Today the Church celebrates the greatest day of its year, Easter, the feast of the Lord’s Resurrection.
These readings are proclaimed at Masses during the day on Easter itself.
(On Holy Saturday, the day preceding Easter, the Church will have celebrated the Easter Vigil, surely one of its most dramatic and expressive liturgical moments.)
The first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles, a source that will be very much used as the season of Easter progresses. These readings, and certainly this reading, will give us a glimpse into life in the early Christian community in Jerusalem and into the lives of the 11 surviving Apostles after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.
It is apparent that the words of Jesus, the risen Lord, were fresh in the minds of the Apostles and the other members of the community. Strong also was the wish to follow the Lord’s instructions and example.
In what today is called evangelization, the Apostles were committed to making the mercy of God in Jesus known.
Here, Peter is the spokesman for all the Apostles. Indeed, throughout Acts, Peter appears as head of the Apostles and of the community in general.
For its second reading, the Church gives us a passage from the Epistle to the Colossians. According to this epistle, Christians also have been raised to new life. Their new life is in the resurrected, living Christ. As Christ is in heaven, so the thoughts of Christians must be on heaven.
St. John’s Gospel’s Resurrection Narrative is the last reading. Mary of Magdala was at the tomb, but she found it empty. Upset, fearing that the Lord’s body had been stolen, she rushed to inform Peter. Reaching Peter, she anxiously said that the Lord’s body had been taken away.
“The disciple whom Jesus loved,” traditionally thought to have been the Apostle John, but never actually identified as such in the Gospel, and Peter then hurried to the tomb themselves. The disciple arrived first, but he waited for Peter, another indication of Peter’s status.
Peter entered the tomb, saw that it was empty, but evidently did not realize that Jesus had risen, although the Gospel does not say this. It does say that the disciple understood what had occurred.
These readings are powerful in their message. The centerpiece, of course, is the Gospel passage, highlighting the experiences of Mary Magdalene, Peter and the Beloved Disciple as they find the Lord’s tomb empty.
The Gospel is remarkably detailed. The reactions of the principal figures are understandable.
In an age so dismissive of religion, how authentic is the Church’s, and the Gospel’s, message that Jesus rose? First, was the Lord’s body stolen? It is most unlikely. Other readings say that soldiers guarded the tomb specifically to safeguard the body from being taken. A heavy stone sealed the entrance. Secondly, in John’s account, the burial cloths were neatly folded. No thief would have taken the time for such care.
Very convincing is the fact that all four Gospels, while written at different times, in different places, and by different authors, all agree that Jesus rose from the dead. Furthermore, it was the constant view among the first Christians.
In this reading, the Beloved Disciple alone understands what the empty tomb reveals. He already has been presented as a model of faith. It reminds us that faith opens our eyes.
Essential in our own coming to believe that the Lord lives is faith. It is more than accepting an intellectual proposition, however verified. It is the acknowledgment that Jesus is the Lord of life, the source of life, and the Son of God. Realizing that the Lord lives forever in all these roles is the ultimate wisdom.
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