The Church celebrates the Easter Vigil late in the evening on Holy Saturday. These readings are those read during Masses on Easter Sunday itself.
For its first reading on this extraordinary feast of Christian faith, the Church presents us with a passage from the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is in effect a continuation of St. Luke’s Gospel. Scholars say that this Gospel and Acts were the work of the same author. Beginning with the Ascension, Acts reports what life was like for the infant community of Christians in Jerusalem, and then it recalls the initial spread of Christianity.
Important in the early chapters of Acts is a series of sermons delivered by Peter. Always, Peter spoke for the community and especially for the surviving Apostles. In this sermon, Peter briefly gives a synopsis of the life of Jesus. Sent by God, Jesus was crucified, the victim of human scheming. He rose after death. He commissioned the Apostles to continue the work of reconciling God and humanity. The Apostles learned from Jesus.
The Epistle to the Colossians, the second reading, places Christ at God’s right hand. It says that Christians already have “been raised” because they have taken Christ into their hearts. Having given themselves to Jesus, they have died to earthly things and rejected earthly ideas. In the process, they have been drawn into the eternal life of the Risen Lord.
St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading. It goes into some detail about the Resurrection and its aftermath. The first figure mentioned in the story is Mary Magdalene. She was a beloved figure in early Christianity, because she was so intensely a follower of Jesus. Indeed, according to John’s Gospel, she stood beneath the cross of Calvary rather than abandon the dying Lord. It was risky. She might have been construed to be an accomplice in treason against the Roman Empire. Yet, despite the danger — and the Romans were unforgiving — she remained.
She went to the tomb before daybreak. Finding it empty, she hurried to Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. (Tradition long has assumed this disciple to be John, although this disciple is never identified by name in this Gospel.)
Peter and the disciple then rushed to the tomb themselves. It was overwhelming for them. Grasping what exactly had happened at the tomb was not easy. Love and faith made the process easier. The beloved disciple saw that the tomb was empty, and moreover, he believed that Jesus had risen.
The Church excitedly tells us that the Lord lives. He rose from the dead. It is a proclamation of the greatest and central belief of the Church, namely that Jesus, the Son of God, overcame even death.
More than simply affirming once again the Church’s trust in the resurrection, actual and physical, of Christ, these readings call upon us to respond. Such was the message in Colossians, the second reading. Such is the important lesson in the references to Mary Magdalene, Peter, the disciple whom Jesus loved and the apostles in Jerusalem. They had faith. They believed. So must we.
First, we must be open to God ourselves. Limited and bruised by sin, we must be healed and strengthened to receive the grace of faith. Hopefully, Lenten penances these past weeks have refreshed and uplifted us and made free to receive, and long for, God.
In the meantime, the Church shares with us the testimony of Peter and the Apostles, who were not just bystanders as the mission of Jesus occurred, but the Lord’s especially commissioned agents, students and empowered representatives, to tell us about our own salvation. Their testimony, so guarded by the Church, is our avenue to knowing and meeting the risen Christ.
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