April 21, 2019 • Easter Sunday
First Reading: Acts 10:34a, 37–43
Psalm: Psalm 118:1–2, 16–17, 22–23 (24)
Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4
Gospel Acclamation: cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7b-8a
Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed;
let us then feast with joy in the Lord.
Gospel: John 20:1-9
I loved Easter Sunday as a kid growing up in a small town Presbyterian church sitting up on a hill surrounded by a cemetery. We had a pipe organ and choir, and we would sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” Everyone was excited and celebrating, with an air of expectation. I envisioned the graves surrounding the church miraculously opening up and the resurrected occupants in their newly glorified bodies joining our hymn of praise and soaring now where Christ has led, following our exalted head. “O death, where is thy sting?! O grave, where is thy victory?!”
Death and grave have been defeated and conquered! They have been swallowed up by Life, Eternal Life through the resurrection of our Lord, Savior and Friend, Jesus Christ! Not surprisingly, this victory is the topic of the readings for Easter Sunday.
The First Reading records the message that the Apostle Peter brought to Cornelius, the devout God-fearing Roman centurion, and the people gathered at his house, a mostly Gentile gathering. Peter had come at their request to give them the Gospel, and God had to give Peter a miraculous vision to convince him it was okay to go with them.
Peter begins with a very brief summary of the life, ministry, death, resurrection and subsequent presence of Jesus with his disciples and followers, eating and drinking with them. He also tells of the disciples’ commissioning by Jesus as preachers and witnesses and a brief summary of the message, which is that Jesus has been appointed judge of the living and the dead, and that He is offering forgiveness to those who believe in Him. It is a masterful summary of the Gospel, in which the resurrection is the pivotal event. That is good, because the Holy Spirit immediately falls upon Cornelius and his family and friends, and the sermon time is over.
The resurrection of Jesus and His victory over sin and death are something that should be a central focal point in our lives throughout the year, not just during the Easter season. Jesus, our everlasting Lord, has become the cornerstone of our faith. He wants us to enter into a restored, everlasting relationship with Him.
Psalm 118 is a Messianic psalm; it looks forward to and celebrates the mercy and resurrection of Jesus, in which we share. The psalmist is one of the prophets that Peter spoke about in Acts 10 as pointing to Jesus.
The Apostle Paul tells us in the Second Reading, from Colossians 3, that we who believe have already been raised with Jesus, because of His resurrection, from our former way of life — a way which led to separation and death. We need to focus on what lies ahead for us in heaven and live based on that future and goal. We are on a journey to our heavenly home, the Father’s house, with a place prepared for us by none other than Jesus Himself, who will come to us and welcome us home at the end of our earthly lives. Therefore, we need to set our minds and hearts on those things. If we don’t, then we will keep our attachments to the things of this world, the familiar, and think less and less about the glorious future God has in store for us.
Thankfully, the Catholic way of life keeps pointing us to that future through references in the prayers of the liturgy, the Glorious Mysteries in the Rosary which we meditate upon on Wednesdays and Sundays and in many other prayers, hymns, songs, readings, artworks and devotions.
Finally, the Gospel reading from John 20 shows that we are not alone in our difficulties to really observe and believe the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus. Mary of Magdala thinks the authorities have taken His body away and have placed it in an unknown location. So she runs to Peter and John and reports it. They in turn run to the tomb to see for themselves. John lets Peter enter first even though he arrived first. The commentators see this act as John’s acknowledgement of the special position Jesus gave to Peter. Then John says he entered, saw and believed. But what did he believe — Mary’s report or that Jesus was resurrected? Most of the commentators I checked were silent on this verse, except Haydock, who said that John believed Mary’s report. There are three reasons that this seems likely:
- Verse 9, which John himself added by way of explanation. “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”
- Verse 10, their actions afterwards. “Then the disciples returned home.”
- Verse 19, what they were still doing later that evening. They were hiding out in fear.
I think there’s a tendency to want to see the disciples being quicker on the uptake, more faith-filled on Easter morning. But we have an advantage over them. We know how their story turned out, while they were living it.
They were flesh and blood, like us, and struggled, like us. They went on to continue and finish their marathons of faith, and we must do likewise, looking towards the finish line.
This is my first Easter without our oldest son with me in this world, but I am confident that I shall see him again in the Father’s house. He is alive because of Jesus and His mercy and resurrection.