Easter Mysteries and the rarely-ever-dramatized appearance of the resurrected Jesus to Peter

Easter Mysteries and the rarely-ever-dramatized appearance of the resurrected Jesus to Peter March 21, 2016


My friend Steven D. Greydanus is going to be on the big screen tomorrow night, as one of the co-hosts of a panel discussion following a special-event screening of Easter Mysteries, a stage musical about the death and resurrection of Jesus — and to mark the occasion, Steve has written a short round-up of the year’s Jesus movies.

The list currently includes Risen, The Young Messiah and Hail, Caesar!, as well as the newly-released trailer for Ben-Hur, and Steve also notes the recent premieres of 40 Nights in Michigan and The Gospel of Mark in the UK. The round-up does not, as of this writing, include the upcoming releases of Last Days in the Desert in May or The Shack in November, though Steve says he might update his post later tonight.

I’ve written quite a bit about all of these films before — hence all the hyperlinks — but, ironically, I had not even heard about Easter Mysteries until a few days ago. One or two things that Steve says about it have me intrigued, though. For example:

Easter Mysteries, which tells the story of Jesus’ passion and resurrection from Peter’s point of view, imagines a rivalry on Peter’s part with Mary Magdalene, a picture perhaps inspired by various apocryphal gospels. . . .

Meanwhile, Easter Mysteries takes an opposite liberty: It suggests that the risen Christ could only be seen by eyes of faith and conflates the risen Jesus’ first appearance to Peter with Peter’s threefold affirmation of love and Jesus’ threefold commission to “feed my sheep,” only after which Peter is able to see the risen Lord.

This is fascinating to me, for a few reasons.

First, the resurrection appearance to Peter is one of the more mysterious bits in the New Testament. It is first mentioned by Paul, who writes in I Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared “to Cephas [the Aramaic form of Peter’s name], and then to the Twelve”. But it is ignored by Matthew, who says Jesus appeared to two women before appearing to the disciples as a group, and it is ignored by John, who says Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene by herself before appearing to the disciples.

And then there is Luke’s gospel. Luke follows Paul in omitting the appearance of Jesus to the women and in mentioning that Jesus appeared to Peter before he appeared to the Twelve — but Luke doesn’t say what happened when Jesus appeared to Peter.

Curiously, Luke does pass on a story about a resurrection appearance that is not even hinted at in the rest of the New Testament: the story of Cleopas and the other disciple who were walking on the road to Emmaus. And Luke introduces this story in a way that kind of helps him to avoid telling the story of the appearance to Peter.

Luke describes Peter visiting the empty tomb and wondering what happened; he tells the road-to-Emmaus story; and then he has Cleopas and friend run back to Jerusalem to tell the Eleven what they saw — and when they get there, the Eleven declare, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” So the appearance of Jesus to Peter happens completely offscreen, as it were, during the Emmaus story.

Offhand, I can think of only one film that has even alluded to the story of Jesus appearing to Peter by himself (though there may well be others). The 1985 miniseries A.D. Anno Domini begins with the Emmaus story, and then, when Cleopas and his friend arrive back in Jerusalem, they happen to interrupt a meeting in which Peter is telling the other disciples that the risen Jesus has appeared to him.

So if Easter Mysteries dramatizes the meeting between Jesus and Peter, then it could be fleshing out a detail in the New Testament that is usually ignored.

The other interesting detail here is that the various New Testament traditions don’t agree on who Jesus appeared to, or where, or in what order. Paul and Luke agree that Jesus appeared to Peter and then the Twelve (though Luke sneaks Cleopas and his friend somewhere in there too). But Matthew and John both have Jesus appearing to at least one woman before he appears to any of the Twelve, including Peter.

As E.P. Sanders put it in his book The Historical Figure of Jesus, when dismissing the idea that the resurrection appearances might have been a deliberate fraud on the disciples’ part: “…a calculated deception should have produced greater unanimity. Instead, there seem to have been competitors: ‘I saw him first!’ ‘No! I did.’”

So if Easter Mysteries hints at a sort of rivalry between Peter and Mary Magdalene, then it may be traceable to the conflicting reports within the canonical gospels.

In any case, as intriguing as Easter Mysteries sounds, I won’t be able to see it myself, as it is not playing in Canada. But if you happen to live near an American theatre, then you might want to check it out — not just for the musical, but also to see the panel discussion co-hosted by my friend. I’m sure it’ll be interesting.

In the meantime, a few videos are available online. Here’s a teaser:

And here’s a featurette on the musical:

You can watch more videos here and see more information about the musical here.

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