This weekend the Church celebrates the greatest of its feasts, the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord, or Easter. It is the greatest of feasts because it rejoices in the fulfillment of human salvation, finalized and completed when the Lord Jesus rose from death to new earthly life after having been crucified.
On Holy Saturday, after dusk, the Church presents its splendid liturgy of the Easter Vigil. Quite vividly in the vigil’s readings the Church recalls the long history of God’s unfailing love for us.
For Easter itself, the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. Speaking in behalf of all the Apostles, Peter capsulizes the life and mission of Jesus. More than a biography, it is a testament of God’s love for humankind, given in Jesus, and in the Sacrifice of Jesus. It is an invitation to people to follow the Lord, a reassurance that God is with us still alive and well in Jesus, the Risen.
For the second reading, the Church offers a passage from the Epistle to the Colossians. This reading tells us, as it told its first audience, that we have been raised with Christ. We usually associate resurrection with death, in that resurrection is re-vivification after physical death. In the Pauline writings, resurrection also meant an event on earth while physical life is present. It is a resurrection over sin, voluntarily chosen by each disciple.
St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading. It is the familiar story of Mary Magdalene’s early morning visit to the tomb where Jesus had been buried after being crucified. She found the tomb empty. Immediately, she hurried to Peter and the other disciples to give them the news.
Peter and the others took her word. At once they went to the tomb and saw for themselves that it was empty. The disciple whom Jesus loved saw the tomb. He was not bewildered. Strong in faith, he knew that Jesus had risen.
The readings for this feast, as well as the feast of Easter itself, are overpowering in the richness and depth and breadth of their message. Jesus is the Savior! He lives forever!
In the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear that Peter and the Apostles were exercising a role given them earlier by Jesus, a commissioning documented in John and the other Gospels. Salvation in Jesus did not end when Jesus ascended. It lives in the Apostolic credentials, and ministry, of the Church.
Colossians, the second reading, calls us clearly and firmly to turn totally to Jesus. We must drown our sins, and in this we too rise, even now and not only after physical death. Sin is living death. If we do not repent, our sins are final. They doom us to death. Nothing good ever can come from sin, from rejecting God.
Volumes have been written about these verses from the Fourth Gospel. Two figures are very important. The first is Mary Magdalene. The second is the Beloved Disciple, assumed to have been the Apostle John, although the Gospel never identifies this disciple by name.
Common between them is their unqualified love for Jesus. Mary of Magdala is an example for us all. Her faith was unquestioning. She played with fire by paying attention to the corpse of a condemned traitor. The Romans always were looking for conspiracies, and they played for keeps. Yet, disregarding the risk, and indeed not knowing what she would find, Mary went to the tomb.
The Beloved Disciple realized what had happened.
The great early Christian figures call us to trust in the Lord relentlessly. We cannot predict or control everything. The ultimate fact is that we need Jesus. He lives. He will guide us and save us.
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