Rejoicing and exclaiming its great faith and hope for humanity, the Church today celebrates Easter, the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord.
The Church’s first celebration of the Lord’s victory over earthly death occurs in the marvelous liturgy of Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil, when most parishes receive new members into the Church. In this vigil liturgy, the symbols of fire, light and water magnificently suggest the mystery, and the promise, of the Resurrection.
The readings are read in the Mass on Easter itself. The first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. (Indeed readings from Acts will occur again and again during the Easter Season.)
Acts is very interesting, giving us insight into the life of the first Christians. Gathered in Jerusalem, around the Apostles, with Mary among them, they lived in charity, prayer and faith. The first Christians furnish examples for us. Their reverence for the Apostles, and obvious submission to the Apostles, teach us even as we live in the structure of the Church today.
Readings from Acts also tell us that we are not separated from the miracle of Jesus in the world. The Apostles link us with the Lord. Led by Peter, they preached in the name of Christ. They cured the sick in the Lord’s name. They guided the people toward God, just as Jesus had guided people toward God.
Today’s reading recalls Peter’s preaching. (Notice that Peter speaks for all the Apostles.) Scholars call this sermon “kerygmatic,” from the Greek word for message, “kerygma.” This reading, and the others, is crisp but profound in giving the fundamental points of the Gospel. Jesus, God’s messenger, also was the Savior, crucified on Calvary. He is the source of eternal life.
Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians provides the second reading. It emphasizes that Christians, by Baptism and by their faith, possess new life. They live because they are bonded with the living Christ. As Christ is in heaven, so the thoughts of Christians must be on heaven.
For its last reading, for its excited proclamation of the Resurrection, the Church presents to us a passage from John’s Gospel. It is an account of the first Easter morning. Mary of Magdala went to the tomb, but she found it empty. So she rushed to inform Peter. (Again, in this book of the New Testament quite separate from Acts, the importance of Peter is revealed.) 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 even though the Gospel never identifies him as such, and Peter hurried to the tomb. 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. The disciple, however, realized what had occurred. Implied in this is the disciple’s absolute love. It gives him perception.
These readings have lessons for all people. The first is that Jesus is Lord. He triumphed over death, the most universal of human experiences aside from birth itself, and for all living things the end of earthly life.
His earthly life has not ended, however. It endures. He lives! He lives in and through the Church.
Easter wonderfully reassures us. Because of the Church, the Lord touches us. We hear Jesus. We meet Jesus. We share in the Lord’s everlasting life.
All this is because the Apostles formed the Church, first given the strength and life of the Holy Spirit by Jesus. They guided it in their times on earth, and they provided for successors to guide it and nourish it after they died.
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