Apr 1, 2018: Easter / The Resurrection of the Lord (ABC)

  

Introduction

Easter is the season of mystagogical catechesis, the instruction that unpacks the hidden mystery experienced in the sacraments of initiation received or renewed on Easter.  The readings of each Sunday concentrate on some aspect of this mystery.

The central theme of this Sunday is newness of life in Christ, which was not without its historical context.  It burst forth first in the resurrection of Christ and then through the preaching of the first Christians.  History is broken open by this newness in unimaginable ways.

1st Reading – Acts 10:34a, 37-43

Peter proceeded to speak and said:
“You know what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.
We are witnesses of all that he did
both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.
This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us,
the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commissioned us to preach to the people
and testify that he is the one appointed by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

This discourse from Peter is essentially an announcement about the universal scope and spread of the gospel.

Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, You know what has happened all over Judea,

Peter presumes the Gentiles he is addressing have heard the message of Christ.  The story of Jesus — from his baptism, through his ministry, to his death and resurrection — has been reported all over the land.

beginning in Galilee

Peter is boldly using the same formula used by the Sanhedrin when they accused Jesus in front of Pilate (Luke 23:5).

after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

The power of Jesus’ ministry flowed from his having been anointed by God with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21-23).

We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.

All the way from Galilee to Jerusalem.  The reference to Judea as “the country of the Jews” suggests that “the Jews” were a group other than those being addressed; that is, Peter is probably speaking to a Gentile audience.

They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.

A figurative expression for crucifixion.

This man God raised on the third day

Peter makes it clear that the resurrection is a work of God.  The fact that Jesus was raised three days after death is evidence that it is a genuine resurrection and not merely a resuscitation.

and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance,

The witnesses to the resurrection were not indiscriminate or accidental.

who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

More evidence for a true resurrection, as a ghost does not eat and drink.  The risen Christ was a genuine physical experience, encountered by several people, and not some kind of hallucination.  (It’s also worth noting that hallucinations occur on an individual basis: groups of people do not simultaneously co-hallucinate.)

He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God

Up until this time, the actions of the Apostles have been restricted to ministering and preaching to the Jews; Peter is here addressing Gentiles for the first time (Acts 1:8 and Matthew 28:18-20).

as judge of the living and the dead.

Jesus, appointed by God, is the one who fulfills the role of the eschatological arbiter, judging the living and the dead (see Daniel 7:1).  This role of Jesus is presented again in Acts 17:31.

To him all the prophets bear witness,

Peter is explaining the mystery of Jesus in terms of prophetic expectation and thus is at once both reinterpreting earlier prophetic tradition and developing new theological insight.

This does not indicate that the audience was comprised of Jews, since there were many Gentiles in Judea at this time who were interested in Jewish tradition and practice, and who would have been acquainted with the important prophetic teaching.

that everyone who believes in him

The power of the resurrection is not circumscribed by ethnic or religious origin.  It is open to all who believe in Jesus.  This is truly good news to the Gentiles!

will receive forgiveness of sins

With just a few words Peter has placed Jesus at the heart of both the prophetic and the apocalyptic traditions of Israel.

The judgment Jesus brings is one of forgiveness of sin.  He judges not to condemn, but to save and transform.

through his name.”

The name is the authority. Jesus was given full authority by the Father, and he in turn gave that authority to the apostles and their successors.

Although Jesus’ ministry had a beginning (his baptism by John), it does not seem to have an ending.  It continues through those who were commissioned to preach the gospel and to bear witness to it.  This is precisely what Peter is doing here, bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus (v. 40) and proclaiming the universality of its effects (v. 42).

2nd Reading – Colossians 3:1-4

Brothers and sisters:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.

Today’s second reading, short as it is, contains the fundamental teaching about the resurrection and the way the death and resurrection of Christ transform the lives of Christians.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,

Versus things that are on the earth; i.e., heavenly.

where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Christ rose from the dead and is now in the realm of heaven.  Taken from Psalm 110:1, the image of being seated at God’s right hand suggests a heavenly imperial throne room where God reigns supreme and Christ sits next to God in the place of honor.  One’s right side was considered the strong side, the side of goodness and favor.  Enthroned there, Christ both enjoys God’s favor and, as God’s “right hand,” bestows blessings on others and administers God’s righteousness.

Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

In our everyday work and ordinary life, we should do everything with a supernatural purpose in mind, turning our attention away from the things of this world and committing ourselves to the things of heaven.

For you have died,

In baptism, we die to sin and are raised in Christ.

“By baptism men are grafted into the paschal mystery of Christ; they die with Him and rise with Him” (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 6).

and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Having died to human life with Christ, the Christian is no longer attached to the material things of this life, but to the spiritual things of a life “in God.”

The statements about dying with Christ and being raised with Christ are in the perfect tense.  This is not a dimension of Christians’ future expectation, it is an accomplished fact.  They are indeed joined with Christ, and so joined they are already with Christ in God.  They have not left this world, but they are summoned to be attentive to the things of another world.  In fact, they live in two worlds, or to use eschatological language, they have already entered “the age to come.”

When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.

The passage ends with mention of Christ’s ultimate appearance and a promise that those joined with Christ will also appear in glory.  Here is an example of a complex eschatological view: “already, but not yet.”  Joined to Christ, Christians are already living in the final age, but this age of fulfillment is not yet complete.

Gospel – John 20:1-9

On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.

None of the gospel writers describe the actual resurrection, for it was witnessed by no one. However, they witness to the fact of the resurrection, however, by the testimony to the empty tomb and the appearances of the Risen Christ to his disciples.

It is fitting that on Easter morning we hear an account of what happened on that first Easter morning as Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.

On the first day of the week,

Sunday.  Identifying the day as the first of the week will take on significance in subsequent Christian theology — it will be likened to the dawning of a new creation, or to the eschatological time of fulfillment.

Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,

No explanation is given for Mary’s visit.  The text does not say she came to weep or to anoint the body — it simply says she came to the tomb.

while it was still dark,

Reference to darkness rather than the dawn of a new day, which would be traditional, may be the author’s way of incorporating the light/darkness symbolism.  In other words, lack of faith is a life in darkness.

and saw the stone removed from the tomb.

All the Gospel accounts are in substantial agreement concerning the time when the tomb was first found to be empty, before dawn on Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene is named also by Matthew and Mark along with companions; Luke gives no names but speaks of “women” in the plural. In this verse John seems to make it appear that Mary Magdalene was alone but this is not necessarily the case, as we will see in the next verse.

So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved,

Mark 16:7 relates that the women were told to announce the resurrection to Peter and the other disciples; John is the only gospel writer to single out the beloved disciple (which is likely an allusion to himself).

and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”

Seeing that the stone had been moved, she presumes the body of Jesus had been taken away.  She seems to have entertained no thought of his resurrection, only the removal of his body.

The fact that she says “we don’t” would make it appear that she wasn’t alone at the tomb, but was accompanied by other women.

So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.

No reason is given for John’s remaining outside the tomb; given the amazing/distressing news that he and Peter had come to investigate. It is assumed that he did not enter because Peter was the leader of the apostles and as such it was his responsibility to lead the investigation.  Note that Peter was also the one to whom Mary specifically ran to in order to report the news.

When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,

The Greek participle translated here seems to indicate that the wrappings were flattened, deflated, as if they were emptied when the body of Jesus rose and disappeared – as if it had come out of the wrappings without their being undone, passing right through them (just as he later entered the Upper Room when the doors were shut).

One can readily understand how this would amaze a witness, how unforgettable the scene would be.

and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.

This head cloth would have been tied, rolled like a triangular bandage, under the chin and over the top of the head to secure the mouth in a closed position. The first point to note is that it was not with the other wrappings, but placed to one side. The second, even more surprising thing is that, unlike the clothes, it still has a certain volume, like a container, possibly due to the stiffness given it by the ointments: this is what the Greek participle, here translated as “rolled”, seems to indicate. From these details concerning the empty tomb one deduces that Jesus’ body must have risen in a heavenly manner, that is, in a way which transcended the laws of nature. It was not only a matter of the body being reanimated as happened, for example, in the case of Lazarus, who had to be unbound before he could walk (see John 11:44).

Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.

There is a definite bias in favor of this “other disciple” — he is the only one who is said to have believed.  We learned earlier that he is beloved; here is also faith-filled.

For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

The reason for the general lack of faith of the disciples is given: they did not understand the Scriptures concerning the resurrection of Jesus.  Regardless of how Jesus might have instructed his followers while he was still with them, they were ill-equipped to comprehend his suffering and death, to say nothing of his rising from the dead.  They would need both a resurrection experience and the opening of their minds to the meaning of the Scriptures.

The choice of this reading for Easter Sunday highlights the incomprehensibility of the event.  The fact that neither Mary, probably Jesus’ closest female disciple, nor Peter, the leader of the apostles, was prepared to embrace the truth of the resurrection should caution us lest we too-glibly presume to grasp it.

The reality of the resurrection challenges us as well as sustains us.

Connections and Themes

Newness in Christ. In the Northern Hemisphere the world is coming alive.  You can see it in the trees; you can smell it in the air.  There is a freshness about to burst forth.  Newness seems to be standing on tiptoes, eager to reveal itself, ready to be born.  The life that was hidden in the darkness of winter is impatient to appear in all its glory. Nature itself seems poised to reenact the drama of death and resurrection.

On Easter Sunday the changes in nature all point to the transformation par excellence, the death and resurrection of Christ and the transformation that takes place in us as we participate in that resurrection presence.  The readings testify that if we die with Christ we will appear with him in glory; if we cast out the old yeast we will be fresh dough. When this wondrous transformation takes place, everything is new, everything is fresh.

To what newness are we called? To what must we die in order to rise transformed? What old yeast of corruption must be cast out in order that we might be fresh dough? On Easter we renew our baptismal vows.  What is it we really renounce? Ours is world of violence, or prejudice, of indifference.  Too often we harbor feelings of anger and resentment, of selfishness and disdain.  Easter proclaims that Christ has died and has risen; with him we die to all the wickedness in our lives and in our world, and we set our hearts on higher things, on sincerity and on truth.

History is broken open. Though we know well the Easter story, we never fully grasp its meaning.  The stone has been rolled back and the tomb is empty; resurrected life cannot be contained.  Like the first believers, we so often must continue to live even with our dashed hopes and our misunderstanding of God’s mysterious power. Like the first believers, we come to the tomb and expect to find death, but instead we find signs of a new life we cannot even begin to comprehend.  Like the first believers, we do not realize that history has been broken open and is now filled with the resurrected presence of Christ.

History no longer makes sense. The one who was maliciously singled out and shamefully hung on a tree was really the one set apart by God to judge the living and the dead. Who can comprehend such a paradox? But then, who goes to a tomb expecting to find life? History has been broken open, and now we really do now know what to expect!

This same resurrection power works in our own lives today. “This is the day the Lord has made… it is wonderful in our eyes!” We too hear the Easter proclamation. By it, we too are brought into the power of the resurrection.

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