Thursday, May 9, 2013

Appearances of the Risen Christ; Luke; (Part 5 of 5)

Appearances of the Risen Christ; Luke; (Part 5 of 5)

Like Matthew, Luke relies partly on Mark's account, but not as much as does Matthew.  While Matthew basically expanded upon Mark's resurrection story, Luke shortens some of Mark's details, probably to make room for more of his own. Luke has stories that appear only in his Gospel and stories that appear in his Gospel and in Matthew's, but not in Mark..  

Luke includes the story of the empty tomb, but modifies it substantially.  He also adds an appearance by Jesus to the assembled disciples, along with some very tangible testimony that Jesus is indeed alive.  But, unlike Matthew, he includes no appearance to the women near the tomb.  Like Matthew, Luke includes a commissioning of the disciples for mission, but not so specific a one as in Matthew; and he completes his story with the ascension of Jesus into heaven, something we find only in Luke.

We also find, only in Luke, an enchanting and theologically significant encounter between the Lord and two dejected disciples on the road to Emmaus.  This beautiful little novella is full of insight and heavily freighted with meaning, adding a dimension to the meaning of the "breaking of the bread" that has profound implications for the meaning of the Eucharist.

Luke also does something else that is unique to his Gospel.  In Luke all of the appearances, and even the Ascension, take place in and around Jerusalem, and nothing happens in Galilee. For Luke, Galilee was where Jesus began His work, but Jerusalem is where he finished it.  Since for Luke everything significant in the story of Jesus centers in Jerusalem, it is not surprising that, in the end, we find the disciples together, in Jerusalem, praying in the Temple continually and awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus has promised to send to them.

Luke is the most Christocentric (centered on Jesus) and theologically demanding of the three synoptic Gospels.  Therefore I will be talking about what we Christians need to know and do once we understand what Luke is saying.

With that background, let's look at Luke's account in more detail.  Like the others, Luke begins at the empty tomb.  Christian hope always begins at the empty tomb.  Not that it "proves" anything of and by itself.  After all, Matthew sought mightily to prove that there was no hoax and that the body was not stolen. But the empty tomb was what the first witnesses saw.  And what they saw they would later realize was the result of the resurrection. They saw that the tomb was empty, and they did not know why. The angels told them why, and Christian hope began right there, at the empty tomb; began as a simple hope that said, "Could it be true?  O God, let it be true!"

And so, in Luke we see the women hurrying to the tomb on the third day, a larger group of women than reported in Mark and Matthew, but with the same principal woman, Mary Magdalene.  And it is here, at the very beginning of Luke's account, that we see that the details among the Gospels continue to differ. Luke says that the stone was already rolled away and that they actually go into the tomb, but do not find the body. It is only then, after they make this discovery for themselves, that the angels - yes, two angels, not one - appear and explain to them what happened.

And their explanation is different as well. The angels ask the women why they are looking for the living among the dead, and then state bluntly, "He is not here, He is risen."  Then, rather than telling them to tell the disciples to go to Galilee as do the other Gospels, the angels say that they are to remember what Jesus told them while in Galilee: That he was to be handed over, to be crucified, and on the third day to rise again.

Although they were terrified, this instruction to "remember" is followed, and they do remember.  And, while unstated in the text, it is in the remembering of Jesus' promise that they gain self control and return to tell the disciples, and "all the rest."  Luke reports a larger group of followers; followers who are gathered, not scattered, after the crucifixion. These are followers who have remained in Jerusalem, and who will remain in Jerusalem throughout the initial post-resurrection period, well beyond the Ascension.

This is markedly different than in either Mark or Matthew. Also of interest is that the gathered followers did not believe the women. They thought the women's testimony to be "an idle tale."  But Peter must have heard some truth in their witness, for Luke tells us that Peter, alone, ran back to the tomb, stooped and looked in, seeing only the clothes. This does not lead Peter to immediate faith, but it does lead him to amazement. Later we hear that the Lord appeared personally to Peter; no doubt dispelling any doubt he had; and still later we have to assume that Peter was once again with the large assembled group to which the Lord appeared, but only after Christ appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Thus Peter likely saw the Risen Lord on at least two separate occasions.  

Think about Peter for a moment.  He goes from faithful disciple to denial, to guilt and sorrow, to doubt, to hope, to believing witness, all in a matter of days.  His faith journey is a microcosm of that of many of us.

Luke then moves from the empty tomb to the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Most of you already know this story. It is one of the most beloved Christian Bible stories. You will notice first that the two dejected disciples do not recognize Jesus right away.  We are often like that. Jesus comes to us in many guises, but we do not often recognize him. We don't expect him and so we don't see him.

Second, Jesus tells them that they are foolish; not because they grieve his loss, or because they are slow to believe that he is risen, for they have no evidence of that at this point in the story.  But he says that they are foolish for not believing what the prophets have already declared. In other words there was already all the information they needed in the Bible to understand Jesus' fate, had they only chosen to believe it.  

Later, after Jesus was made known to them, and then removed himself from their midst, the Emmaus disciples realized the importance of what he had done in revealing the Scriptures to them. 
They said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us." Do we Christians burn with passion when we hear the Scriptures revealed?  Or do we need signs and wonders?

Perhaps we would do better by getting back to basics and learning what has lain in front of us for thousands of years: the word of God, his promises to us as laid out in the Bible. That issue is implicit in what Jesus says to these two dejected disciples. If a Christian would quench his or her thirst for faith, then each must spend time at the well. Yet most of us don't bother to read and study the Bible; yet we still wonder why our faith fails us in times of trial.

So, what exactly did Jesus do with these two of small faith?  He took them back to the basics, back to the source of truth. Listen: "Then, beginning with Moses and the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures." So too with Christians today. We need to hear the truth about Christ in the Scriptures if we have any hope of really understanding God's message to us.

Luke tells us that the identity of Jesus was finally realized by them in the breaking of the bread. "When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him."  While this scene is not as dramatic as the Last Supper in the Upper Room, it clearly has deep Eucharistic overtones and speaks directly to what can happen to Christians when we take Holy Communion together. 

What Luke does with this story is to build a bridge between the command to "remember" Jesus in the bread and the wine of the Last Supper, and the possibility for us to "see" the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread. In other words, when Christians participate with open hearts in Holy Communion we have the opportunity to witness the Risen Christ in our midst; to be witnesses to him as the Son of the Living God without our having been one of the original witnesses to his appearances.  

After Jesus leaves them, they return in excitement to Jerusalem and tell the others their extraordinary story, only to learn that the Lord had also appeared to Peter. And this beautiful little novella of faith ends on the note: "Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread."

As the larger group is discussing these things, Jesus appears among them, saying "Peace be with you."  Not surprisingly, they are startled and terrified, thinking he is a ghost.  He asks them bluntly why are they frightened and why are they doubting!  And then, with  compassion on their doubting hearts, he tells them to look at his wounds, and even to touch him.  And he reminds them that it is he himself and not a ghost. Their reaction is one of joy and yet still of doubt; of disbelief and yet of wonder. Jesus recognizes their befuddlement and does yet another remarkable thing: He asks for something to eat!  They give him a piece of fish and he eats it while they watch.

All of this detail is only in Luke's Gospel.  These things are intended as Luke's testimony to both the witness of those original followers and to us, that Jesus was real, alive and resurrected. Apparently it worked for those original followers, because he now has their attention.  

And, as with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus goes back to the basics, reminding them of what he told them before he died: that the Biblical prophecies about him had to be fulfilled.  
Then, like on the road to Emmaus, He "opened their minds" and taught them, saying: "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem."

And then he gave them the commission to do exactly that, telling them that they are witnesses to these things. In other words, their job is to testify to the truth that he is the Messiah, and to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The mandate here in Luke is slightly different than the Great Commission in Matthew. Yet it covers much of the same ground.
The point of both scenes is that Jesus appears to His followers and gives them a purpose, commissioning them to proclaim the Good News to the world! He then instructs them to remain in Jerusalem and await the anointing of the Holy Spirit which He will send to them.  Then, having completed His instructions to them, He leads them out to Bethany and blesses them.  And, while He is blessing them, He is ascends into heaven. Luke is the only Gospel writer to describe the Ascension.

And so we complete our look at the resurrection appearances in the synoptic Gospels.  While there are details that are different, there are more important similarities.  

In all of the narratives someone is present who is described in very personal language as the Risen Christ, and that person is clearly the same Jesus of Nazareth who died on the Cross.

Further, that person is never described as a vision or as a dream, as something happening internal to the witness.  Rather, the Risen Christ is always described as a being external to the witness; as an objective external reality, never as a subjective internal feeling.  

In some cases the Risen Christ is not immediately identifiable to the witnesses. The Risen Christ is more than merely human, and clearly has powers far beyond those of mere mortals.  Yet, the Risen Christ is always correctly identified as Jesus; is called "Lord;" and is worshiped. And finally, the Risen Christ always issues a commission to discipleship and mission.  And that mission is always universal in scope and clear in mission: to call people to faith.

And finally, in all of the Gospels the Risen Lord always offers a promise of hope and love to others far removed from the original disciples and witnesses. That is the very essence of the witness that his followers are to share with others, even to the ends of the earth and to the end of the age.

May God bless you all.  Monte

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Appearances of the Risen Christ: Matthew’s Gospel (Part 4 of 5)

Appearances of the Risen Christ: Matthew’s Gospel (4 of 5)

In Part 3 we discussed the fact that Mark’s original Gospel says nothing about specific resurrection appearances.  Instead, he essentially repeats the kerygma, the proclamation, of the earliest Church, as first recorded by St. Paul in First Corinthians 15: 1-11.  In Mark a proclamation of resurrection faith is stated within the empty tomb by an angel who says that Jesus is not in the tomb; that he has been raised, and is going ahead of Peter and the disciples to Galilee where they will see him. Mark wants each individual reader to make his or her own decision about who Jesus is, including that he is the one who has been raised, without the comfort of human testimony.  Mark demands that we have faith based on the word of Jesus, and that of an angel after he had risen.

Matthew's account differs greatly from Mark's. Matthew, who wrote decades after Mark, is the Gospel writer who adheres closest to Mark's story, building his entire narrative on Mark's Gospel. But Matthew expanded it greatly and added a lot of other material that Mark did not include. 

Mark wrote primarily for a gentile audience. Matthew, on the other hand, is the most "Jewish" of the Gospel writers and his small church was a Jewish sect within a Jewish world. As such, Matthew knew first hand the harsh accusations of the Jewish leadership and the condemnations of orthodox Jews against the upstart Christian sect within Judaism. The hardest accusation of all was that the resurrection was faked by the disciples.  Thus Matthew is interested in telling details of the story that Mark chose not to tell; or, perhaps, did not even know.  

In any case, Matthew reports two separate appearances by the Risen Lord, the first immediately outside of the tomb in Jerusalem and then a second appearance on the mountain in Galilee, where the disciples worship him, yet even then, “some doubt.”

It is there on that mountain in Galilee where the Risen Christ gives them what we know as "The Great Commission."  We'll come back to these two scenes in a moment, but first, let's look at something else that Matthew reports of which that Mark says nothing.

Matthew tells the story of what happened at the tomb quite differently than does Mark.  Matthew weaves into the story of the death of Jesus the undoubtedly true idea that the Jewish leaders were afraid that Jesus' followers would fake his resurrection. Thus in Matthew we learn that the Chief Priests and the Pharisees go to Pilot and tell of an alleged plot by the Christians to steal the body and to claim that Jesus was raised. Pilate, in turn, tells them to place guards at the tomb to keep that from happening and to "secure" the tomb. They do; and we are told that the guards "seal" the tomb.

This extra caution is to no avail, and Matthew describes a far more dramatic scene at the time of the resurrection than Mark reported.  Matthew tells us that the two Marys go to the tomb at dawn on Sunday - and everything goes crazy!  There is an earthquake; an angel descends from heaven and rolls away the stone and sits on it!  The guards shake in fear and then go catatonic.  And, in typical angelic fashion the angel tells the women not to be afraid! Then the angel proceeds to tell them exactly what the angel in Mark told them. And, the women do not run away in terror while telling no one, although this scene is far more terrifying than that depicted by Mark, but leave in both fear and "great joy", running to tell the disciples!

To say the least, that is different than Mark's report.  But wait! There’s more! Jesus suddenly appears before them, saying simply, "Greetings!"  Matthew tells us that they are not afraid of him having appeared to them; but rather, that they come to him; fall at his feet, worshiping him.  
He, like the angel, tells them not to be afraid, but to go tell the brothers to meet him in Galilee.  Thus, in Matthew, we see not only that Jesus will meet the disciples in Galilee, as he promised, but that he first meets the women in Jerusalem, reassuring them of the truth of what the angel had spoken.

Why does Matthew Expand on Mark and add such amazing new material? In the first place Matthew's community has entirely different stories that have been handed down within it than the stories told in Mark's community. In addition, Matthew is determined to undermine any idea that the followers of Jesus had stolen the body.

Matthew highlights God's heavenly power: the earthquake, the angel, the angelic rolling away of the sealed stone from the tomb, and the trance placed on the guards. All of these actions are to indicate that Jesus being gone from the tomb has nothing whatsoever to do with human mischief, and everything to do with God's divine intervention. And, to top it off, in case there are any who still think that the dead Jesus has been carried off; we see a very alive Jesus who is actually called "Jesus" not "Lord."  In other words Matthew makes it clear that this is the same Jesus who was dead that we now see speaking calmly to the women.  

Whatever lapses Matthew found in Mark's account which he thought would allow the claim of the Jewish leadership that the body was stolen, are completely covered here by Matthew's detailed defense of what happened. Matthew is trying to turn the tables on the accusers: arguing, in effect, that the hoax is not the resurrection, but rather the real hoax is the attempt by the Jewish leadership to cover up the resurrection!
So Matthew reports that the guards awakened from their catatonic state and went to the chief priests and told them what happened. Not content to let the truth prevail, the priests then bribed the guards with a large sum of money and told them to lie about what really happened!  Listen: "You must say, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.'"  Matthew says that the guards took the money;  and that "to this day" -- meaning when Matthew was writing his Gospel decades later -- this lie still was circulating among the Jewish leadership.  
Thus we see Matthew taking head-on the argument against the truth of the resurrection.  Matthew becomes then the first great Gospel apologist (defender) of the Good News of Christ.

Matthew ends his Gospel on a much more positive note.  The eleven remaining disciples, less Judas, go to the mountain in Galilee to which Jesus directed them. Matthew is unclear here as he never says when Jesus told them to go to a mountain, rather than just to go to Galilee. In any case they go there and see him and they worship him.  

Yet, interestingly, Matthew admits that "some doubted." This is undoubtedly reported correctly because Matthew would be very reluctant to put that in had it not been a key part of the testimony passed forward to him.

Our text implies that some of Jesus' own disciples doubted, even after seeing him, since there is no indication that anyone other than the eleven disciples was on the mountain top, although "disciples" can include many followers other than the original twelve, and we know that Jesus had a large group of followers when he entered Jerusalem. This idea was so repugnant to later redactors that some translations say that "others" doubted, implying that those who doubted were not followers. Which may be true, but the text does not support it. The harder translation to swallow, that even after seeing him some of his own disciples doubted, is more likely correct.  
Both Mark's and Matthew's Gospels are full of times when the disciples did not understand, and often doubted, both what Jesus was doing and what he said, including that he must die and be raised, so this should not shock us. 

While we might wish that all of us were of one convinced mind on all important matters of the faith, the truth is that we are not. We are all individuals and are at different places in our own faith journeys. And each of us go through personal periods of doubt.  I am comfortable with that as you know. I believe that doubt is a normal experience of faith development. But many people are not comfortable with any doubt, including their own.  You will have to make up your own minds. What is clear is that when you read differing accounts of things that happened long ago, the logical thing to do is to accept as most likely true the account that would be the hardest for the writer to accept, but could not leave out since it was part of the story as handed down.

What is far more important, however, than the question of who doubted that the Risen Lord was indeed risen was the instruction he gave them.  We now call that instruction "The Great Commission." The Great Commission is the basis for the mission of the Church, and is literally Christ's own instruction about what his disciples are to be doing with our lives. The fact that Christians often do not do what he instructs us to do can be disheartening to those of us who like to think that we all should be trying to live as Christ would have us live.  Regardless of how we respond to it, this message is clear and unequivocal.  

Jesus' last words before his ascension are:
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Christ is clear. And it is equally clear that his resurrection was for the purpose of reestablishing relationship with us, and, through Christian ministry, with all humankind. After he was risen Jesus said very little to us that is recorded in the Bible. This is by far the clearest message that the Risen Christ sends to those who call themselves Christians.

Sadly, too few lay people in the Church pay much attention to me when I tell them that the Great Commission is what we should be doing with our lives. It is, they tell me, what we hire pastors and missionaries to do.  But that is only partly true. The truth is that there is nothing any Christian can do in his or her day to day life that is more important than trying to fulfill the Great Commission.

Next we'll look at Luke's story of the resurrection appearances.  

God bless you.

2013 redaction of Appearances of the Risen Christ: Mark’s Gospel (Part 3 of 5)

Let’s start with a brief summary of where we are to date in this series. I have told you that I believe that the appearances of the Risen Lord after the resurrection are the easiest way to understand the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, we are told in the Gospel according to St. Matthew that even when the Risen Lord appeared to many of them on the mountain before he gave them the Great Commission, "some doubted."  And I believe that would be true for some if Christ bodily appeared today.

These Gospel narratives containing stories of the Resurrection Appearances are explanations of the truth of the faith proclaimed first by St. Paul and accepted by the earliest Christian communities.  They provide for us, and for all later generations of Christians, testimony that we use to help support our own belief in the truth of the resurrection. But we should be clear that no testimony by any witness from 2000 years ago is likely going to be considered "true" unless we first have faith and are willing to believe that the stories in the Bible are true.  

Some Biblical truth is clearly not intended to be universal dogma for all time.  But looking at the basic proclamation in First Corinthians 15 1-11, it is the clear intention of St. Paul that the resurrection be taken as literal truth. There are not many "essentials" of the faith but that passage certainly is, as are the two ancient creeds of the Church, the Apostle's and Nicene Creeds which rely heavily on St. Paul's testimony. Both creeds assume the literal truth of the Resurrection. So I assume that the Resurrection is true. That assumption comes from first having faith and then studying this event within the Biblical witness of the Church. This way of study is orthodox and follows in the footsteps of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, and hundreds of other theologians throughout the centuries.

Let us turn now to the Gospel according to St. Mark. Interestingly, there are no resurrection appearances in the original manuscript of Mark, the first Gospel written. The Gospel as written by the original "Mark" ends with chapter 16, verse 8, as follows:
Mark 16: 1 ‘When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2  And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3  They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" 4  When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6  But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." 8  So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’

Later writers added first a shorter ending and then a later longer ending which does have resurrection appearances. Both added endings appear in most modern Bibles, with appropriate footnotes indicating that they were not part of the original manuscript of Mark. These later writers likely did this because it is obvious that eventually the women had to have told someone or else Mark would have not been able to write about what they heard and did. Some scholars argue that the original ending of Mark was lost. Most others, including me, argue that Mark's Gospel simply ended at verse 8.

If Mark has no resurrection appearances, bothering with this Gospel in this series may seem strange.  But it is one of those cases where the "null curriculum" can tell us much about Mark's intention. In other words, what can we learn from what Mark chose NOT to write? We shall see that NOT writing about the appearances of the Risen Christ is wholly consistent with what Mark has insisted that we understand about faith in Jesus from the beginning of his Gospel.

Mark's Gospel dealing with the resurrection is little more than a repetition of the earliest kerygma, proclamation, that Jesus was raised. And thus, Mark's story ends with the empty tomb. 
The proclamation of the angel, that Jesus is not in the tomb, that he has been raised, and is going ahead of Peter and the disciples to Galilee, where they will see him, is, of course, a divine explanation of the meaning of the empty tomb.  

And, for many, that is "proof" enough. Many church leaders to this day rely on the empty tomb as sufficient "evidence" that Jesus was raised. Others, like myself, find that to be less that compelling. Obviously, for the women to whom the angel spoke it was enough to terrify them, for Mark tells us that they did not obey the angel, but rather fled from the tomb in terror and amazement, and told no one!  And, interestingly, on that strange note, Mark ends his Gospel!  

But the empty tomb "proves" nothing, other than that the body was missing. And that is why the later Gospel writers recognized the weakness of the empty tomb argument, and sought to strengthen it by including testimonial evidence of the appearances.

But Mark's original ending is not so strange when we think about it.  We need to focus on what the purpose of Mark's entire Gospel was, and how he repeatedly, urgently and consistently pushed this one purpose throughout the entire book. Mark, much more than any of the other Gospel writers, from the very beginning of his Gospel, insisted on the need for each individual person to make his or her own decision about who Jesus is.  And that decision is to be a decision of faith, not of fact.  

The very heart of the Gospel of Mark is found in the question Jesus asks the disciples, exactly in the middle of his Gospel, in the eighth chapter, "But you, who do you say that I am?"  If you recall, Peter gets it right for a brief moment, only to immediately misunderstand Jesus' statement that he must suffer and die, and, after three days, rise again.  

And, recalling Mark's Gospel as a whole, we must remember that all of the disciples desert him in his darkest hour.  The key question for US from Mark is, "Who do you say that I am?" In other words, Mark asks us, "Will you have faith without evidence?"  Or will we, as constantly pointed out by Mark, be like Jesus' own disciples, demanding signs which might help us to believe? Will we believe through faith alone, or will we insist on "proof"?  Mark's Gospel is not for the reader who demands proof in order to have faith.  

He would have us look at the information that he provides in his Gospel and decide without even the comfort of human eye witness testimony about seeing the Risen Christ. Even at the very end of his Gospel, Mark demands that we have faith based on the word of Jesus before he was crucified and that of an angel after he was raised. If you think about it, that should be enough, provided we already believe that Jesus is who he has said he is. 

Ironically, Mark’s insistence in a strong faith based strictly of Jesus’ own actions and words, inevitably laid the groundwork, via the statement of the angel in the empty tomb, for the later narratives of the other three Gospel writers, which will include specific descriptions of and by eye witnesses to the appearances of the Risen Lord. The angel did, after all say “7  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." 

Those later Gospel writers knew that faith without proof would satisfy some, but many others, would be more likely to believe if they included the stories of the appearances of the Risen Christ in their accounts. And so they tell us "what happened" after Mark's gospel ends, with the intention to quell arguments claiming that the empty tomb was an inadequate proof, and to share the stories of the eye witnesses to the Risen Christ which had been told in their communities.

And, without those later accounts of the appearances, I think that people may have had a much harder time coming to belief, to making that "leap of faith" necessary to believe that Christ was actually raised. Yes, Christianity would have arisen anyway because Paul had planted many churches with only the proclamation of faith which he lays out in First Corinthians, which includes no details at all. But we know that even within the church in Corinth there were believers who were having second thoughts, which is why Paul felt he had to write what is now Chapter 15 of his first letter.

This is why I always come back to my original contention, that the appearances of the Risen Lord after the resurrection are the easiest way to understand the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. 
Strange as some of the appearance narratives may be to our modern eyes and ears, they provide solid testimony that Christ did appear to many, and do not require what Mark insists on: what we would today call "blind faith." Even today, for many blind faith is enough; but for many others it is not. And that brings us full circle back to the essence of faith: trust in things unseen, which is the point Mark makes in his Gospel by what he does NOT say, rather than what he does say.

Mark's test of faith is not for the faint at heart. Nor was Jesus' test. His most troubling question for the believer today remains "But you; who do you say that I am?" Ultimately, with or without the aid of the stories of the Resurrection Appearances, that question lies at the heart of Christian faith. 

When we return to this series we will look at the resurrection appearances in the Gospel according to St. Matthew. 

In the meantime, I encourage each of you to contemplate the essence of your own faith.  If you were living in Mark's community and had available to you only the statements of Jesus while he was ministering among us on this earth, the proclamation of St. Paul in First Corinthians, and the statement of the angel in the empty tomb, what would you believe about the resurrection? 

May God bless each of you.