From the Last Supper to the Resurrection of the God-Man
From the Last Supper to the Resurrection of the God-Man
The question of the hour of Christ’s resurrection, which we examined in the previous chapter, is not only significant as it relates to time. All the events of the last days of Christ’s life, such as the Last Supper, the crucifixion, his entombment and resurrection, are indivisibly bound together, and they took place at very specific times. There are greatly important reasons for these times.
In the present appendix, we will examine in what way these very important events unfolded and are connected, the reasons and the times governing them, as well as their spiritual significance.
Palm Sunday, 29 March AD 33
Christ enters Jerusalem triumphantly. The crowds hail him—chiefly those who learned that he raised Lazarus the previous day—and holding palm branches, they shout, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
“All the city was moved,” writes Matthew, as they wonder, “who is this?”397 After his entrance into the city, Jesus visits the Temple of Jerusalem, where he overturns the tables of the merchants and sellers, chases them out of the Temple, and censures the chief priests, saying that they had made his Father’s house a den of thieves.
Holy Wednesday, 1 April AD 33
Christ visits the Temple in Jerusalem for the last time, where he again reprimands the scribes and Pharisees. He calls them “serpents” and a “generation of vipers,” accuses them of worshiping gold rather than God in the Temple, and lastly proclaims something shocking—all the while in the Temple—that the Temple in Jerusalem is no longer a Temple of God, but is now left desolate and to ruin: “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38).
Christ delivers the House of the Jews, namely the Temple of Jerusalem, to spiritual desolation and abandonment. In this way, as Cyril of Alexandria notes, the prophecy of Jeremiah is fulfilled: “I have forsaken mine house, I have left mine heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of my soul into the hand of her enemies.”398
As Cyril says, Jesus’ statement “behold, your house is left unto you desolate” has a double meaning: first, that “divine grace is removed from the generation of the Jews” and second, that from then on “the temple would be entirely destroyed.”399 Cyril likens the Temple to spiritual ruins.
In a second work of his, interpreting the same statement made by Jesus, he says the following: “The Temple was then defiled, the synagogue of the Christ-killing Jews, since the Savior was put to death because of them. They were then sullied by their envy of Him.”400 Cyril of Alexandria describes the Temple of Jerusalem as a spiritual ruin and a house of defilement. The Temple, as a House for the worship of God, is now something of the past. It is now simply a building; there is nothing spiritual or deserving of worship in it. The Son of God did away with that in just one word. And immediately after that word, Jesus comes out from the Temple for the last time. And when he went out, immediately after announcing the spiritual desolation of the Temple, he also prophesies of its physical destruction, saying: “Do you see all these things? Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down,”401 something which took place in AD 70, when the Roman general Titus leveled the city.
Christ abandons the Temple of Jerusalem and delivers it over to desolation and ruin, also leaving the chief priests to spiritual sterility, along with their worship practices and the Passover, which was only three days away.
The particular feast of Passover, as St John Chrysostom writes, is now an unlawful feast, since “the Jews declared war on God,” but it is also a feast that has already been abolished, an inexistent feast, since in its place a new spiritual Passover (Easter) is initiated, which Christ himself offers.402
The Son of God leaves the Temple of Jerusalem to desolation and the Jewish feast of Passover, since he is about to establish the new Passover with his sacrifice. “And not only will he establish the new Passover,” says John Chrysostom, “but will himself become the Passover.”403 For this exact reason, the following day, on Holy Thursday, he celebrated the Passover supper twenty-four hours earlier than the Jewish law calls for. Only that at this supper the sacrificial lamb, the usual Paschal lamb, was not offered, but the very Lamb of God himself. There was no need of a roasted lamb because the True Paschal Lamb was there in Person. The Son of God becomes the One offering and yet is offered. For at this Paschal supper, for the first time, he offers his Holy Gifts to the human race, the awesome sacraments, his body and blood.
Holy Thursday, 2 April AD 33
On the evening of Holy Thursday the Last Supper takes place,404 and later that same night Jesus is betrayed by Judas and is given over to the hands of the Jews. During the Last Supper, as we have mentioned, the God-Man offers himself as man’s real food. The Evangelist Luke writes:
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” And he also took the cup after the supper and said: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:19–20)
This is the first bloodless sacrifice of Christ’s body, when the bread and wine are mystically transubstantiated into his body and blood. And his bloody sacrifice follows a few hours later.
Holy Friday, 3 April AD 33 405
At “the third hour” on Friday, as the Evangelist Mark says—that is, at 9:00 in the morning—the Son of God is crucified. Three hours later, at 12:00 midday, three hours of darkness falls upon the earth. The Prophet Amos had foretold of the same event in the eighth century BC: “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day” (Amos 8:9).
At 9:00 on Friday morning, about twelve hours after the Last Supper, Christ accomplishes what he spoke of at the meal: “My blood is shed for you.” The Lamb of God is sacrificed. According to John Chrysostom, Christ “himself became both sacrifice and priest; sacrifice in the flesh, priest in the spirit.”406 His suffering on the Cross lasts for six hours and “his sacrifice in the flesh” is completed at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when the God-Man breathes his last on the Cross, stating “it is finished.” But why did Christ’s sacrifice take place at that hour?
According to Jewish tradition and history, on the eve of the Jewish Passover the sacrifice of the lambs would take place—the sacrifice of tens of thousands of lambs that were meant for the Passover meal.407 The slaughtering of the lambs, followed immediately by their cleaning and roasting, began at midday on the eve of Passover, so that the paschal meal would be ready in time after the setting of the sun. This meal was not only meant for the residents of the city but for the entire Jewish nation, for the hundreds of thousands Jews who were flocking to Jerusalem from all the parts of Judea and the Diaspora.408
According to the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who was a contemporary of Jesus, the sacrifice of the lambs began at midday on the eve of Passover, on the 14th of the month of Nisan, and lasted until the evening.409 The Jewish historian Josephus, born in AD 37, confirms this. He writes that the sacrifice of the paschal lambs began at the ninth hour, that is 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the eve of Passover.410 This means that at 3pm on Friday, while the Jews were sacrificing the first paschal lamb in the courtyard of the Temple, at that very hour the Lamb of God was being sacrificed on the Rock of Golgotha.
In the first case, the place used for sacrificing the lambs was a special altar in the courtyard of the Temple of Jerusalem. In the second case, the altar used for the slaughter of the Lamb of God was the Holy Cross. At the moment when the first sacrificial lamb died on the altar, at the same moment the Lamb of God died upon the Holy Cross. And in this way, the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled:
He has born our grief and carried our sorrows… He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter. (Isaiah 53:4-7)
On the morning of Holy Friday, between 8:00 and 9:00, when the Lamb of God was being led from the Praetorium to the place of his slaughter on Golgotha, when he was exiting the gate of Genath, it is certain that he came across the countless flocks of lambs that were also being led to the place of their sacrifice. The thousands of lambs were being led to slaughter against their will. The Lamb of God was walking to his slaughter by his own will.
Immediately after the Lamb of God was slaughtered on the Rock of Golgotha, after six hours of tormenting pain on the Cross, the God-Man’s soul—united with his divinity—descends into Hades, while his body, also being united with his divinity, remains nailed to the Cross for about another four hours. Christ remained on the Cross for about ten hours altogether (six hours alive and four hours dead according to the flesh).
Holy Friday Evening
On the evening of Holy Friday, at the time the feast of the Jewish Passover was beginning with the setting of the sun, Joseph of Arimathea was taking Jesus’ body down from the Cross and burying him in his own tomb, rather quickly, as night had already begun to fall. The God-Man’s body would remain in the tomb the entire calendar day of Saturday, from evening to evening.
The feelings that were prevalent that night of the Lord’s burial are so strikingly disparate: from the joy of the Jews who were celebrating their Passover to the sorrow of Christ’s disciples and faithful, who were mourning their Lord. Similarly disparate are the light from the darkness. At midday on the day of the Crucifixion, when it should have been light, there was a darkness that lasted three hours, while on the night of the Resurrection, when it should have been dark, within and around the tomb there was light. On the one hand, the day was darkened, and on the other, the night became light.
On the night of Holy Friday, while the Jews were partaking of their sacrificed paschal lamb joyfully and without a concern, the slaughtered and sacrificed Lamb of God was within the Holy Tomb because of them. The God-Man remained within the sepulchre for the entire first day of the Jewish Passover, and throughout this day only. He entered the tomb dead at the beginning of this feast, on Friday evening, and left risen after the end of the day, on Saturday evening.
The Jewish high priests did not want Jesus’ burial to take place after the setting of the sun, since for a burial to happen on the Passover was considered an act of extreme desecration and sacrilege. However, it was not done in time. Jesus’ burial took place after sunset, immediately after the commencement of the Jewish feast of Passover, which thus came to know utmost violation and desolation, just as the city’s temple came to know utmost desolation.
With their decision to put to death and bury the Son of God, the chief priests committed the greatest act of hubris before the face of the Creator and thus profaned the House of God as well as their feast of Passover. For this reason, God leaves them to desolation. And seeing that the Jewish Passover and the Temple of the city are given over to spiritual ruin, a few hours later the risen Christ will create a new Passover and new Temple. The new Passover will be his Resurrection, and the new Temple will be his risen body.
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken (John 2:19–22).
Holy Saturday, 4 April AD 33
On the evening of Holy Saturday, not long after the setting of the sun and when Sunday was beginning according to the calendar, Christ rises from the dead, and the tomb is flooded by the holy and uncreated light of his divinity. This is the start of the miracle of the Holy Fire.
At about the same hour—as we have already mentioned—the risen Christ appears to the Holy Virgin when she arrives at the tomb. Later that night, he also appears to Mary Magdalene. Christ appears only to women and, in this way, he honors and exalts the race of women. We have explained the reason for this in an earlier section.
The God-Man is resurrected immediately after the end of the first day of the defiled and desolate Jewish Passover, after the setting of the sun, and thereby establishes his own Passover—the new Christian Easter.
Easter Sunday, 5 April AD 33
On the Sunday of the first Christian Easter, a little before evening, the risen Christ appears to two men who are walking on the road to Emmaus. The two men do not recognize Jesus the entire time he is walking with them, but the whole time they are speaking with him “their heart was burning.” And when they arrive in Emmaus they tell him: “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent” (Luke 24:29).
And sitting down to eat together, Jesus breaks and blesses the bread. It is then that they recognize him, and he immediately becomes invisible. And as soon as he becomes invisible, at about the same hour, again in the evening, as the Evangelist John tells us, the risen Christ appears to ten of his disciples in Jerusalem, with only the Apostle Thomas missing (see John 20:19). And so on Saturday evening, almost simultaneously with his resurrection, the Son of God appears to the race of women through the Virgin Mary, and on the evening of the following day he appears to the race of men.
The evening hour is central: the Last Supper on Thursday evening, the burial on Friday evening, his resurrection and appearance to the race of women on Saturday evening, his appearance to the race of men on Sunday evening: four consecutive evenings that changed the history of mankind. And during the evening of the most important of these evenings, on Holy Saturday evening, the Unwaning Light rose. As soon as the barren Passover set, the Eternal Passover dawned. As soon as the physical sun went down, the Sun of Righteousness arose.
At nightfall on Saturday, when the residents of Jerusalem were lighting the lamps within their homes, at that same time the body of Christ shone like a lamp, the Lamp that illumines the infinity of creation. In his Homily on Holy Easter, Gregory of Nazianzus writes: “His very flesh shone like a lamp.”411
Christ arose in the twilight of Saturday evening, when the last rays of the sun were mixing with the darkness, as soon as Sunday was beginning. In that way, he fulfills his promise that he will arise on the third day. And he fulfills it hastily, without the slightest delay. The ageless and beginningless Son and Word of God, he who is not subject to time, cannot remain in the tomb longer than the time he himself appointed. He said that he would rise on the third day, and he did so as soon as that day began.
Christ’s resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and at the same time the greatest feast and joy of the Christian world. And this feast began when Christ uttered just one word to the two Marys: “Rejoice,”—that is, rejoice with me, not only my own resurrection, but chiefly your own. St Nikodemos the Hagiorite says the following:
The joy and the glory of Christ’s risen body are so immense that, in heaven this will be the greatest delight of our soul, body and all our senses. After his resurrection, Christ acquired the pinnacle of splendor; and this splendor will be our greatest joy: to see Christ, then, in his heavenly kingdom.412
Nikodemos describes the incomprehensible glory and the incomparable light of Christ’s radiant body at the hour of his resurrection. The splendor and the glory that he possesses as God spreads throughout his entire risen body. Beholding this glory, Nikodemos writes, is the greatest joy and blessedness of the soul for all those who obtain the kingdom of heaven.
The glory and the splendor of Christ’s risen body will pass in part to the new incorruptible bodies of people, which will be glorified and will shine along with Him on the day of the Final Judgment, provided they are found worthy. This is why Christ himself affirms that that day “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of his Father.”413
The glory and the radiance of Christ’s body at the hour of his resurrection was the beginning of the miracle of the Holy Fire. We have examined the history of this glory and radiance in the present book, the history of the Holy Light of Christ’s resurrection, which ever since has appeared at the tomb of the God-Man every Holy Saturday throughout the centuries.