April 24, 2011 — Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of the Lord
Can you imagine how St. Peter and St. John felt on that very first Easter Day? They heard the news St. Mary Magdalene announced to them: the stone that had been across the entrance to Jesus’ tomb had been rolled away. She had not yet seen the risen Christ, so she assumed that someone had stolen his body.
This was something they had to check out for themselves. Could somebody have snatched the body of their beloved Lord, tragically crucified and placed in the grave only a few days before? You can visualize them, can’t you, running pell-mell through the streets of Jerusalem and outside the walls to the place of burials? John, being the younger, reached the tomb first. Then he waited at the opening, because Jesus had clearly made Peter the leader of the apostles, but he bent over and peered inside. Then Peter arrived, somewhat breathless no doubt, and led the way inside.
What they saw inside the tomb must have shaken them and thrilled them simultaneously. The body of Jesus was indeed gone. But no ordinary grave robbers had taken his body. There would have been nothing there. However, the cloths used to wrap the body in accordance with Jewish custom were still lying where the body had been. Mere body snatchers would have taken the whole corpse, wrappings and all.
There was something else, too. If Jesus had only been in a coma and had regained consciousness, he would have stirred and then unwrapped his body so he could move. The strips of cloth would be there, but in a heap on the floor. Besides, how could someone who had just been crucified, even if he had survived that brutal process, ever have the strength to move the heavy stone from the grave’s entrance? These cloths were lying just as they had been wound around Jesus’ body, but there was no body inside. Only the cloth covering the face had been moved, but it was rolled up and put aside because it was no longer needed.
John, much later, recorded that “he saw and believed.” He didn’t comprehend it yet, for he went on to write that Peter and he “did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (Jn 20:9). That would come later, as Jesus taught them during his Resurrection appearances, such as the one on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:25-27) and when the apostles reviewed his teachings under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:12-13).
So what was it that John believed? He realized, seeing the empty tomb and the empty grave cloths, that Jesus had truly risen. A dead body had not been stolen; Jesus had not recovered from an unconscious state; he had not even experienced resuscitation in a natural body like Lazarus, who had come out of his tomb with the wrappings still around him.
John realized, rather, that Jesus had risen to a whole new state of being: alive, and not just an immortal spirit; instead, having a body, but one not limited like the ones we’ve experienced. Jesus has a real body – he can eat and drink and be touched; but it’s different – he can pass through locked doors and appear and disappear at will. He’s the first fruits of the resurrection, and we will have bodies like his at his Second Coming (1 Cor 15:51-53).
What difference does the Resurrection of Jesus make to us? What reaction should we have? The response to the Psalm sums it up: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” Joy and gratitude are the most appropriate responses, but they need to be given a concrete form to make a lasting difference in our lives.
In the sermon by St. Peter that we heard in the Reading from Acts, we’re told two great truths:
He commissioned us to preach to the people
and testify that he is the one appointed by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.
All who believe that Jesus is the Christ will receive forgiveness of sins. He is appointed to be the judge of all, living or dead. Those are two amazing statements.
In the Second Reading to the Colossians, St. Paul gives us advice to guide the way we live as we try to apply the truth of the Resurrection in our lives. Through Baptism, we have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection, and so, Paul writes, “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.” Think of what is above, think of heavenly life. Do not limit your thoughts to earthly concerns that will pass away.
It’s in light of this perspective that we are to live as stewards. Think of what is above when you make decisions of how you use the time, the talent, and the treasure God has entrusted to you. What will you have to report to the judge of the living and the dead?