The Case Of The Empty Tomb

My good friend Joe Heschmeyer will soon be abandoning the United States in order to complete his final seminary studies at the North American College (NAC) in Rome.  Given the recent World Cup defeat of the England at the hands of the Italians, I take this as an extremely personal betrayal.

Fortunately for Joe, I’ve decided to forgive him and post the talk he gave recently on the subject of the Resurrection:

If you’d like to see the rest of the presentation and read his notes, they’re available here.

“They did not kill him”

One of the major points of divergence between Islam and Christianity is that, in addition to denying Jesus’ divinity, Islam asserts that Jesus did not die on the cross. We find this assertion in Surah 4 of the Qur’an:

Just in case you don’t read Arabic(!), here is the English translation:

[They said] “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah”… [But] they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them… Rather, Allah raised him to Himself – Surah 4:157-158, Sahih International

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You Only Live Once (YOLO)

(In case you’re not up-to-date with how the kids speak today, you can learn about YOLO here)

The Sadducees

I’ve been leading a Bible study group through the book of Acts. Last night the question of the Sadducees came up…

Who were these guys?

Well, at the time of Jesus, within Judaism there were a number of different sects. These were groups of Jews who had their own particular beliefs and practices. We encounter some of these different groups in the New Testament.

The main groups at the time of Christ were as follows:

1. The Pharisees
We encounter the Pharisee party regularly in Scripture. Their focus was upon holiness and the study of the Old Testament. I’ll do a post on them in the next few weeks.

2. The Zealots
These were the political revolutionaries. They wanted a military revolution and the expulsion of the Romans from Israel.

3. The Essenes
Until fairly recently we knew little about this group. We know that they had many practices which we typically associate with monasticism: asceticism, poverty and abstinence. We also know that the Essenes practised ritual bathing. It is believed by many that the Essenes produced the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Finally we come to the group in question, the Sadducees:

4. The Sadducees
The Sadducees were a wealthy group, fairly small in number, who mostly lived in Jerusalem and were closely associated with the Temple.

They were the aristocrats, holding positions of  influence, particularly in the Jewish Council (“Sanhedrin”). Because they held power, they were more accommodating and accepting of the occupying Roman force since the Romans provided stability to the status quo.

While the Pharisees gave authority to oral tradition, the Sadducees did not. Not only that, but the Sadducees ultimately restricted themselves to the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers). It appears that they also had some kind of denial of angels (Acts 23:8). Finally, they also denied the afterlife and the resurrection (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18-27; Acts 23:8).

The Sadducee party was effectively destroyed in AD 70 when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Romans. Many were slaughtered. Without the Temple or the political support of Rome, the Sadducees effectively ceased to exist.

Catholic Cremation?

In the JP2 Group last week the question of cremation came up so I thought I’d write a quick post about it here.

Body Bad, Spirit Good?

Prior to the birth of Christianity, cremation was common. This stemmed in large part from the way Pagans viewed the body and soul. They did not believe in the resurrection of the body. In fact, they had a pretty dim view of the body and cremation was sometimes seen as a way of releasing the soul trapped inside the body.

The Gnostic groups which competed with Christianity in the early centuries held to a similar dualistic beliefs. They viewed the spirit as something good, but the body as something evil.

Image and Likeness

Christianity, on the other hand, stood in stark contrast to this worldview, affirming the goodness of the body:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over…all the creatures…” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:26-27

St. Paul also spoke about the body in exalted terms, describing it as a temple:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
– 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Because of this, Christians afforded great respect to the body, both life and in death. We find this in the witness of the Early Church (AD 155) after the death of Polycarp:

[T]he centurion…declared [Polycarp’s] body property of the state and, according to their custom, burnt it. Afterwards, we collected Polycarp’s bones, being more precious than the most exquisite jewels and more purified than gold, we interred them in a fitting place. There the Lord will permit us…to assemble in rapturous joy and celebrate his martyrdom – his birthday – both in order to commemorate the heroes that have gone before, and to train the heroes yet to come… – Martyrdom of Polycarp, Chapter 18

The most important issue here though is that Christians proclaimed the resurrection from the dead:

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power…
– 1 Corinthians 15:42

Therefore, because of their belief in the sanctity of the body, as well as to affirm the resurrection of the body, Christians have historically not cremated their deceased. It is not that God would unable to resurrect a cremated body – He can do anything – it is that Christians simply wish to respect something made in God’s image and to affirm the resurrection from the dead. It is for these reasons that cremation has traditionally not been an option for Catholics.

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Sunday Lectionary: A Father who keeps His Promises

Third Sunday of Easter: 22nd April, 2012

Happy Easter! Yes, it’s still Easter! This week we celebrate the third Sunday of the Easter season as we continue on the road towards Pentecost.

For our Gospel Reading we hear another resurrection account, this week from St. Luke. In it, the Lord appears to His disciples and demonstrates to them that He has risen bodily from the dead. He then “opens their minds” to see how all that had come to pass was the will of the Father, His plan and His promise from the beginning.

In our Responsorial Psalm, David speaks of a God who comes to the rescue, bestowing light and peace to those in trouble. God’s rescuing love finds its fullest expression, of course, in the coming of Jesus Christ and in our First Reading we hear St. Peter proclaim this Good News to the crowd. Peter explains that through Christ’s saving sacrifice can be saved and in our Second Reading St. John reflects upon this and upon our call to respond in obedience to this great love of God.

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