ON THE THIRD DAY
The Creed says, “he suffered death and was buried and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” When Melanie asked me to contribute to her series of reflections, she offered me a list of phrases and I immediately jumped on this one, because of something I noticed a few weeks ago. I was reading the Gospel of John, and I came upon this passage (John 2:1):*
On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee‚
and this time, for no particular reason, that phrase, “On the third day,” kind of jumped out at me. “On the third day” from what? John is not Luke; he’s writing much later, and after long reflection, and he’s not so concerned with placing every detail in its proper time. I looked at the end of Chapter 1, which was no help; Jesus had just called some of his disciples, woohoo, but there was no obvious reason to emphasize the three days between the one and the other.
So why did John, in this particular case, choose to tell us that three days had passed? There are two other places in Scripture (that I could find, anyway) that tell us what happened on the Third Day: Genesis, and the descriptions of Easter Sunday. How might these three events be related?
In Genesis 1:11-13 we read,
And God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.
On the third day of creation, life, natural life, first appeared on the Earth. And each living thing lived according to its own nature. Later, God would bring forth the beasts of the field, and then the man and the woman, but here’s where it began.
And then, of course, the man and the woman did what they did, and we as a people learned the hard way that while the natural order is good, very good, it is insufficient to raise us back up to God. We need significant help.
So then, in John 2 we read about the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus turns the water into wine. And what vessels does he use? John 2:6 says,
“six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification‚”
Six jars used to store water, to be used for purification according to the Torah: a natural washing, commanded by God, but still a natural act that washes the outside and not the inside, where the trouble is. The whole long history of the Children of Israel can be seen as an argument that man’s natural efforts are insufficient.
And Jesus has the servants fill the vessels with water‚ and the water becomes wine. There is grace present here, and a foreshadowing of the greater transformation to come, in which wine becomes the very blood of Christ, in which oceans of grace are poured into his people at every mass.
And then comes Good Friday, and on the third day the Resurrection, in which for the first time a human being, Jesus, very man and very god, is raised with a glorified, heavenly body. Our natural human life has been changed, and filled with the grace it needs to reach its right true end in the Father.
Natural life first appeared on Earth on the Third Day; and the supernatural life of grace likewise appeared on Earth on the Third Day; and thus we can all be washed clean, not just outside but inside. Glory to God!
* All scripture quotations are from the RSV-CE.
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “on the third day”?
Will Duquette is a software engineer by day, and a Lay Dominican by night…well, and by day, too. He’s also the husband of Jane and the father of four kids, and he writes because he can’t help it. He blogs at The View from the Foothills about whatever takes his fancy.
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.