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Mystery and memory at Easter

By David Cusworth - posted Sunday, 8 April 2012

Easter memories are many and varied. St Peter gives a very brief account to the family of the Roman centurion Cornelius: Jesus died and reappeared to his companions.

It's brief, perhaps because it is an early account and maybe also because the audience are new believers, unfamiliar with the lore of Jesus' followers. We all have to start somewhere.

St Paul, in his first letter to Corinth, adds to the list of Jesus' appearances after Easter. Jesus appears to Peter, and the 12 disciples, then to 500 people, then to James, and finally to Paul, who is perhaps the first believer who only knew Jesus in the spirit, rather than in the flesh.


Paul's Easter moment, the famous conversion on the road to Damascus, comes just before the baptism of Cornelius's family, the first Romans to receive the rite. Both are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, a book which records how the message spreads beyond the close circle of the earliest believers.

As it spreads, it becomes necessary to define the various memories of Easter, even to codify and explain them. And clearly there are some differences in the detail.

Paul refers to Jesus as the Passover lamb, sacrificed for the great Jewish feast of liberation. This resonates with the account in John's Gospel that Jesus was crucified on the day before the Passover, and so was excluded from the feast – a poignant scene of rejection and a powerful image of innocence betrayed. This theme is echoed in the Hymn to the Risen Christ, an early piece of church poetry traditionally recited on Easter Sunday morning.

All three have a different emphasis to our traditional story of Good Friday, which comes from the other Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. They appear to show Jesus eating the Passover meal and then being crucified the following day, Friday; though they may also be read as referring to the day before, depending on whose expert commentary you follow.

By contrast, John's Last Supper scene, on the night before Passover, is not of bread and wine, or of the customary roast lamb, but of washing feet – a tradition we observe on Maundy Thursday.

What all accounts agree on is that Jesus died and reappeared. Gradually the story is developed into the more detailed accounts we have today.


In fact it's a Jewish habit to add to scriptures, then to interpret the story further from those additions. The earliest Christians were Jewish, or at least used Jewish scripture to understand the events of the crucifixion and Easter, and so would have easily fallen into the same habit in writing to explain what they had seen and heard.

John says that Mary – a woman – is the first to see the open tomb on Easter morning, and the unlikely reliance on women's testimony at that time is taken as proof of the Easter story told in all four Gospels. Why would you take the risk of reporting it that way if hadn't actually happened that way?

Some take that further to say only a woman would have gone to the garden without a logical plan to roll away the stone. It's an idea that belittles men and women – suggesting that women are not logical, and that men cannot act in faith.

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About the Author

David Cusworth is a Western Australian writer.

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