Easter Sunday (Year C)(THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD)
First Reading: Acts 10:43a, 37-43 Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4 OR 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8 Gospel Reading: John 20:1-9
“THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED – LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD.”
Today is Easter Sunday, and on this feast day we joyfully celebrate the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the greatest and the most solemn feast in the Church, for the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest of all miracles – it proves that Jesus Christ is truly God. It is the feast of joy and triumph. It is the feast of Jesus' victory over sin and death. It is the feast of Jesus freeing us from the bondage of sin and death. It is the feast of Jesus transforming us and making us a new creation – He gives us a new heart and a new life in the Holy Spirit. 'Easter' literally means 'the feast of fresh flowers,' and we celebrate it as a feast of new life with intense pride and great jubilation.
Easter is a great mystery. How do we look at the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus?
Years ago, Larry, an old municipal lamplighter, engaged in putting out his lights one by one, was met by a reporter who asked him if he ever grew tired of his work in the cold dark night. “Never am I cheerless,” said the old man, “for there is always a light ahead of me to lead me on.” “But what do you have to cheer up when you have put out the last light?” asked the news writer. “Then comes the dawn,” said Larry, the lamplighter.
A man of the world might have asked Jesus the same question. One light after another did he put out – the lamp of popular acclaim, the lamp of patriotic approval, the lamp of ecclesiastical conformity – all for the sake of God's love which burned in his heart and showed him a better way. At last even the light of his life was to flicker out on the hill called Calvary. What then? We hear his voice, “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” and then the dawn came. And that is the Lord Jesus' Resurrection.
The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the basis of our Christian faith; i.e. all the basic doctrines of Christianity are founded on the truth of it. Therefore, those who challenge Christianity challenge the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. They try to bring different false allegations against its truth and reality.
So, did Jesus really rise from the dead???
No one saw Jesus rising from the dead, so we do not have a direct proof of the key event; but from the after-experiences of the event we can offer THREE pointers to show that Jesus really rose from the dead:
The Empty Tomb:
The first pointer for the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the empty tomb. The new tomb in which Jesus was buried was found empty. It was a new tomb; hence there was no mix up of bodies. There were the Roman guards and even they bore witness to the fact of the empty tomb. Besides, when the disciples were preaching about the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, no one brought as counter evidence the body parts or remains of Jesus, or even a tomb with someone’s body.
There is a story told of a Christian missionary and a Muslim having a conversation. The Muslim wanted to impress the missionary with what he considered to be the superiority of Islam. So he said, “When we go to Mecca, we at least find a coffin, but when you Christians go to Jerusalem, you find nothing but an empty tomb.” To this the believer replied, “That is just the difference, Mohammed is dead and in his coffin. But Christ is risen and all power in heaven and on earth is given to Him! He is alive forevermore!”
In the Gospel Reading of today from St. John, we have the experience of the empty tomb as a sign of Jesus' Resurrection to life. Jesus is risen; he is not there. This first day of the week is full of emotions and commotion. On that day, early in the morning, the discovery of the empty tomb sets all in motion: Mary Magdalene runs back to tell the disciples that the Lord's body is not in the tomb. That experience may have been very disappointing, but it was also a clear message that Christ is risen as he had said. The 'disciple whom Jesus loved' and Peter ran to the tomb and, although the 'beloved disciple' got there first, out of deference he let Peter go in before him. St. John, who writes the Gospel, tells us that he also entered into the empty tomb, and “he saw and he believed.” He believed that the Lord is risen indeed.
The Words of the Women:
The second pointer is women being the first witnesses of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Despite their differences in details, all gospel narratives are agreed upon the fact that women were the first witnesses of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. As we know in the Semitic cultures, women’s words had no value, as is the case even up to this day in some cultures. So if the disciples were framing a big lie about the Resurrection of Jesus they would not say and even record that the women were the first witnesses. The Resurrection event was such an undeniable miracle that it could not be weakened by the words of the women.
In today's Gospel we have St. John telling us that it was Mary Magdalene, a woman, who was the first witness of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
The Transformation of the Disciples:
And the third pointer is the transformation of the disciples. The Resurrection of the Lord Jesus threw a totally different light on the passion and death of Jesus. It led the disciples to a very different understanding of what at first seemed tragedy, disaster and failure. The experience of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus strengthened the faith of the disciples in the Risen Jesus, and completely transformed their lives. Because of the Resurrection, the disciples, who were at first paralyzed 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. There is no doubt that their experience of the Spirit of the Risen Lord gave them that unshakable courage that they were ready even to die for this truth that they proclaimed. 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.
We have a clear example of the above in the First Reading of today from Acts of the Apostles, which is a book full of surprises. Here we see Peter, now a completely transformed man who denied Jesus during his trial and persecution, boldly, courageously and convincingly giving witness to the mystery of the Resurrection of the Lord.
Surely, we do not have a direct proof of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. But it is also true that the fact of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be anyway disproved either, and therefore it stands firm as ever. It is also important to be aware that the Resurrection is not simply the resuscitation of the body of Jesus which died on the Cross. 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. The post-resurrection texts all indicate that. He is not recognized at first by even his intimate friends; he is everywhere in his new Body.
Now, Easter is not only concerned with recalling the Resurrection of the Lord 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 calls for a radical conversion, a radical purging on our part – as Jesus’ own disciples changed. In the Second Reading of today from the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul indicates this. In the celebration of the Pasch, the Jews used to throw out all the leavened bread they had and replace it with freshly baked unleavened bread. Yeast was regarded as a corrupting agent because of the fermentation process that leavened bread undergoes. So Paul tells us that we, too, as we celebrate our Christian Passover, are to become “a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be...having only the unleavened bread of integrity and truth.” The sign that we are truly sharing in the risen life of Jesus is that our lives and our behavior undergo a constant development. We not only believe, we not only proclaim, but we do what we believe and what we proclaim.
Again, Easter Sunday highlights not only our faith in the Resurrection, but we are also called to joyfully proclaim and witness our faith in the Risen Lord among us. Proclamation and witness are the two central themes running through today's Scripture Readings. “You are witnesses to my resurrection,” we hear Jesus' challenge ring in our ears. For the true disciple of Jesus there is a close and indivisible relationship between experiencing and proclaiming which fills him/her with the joy of the Risen Master and Lord, and that he/she simply must share that joy with others. Not to share our Easter joy and what it means to us is to leave Easter only half celebrated. For the true Christian, in fact, every day is an Easter Day lived joyfully in the close company of the Risen Lord.