23 March 2008, Easter Sunday

Acts 10:34a, 36-43; Col 3:1-4(or 1 Cor 5):6b-8; John 20:1-18 (or Luke 24:13-35)

OUR EASTER CELEBRATIONS form the heart of our Christian living. Our faith is deeply rooted and finds its real meaning in the resurrection of Jesus. St Paul says that, if Christ is not raised, then all our believing is in vain. Those Christians who depict the cross without the body of Christ on it are making a very important point. The cross was the high point of Jesus’ gift of himself to the father for our sakes but he is no longer there and it was his entry into glory with the Father which gives the Cross its validity. Otherwise it was a journey into nothingness.

Because of the resurrection, the disciples, who were at first paralysed with fear of being arrested as accomplices of Jesus, suddenly made a complete turnaround and began boldly to proclaim that Jesus, who died on the Cross, was alive and with them. And when, in fact, they were arrested, persecuted and imprisoned, it became a cause of rejoicing that they were now even more closely related to the life experience of their Lord, sharing in his sufferings that they might share in his glory. Easter, however, is not only concerned with recalling the resurrection of Jesus or its impact on the first disciples but also with the meaning of this event for our own lives and for our faith. The celebration of Easter is a call for us to change – and perhaps change radically – as Jesus’ own disciples changed.

The theme of today’s Mass includes both proclamation and witness. In the First Reading we see Peter speaking after the baptism of Cornelius and his family, the first Gentile Christians. He is speaking about his own experience and sharing that experience with the listening crowds. For the true disciple of Jesus there is a close and indivisible relationship between experiencing and proclaiming. Because of his experience, his experience of knowing with utter conviction that Jesus, who died on the Cross, is now alive, he is so filled with the joy of it that he simply must share that joy with others – so that it can be theirs, too.

We find a similar theme in both of the Second Readings and the Gospel. Paul was a dedicated Pharisee and a man of integrity. He persecuted Christians because he saw in them a dangerous deviation from the Jewish Law and Jewish traditions. Then he, too, had that sudden experience when the Risen Jesus revealed himself to Paul, as he was on his way to Damascus to bring the Christians into line. That experience, as we know, brought about a total change in Paul’s life. It gave him a totally new vision of things and especially of the meaning of Jesus’ life and message, to know, love and follow Jesus his Lord.

In the Gospel we have the experience of the empty tomb as the sign of Jesus’ resurrection to life. Mary Magdalene saw the stone rolled back and she went running to the disciples. The “disciple whom Jesus loved” went with Peter. They ran to the tomb and, although the “beloved disciple” got there first, but he let Peter go in before him. They saw, they understood and they believed. Up to that moment, the Gospel says, “they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture that he must rise from the dead”. The disciples on the way to Emmaus will also hear that, for those who can see and understand, the positive meaning of the sufferings of Jesus can be found in the Old Testament. No one SAW the resurrection because there was nothing to SEE. The crucifixion is a historical event; the resurrection is a faith event. The Risen Jesus enters a completely new way of living. They cannot explain what resurrection is. Hence they tell us about the empty tomb, apparitions etc.The post-Resurrection texts all indicate that; he is not recognised at first by even his intimate friends, he is everywhere that his disciples happen to be and his new Body, the means of his being visibly present among us, is the community of his disciples.

In today’s Gospel we read, Peter and the “beloved disciple” went back to their companions to tell them of their discovery. But Mary Magdalene stayed behind. She was distraught. Her beloved Master was not only dead, his body was now missing. In the tomb she saw two angels, who asked her why she was crying. At that very moment she turned and saw Jesus but did not recognise him. He looked just like an ordinary person, any person. In this case, Mary thought he was the gardener and wondered if he is the one who has taken away the body of Jesus. When Jesus calls her name, “Mary”, she immediately knows who he is. Mary then begins to cling passionately to Jesus, not wanting to let him go. But Jesus says she has more to do. She has to be the messenger. And so Mary runs back to the disciples proclaiming her personal experience: “I have seen the Lord.” It is a woman, a sinful woman, who is given this unique privilege of being the first to proclaim the Risen Jesus.

The celebration of Easter reminds us that we have the same mission as Peter and Mary Magdalene and the other disciples of Jesus. The Easter calls for a radical conversion, a total change of the person. Secondly, our Easter is a celebration of joy and we have to spread the joy to all. We are to be his messengers. For the true Christian, in fact, every day is an Easter Day lived joyfully in the close company of the Risen Lord. Peter and the Apostles proclaim what they have seen. “We have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead,” he says. This what we, too, do every time we take part in the Eucharist – to eat and drink with the Risen Jesus? “He has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to tell them that God has appointed Jesus to judge everyone, alive or dead, that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.” There we have our mission.

Putting it in language that may be more easily understood today, Peter is saying that Jesus and the way of life he proposes is the yardstick by which people are to measure themselves and not just as Christians but as human beings. To attach oneself totally to the Way of Jesus, a way of Truth and Life is to bring about a deep reconciliation with God and with all our brothers and sisters. It is to bring freedom, justice and peace into our world and prepare us for the day when we all become one in our Creator God, the Father of Truth and Compassionate Love.

We wish all our readers a happy Easter!


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