April 1, 2018 — Easter Sunday/The Resurrection of the Lord (the Mass of Easter Day)
Today is Easter, the greatest feast in our Catholic calendar. On this Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. For Catholics, Easter Sunday comes at the end of 40 days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving known as Lent. Through spiritual struggle and self-denial, we have prepared ourselves to die spiritually with Christ on Good Friday, the day of His Crucifixion, so that we can rise again with Him in new life on Easter.
Last night was our Easter Vigil, called by our US Bishops the “Mother of All Vigils.” Today, then, is the greatest of all Sundays, and Easter Time is the most important of all liturgical times. Easter culminates with Christ’s Ascension to the Father and sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. There are 50 days of Easter from today to Pentecost. It should be characterized, above all, by the joy of glorified life and the victory over death, expressed most fully in the great resounding cry of Christians: Alleluia! All faith flows from faith in the resurrection.
It is most appropriate on this Day of Resurrection that the First Reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles and recounts part of a sermon made by St. Peter. Hippolytus of Rome, a Third Century theologian, gave Peter the title of “Apostle of Apostles.” We recognize Peter as the first Pope. Peter was one of the first Apostles and was present and witnessed events with Jesus, including the Transfiguration. Not only did he play a role on this Easter Sunday (as recounted in today’s Gospel), but he initially was the foremost evangelist revealing to people the divinity and resurrection of Jesus.
Peter opens his sermon today by saying, “You know what happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John (the Baptist) preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.” Peter no doubt gave this sermon scores of times to untold numbers of people. It is important coming from Peter because he was a personal witness to Jesus’ ministry and especially His Resurrection. In today’s reading Peter also says, “This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible…to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance.” Personal and firsthand witness is the most powerful way to evangelize. Each of us is called to evangelize through our Baptism and by how we live our lives.
The personal witness of St. Peter is followed by St. Paul’s advice as to what we need to do with our lives, as indicated in the Second Reading from Colossians. Paul is telling us that we, too, were raised with Christ and we need to behave as Christ did after He was resurrected. The first thing Jesus did was leave the tomb. We, too, need to leave the tomb; resurrection means we are not destined to live in a tomb. Jesus ministered, especially to His disciples. Stewardship calls us to live our lives with and to serve others. One of the important pillars of stewardship is indeed service.
Jesus used His God-given power and strength to continue to accomplish things. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can do the same. Today reminds us that as Catholics and Christians we are enabled, not just for eternity, but to do things right now and right here.
Our Gospel last week was the powerful reading of the Passion of Christ. Although the Gospel this week is not as long or as comprehensive, it is equally powerful, especially for what it means to us as Christians. It is the retelling of the Resurrection of Christ and the finding of the empty tomb. St. John’s perspective is important to us for he is most likely the “other disciple” in today’s Gospel Reading. As was the case with the Passion, there is so much in this reading on which we might focus.
Having indicated that nonetheless, it might be of value to concentrate on a couple things. We may not always find humor in the Word, but it is there. For example, John is humble enough not to mention he is the other disciple, but at the same time he is competitive enough to make it clear that he outran Peter. Yet when it came to entering the tomb, he was hesitant and waited for Peter to enter first. The combination of these two decisions tells us a lot about both Peter and John. Throughout Holy Scripture St. Peter is somewhat spontaneous and often acts and thinks before thinking. St. John, on the other hand tends to stop and think; this may have been one of those occasions. Many Apostles were not convinced of the resurrection until they experienced Jesus in reality. John saw and believed. The word translated as “saw” is the Greek word eiden. That means much more than “saw.” It means “to understand and to perceive the significance of something.” Do we share John’s understanding and belief? We should; this is Easter.