April 16, 2017 — The Resurrection of the Lord: The Mass of Easter Day
Two years ago on Easter Monday (the day after Easter), some 40,000 people gathered on St. Peter’s Square in front of the Basilica to pray with Pope Francis, and to hear another Easter message from him. The Pope said, “In Him, through our Baptism, we are risen; we have passed from death to life, from the slavery of sin to the freedom of love. This is the Good News that we are called to carry to others in every environment, animated by the Holy Spirit. Faith in the resurrection of Jesus and the hope He has brought to us is the most beautiful gift a Christian can and must offer his brothers and sisters. To one and all, therefore, do not tire of repeating: ‘Christ is Risen’.”
Then the Pope invited the crowd to repeat the phrase with him, and they all chanted under the leadership of Pope Francis “Christ is Risen” over and over. Maybe that is what we should do on this glorious Easter Sunday as that is what this day is all about. It can all be summed up in those three words: “Christ is Risen.”
Of course, all of our readings on this day of rejoicing reflect that reality. Our First Reading comes to us from the Acts of the Apostles, more commonly called just Acts. It is the fifth Book of the New Testament and comes immediately after the four Gospels. Scholars seem to agree that Acts was written by Luke and might be considered in fact a second Book of his Gospel.
Today’s passage reports a sermon given by St. Peter in which he strongly confirms and witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. Peter, like the other apostles, always concentrated on the resurrection as the key to everything else, the real Good News. Naturally that is why we hear this reading on Easter Sunday. Peter says, for example, “This man God raised on the third day and granted that He be visible, not to all people, but to us, the witnesses chosen in advance, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.” We, too, are called to be witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection and our hope. That is part of what stewardship is all about.
Our Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians is another witness to the Lord’s Resurrection. This is a very short reading (only four verses), but it is filled with the same assurances and hope found in Peter’s brief sermon in Acts. Paul states, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” This also affirms why we celebrate so much on Easter. Christ being raised from the dead is the sign to us that we do have hope.
As Paul indicates, we were raised with Christ; therefore, we should act as He did after He was resurrected. He left the tomb; so should we. He spent His time ministering to His disciples. We, too, need to live our lives serving others. Jesus looked forward to heaven, and so should we, recognizing that our citizenship is in heaven. As Paul reminds us, “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”
Our Gospel on this Easter Sunday is drawn from the Book of John. It is John’s perspective of what happened on Easter morning. He reports that Mary of Magdala “came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark.” Other Gospel writers report that she was not alone but accompanied by other women. The point nonetheless is that she rushes back to inform Peter and John of what she has seen. Since John is the author of this, he humbly refers to himself as “the other apostle.”
Then, he, being younger than Peter we suspect, outruns Peter to the tomb and gets there first. It is at this point that we must point out some of the subtleties of this reading. It says that John, arriving first, stooped down and “saw.” The Greek word translated as “saw” is blepo meaning “to clearly see.” When Peter arrives, he saw, but the Greek work translated as that “saw” is theoreo meaning to contemplate and observe. They both grasp that there is more here than merely an empty tomb. The fact that the grave clothes were neat and orderly would indicate that this was not a grave robbery, that something absolutely amazing had happened here.
Now John saw but did not enter the tomb. Then Peter saw after entering the tomb. And finally John entered the tomb and “saw” again. It says, he “saw and believed.” Another Greek word was used for this third “saw.” It is eido, which means to “understand and perceive the significance of.” These men are witnesses of the resurrection. We are witnesses of the resurrection and just as they share their experience and their belief and their faith with others, we are called to do the same. Christ is Risen. Let us rejoice!