lower parts of the earth and led captivity captive (Eph 4: 8, 9). He opened the door of Paradise and transferred there the righteous, who were waiting in Hades, and with them, He brought there the thief on His right hand. True are the words of St. John the Visionary that He has the keys of Hades and of death (Rev 1: 18). He opened for them the door of Paradise, because their names are written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world (Rev 17: 8; Phil 4: 3).
Blessed indeed are those whose names are written in the Book of Life, for death has no authority on them!
They may remain in death for a while, as Jonah had been in the belly of the whale before God brought him out safe. The whale had no authority to do him any harm! In the same way the Lord brought out those who were in Hades, and by His power over Paradise, He brought them there.
That great work the Lord did secretly, heaven cheered, and prophecies fulfilled, and secretly He rose from the dead.
His spirit, united with His divinity, united with His body, which was also united with His divinity, and by the power of His divinity He came out of the shut tomb.
The spice-bearer women:
It is strange that the women took spices and went to the tomb, a matter contradicting their belief in the resurrection! Were the spices for the body lying in the tomb? Where was their faith that Christ has risen and left the tomb? However, the Lord looked only to the love they had and cured the lack of faith they had. Therefore, the angel announcement of the resurrection implied blaming, for he said to them, "I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said." (Mt 28: 5, 6) The same and more explicit blaming came from the two angels to the spice-bearer women, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.'"
So, they remembered His words. (Lk 24: 5- 8)
He had announced that He would rise on the third again, not only to the women, but also and in particular to the disciples.
So, if the disciples knew from the Lord about His resurrection, yet they did not believe, how much rather the women!
The doubts of the disciples:
The resurrection of the Lord was unique, because He rose by Himself, and said words nobody else could say, "I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." (Jn 10: 17, 18)
Who dare say such words other than Christ! It was therefore astounding resurrection beyond comprehension, especially after the crucifixion, the passions, and the insults He had suffered, and after the domination and power revealed by the Jews! It was not easy then for the disciples to believe it, for they were afraid and hiding in the upper room.
On the cross He said, "It is finished", referring to the redemption and paying off the wages of sin. Yet, after the resurrection He had something else to accomplish, related to pastoral care.
There were righteous people, but those were confused and in need of comfort, having weakened by fear and doubt. How would He deal with them? He did not want to blame them for their weakness, doubts, and denial, for He came to give them peace. He came not to judge the world but to save it, as He said before, how much rather His own whom He loved to the end (Jn 13: 1)!
"We love Him because He first loved us." (1 Jn 4: 19)
This appears in how He dealt with Thomas who doubted His resurrection. Instead of blaming him, He cured him of his doubt by insisting that he put his finger into the wounds.
Thomas obeyed and put his finger and became sure of the wounds.
The Lord did the same to Peter, Mary Magdalene, and the two disciples of Emmaus. He wanted to strengthen their faith, because they were going to spread that faith to the farthest ends of the earth, which actually happened. That is why after His resurrection He appeared to the disciples many times, for forty days: "He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days." (Acts 1: 3)
Those doubts of the disciples stumbled many, but what does the Gospel say?
"He appeared first to Mary Magdalene … She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept." When those heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe (Mk 16: 9..):
1. The Lord appeared to the two disciples of Emmaus, who had not believed what the women said, and rebuked them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" Then beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Lk 24: 25- 27).
2. Those two disciples therefore believed, and went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either (Mk 16: 13).
3. The women went to the tomb and entered, but they did not find the body of the Lord. Two angels appeared to them and announced the resurrection to them, so they went and told the disciples, but "Their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them." (Lk 24: 11)
Those were the eleven apostles, pillars of the church, who heard many testimonies from Mary Magdalene, the two disciples of Emmaus, and the other women, yet they did not believe any of them!
4. Afterwards, Mary Magdalene told Peter and John about the empty tomb, and they went and saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself (Jn 20: 6, 7). As for John he saw and believed (Jn 20: 8).
5. Everybody knew that the Lord has risen and appeared to Simon (Lk 24: 34). The Lord Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you", but they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit (Lk 24: 37). The Lord rebuked them, saying, "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have." (Lk 24: 39) Imagine what heresies would have arisen if the disciples had supposed they had seen a spirit, as if the body did not rise! It was therefore necessary that the Lord show them His hands and feet.
6. It was not then the problem of Thomas alone whom the Lord showed His wounds, and said, "Do not be unbelieving, but believing." (Jn 20: 27) It was rather the problem of the eleven. All of them doubted and needed proofs, needed to touch and feel the wounds that they might believe! The Lord acted practically, as St. Peter of Sedment said, 'During His life on the earth, in the body, the Lord Christ was giving evidences of His divinity, but after the resurrection He was giving evidences of His humanity.'
The Lord gives evidence of His humanity:
After the resurrection He took and ate in their presence (Lk 24: 43) to convince them of His humanity, because the body in which He rose is a spiritual body that needed no food or drink. His body after the ascension has nothing to do with eating any material food.
Convincing, not reproach or punishment was the means by which the Lord addressed the doubts of the disciples.
They should have firm, steadfast, and convincing belief because the Lord was going to entrust them with spreading faith in the whole world. The Lord led them to this faith. Because they were not able to reach the level of believing without seeing, the Lord accepted from them the weak level of faith depending on senses, but as a starting point leading to the level of belief in things not seen (Heb 11: 1). St. John describes it as faith, "Which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled." (1 Jn 1:1)
Such faith based on senses as a beginning, soon became stronger and convincing to the whole world of that which they had heard, seen and handled. They introduced this evidence lest some would think they were deceived or believed things that never happened.
St. Paul did the same and told what he had seen and heard on his way to Damascus to King Agrippa.
He said, "At midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me … I heard a voice speaking to me." (Acts 26: 13- 15) He concluded with the words, "Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision." (Acts 26: 19)
This is the Lord Christ, who worked for strengthening His disciples' faith, cured Thomas' doubts, comforted Peter's grief and weeping Magdalene, and restored faith to the church.
I imagine what an angel standing by His tomb before the resurrection would say:
Rise, destroy the devil, of his power leave no remnant;
Rise, bring the good tidings to the dead: their sin is forgiven;
Rise, strengthen the faith of the pastors, bring together the flock;
Forgive for Peter his weakness, wipe away the tears of Magdalene;
Uncover Your wounds, convince Thomas whose doubts are strong.
Source: Copts United
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