EASTER SUNDAY/MASS DURING THE DAY (2020)
Acts of the Apostles 10:34a, 37-43
Psalms 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Easter Vigil Gospel Matthew 28:1-10
In John’s Gospel, unlike Matthew’s version of the resurrection from the Vigil, Mary Magdalen visits the tomb of Jesus alone, in the darkness of early morning. What would have been her purpose at that time of day? She surely could not have moved the stone alone. Did she plan on just mourning in private, or perhaps shed tears over the horrible events of the last three days? Perhaps Mary went to the tomb for the same reason that some persons visit cemeteries – she wanted to draw close to the remains of one who loved her unconditionally, and who demonstrated that love to so many others in so many ways. Whatever the reason for her visit, her plans were abandoned when she noticed that the stone had been moved. She didn’t know what the stone being removed meant, but she knew that others more important than her needed to be informed, and she ran to tell Simon Peter and the other unnamed disciple, the one Jesus “loved.” Mary’s first, and obvious, assumption was that “they have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” She could not have imagined that her Lord had been raised from the dead.
Almost as in a race, the two disciples hurriedly returned to the burial site, the younger of the two showing great deference to Peter and allowing him to enter the tomb first. By this time, day must have dawned, for the other disciple “bent down and saw the burial cloths there,” something Peter wouldn’t see until he actually entered the tomb. The unnamed disciple’s heart must have been ready to burst from joy, for the gospel tells us that after his glimpse of the burial cloths, “he saw and believed.” As the gospel writer says, he might not have understood the Scriptures or that Jesus “had to rise from the dead,” but he “believed,” in what, he was unsure, but it appears Jesus love for him during his life was enough for him to believe that something unimaginable is about to be revealed.
All we have in today’s gospel from John is an empty tomb and left behind burial cloths (because they are no longer needed). It is not much for even the best of detectives to go on, but for today’s gospel it is enough for people of faith. We know “the rest of the story,” as do all those who believe, and our readings spell it all out for us more clearly, about why Easter is the most important feast of the liturgical year. Peter is quite clear in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, that after “they put [Jesus] to death by hanging him on a tree,” He was “raised up by God on the third day and granted that he be visible.” Two weeks ago in the Lazarus story, John reminded his readers that “whoever believes in [Jesus], even if he dies, will live, and everyone who believes in me will never die.” Paul, in our second reading, reminds us that we are “raised with Christ,” and so we should seek what is “above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” We are called to die to sin, to die to selfishness, to die to all that might prevent us from recognizing the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ. Our daily deaths will one day culminate in our own death, and for us who believe, we will one day ”appear with Him in glory.”
It is said, that the late Catholic Archbishop of Hartford, John Whealon (died 1991), had undergone cancer surgery resulting in a permanent colostomy, when he wrote these very personal words in one of his last Easter messages. “I am now a member of an association of people who have been wounded by cancer. That association has as its symbol the phoenix, a bird of Egyptian mythology. The Greek poet Hesiod, who lived eight centuries before Jesus was born, wrote about this legendary bird in his poetry. When the bird felt its death was near (every 500 to 1,461 years), it would fly off to Phoenicia, build a nest of aromatic wood and set itself on fire. When the bird was consumed by the flames, a new phoenix sprang forth from the ashes. Thus, the phoenix symbolizes immortality, resurrection, and life after death. It sums up the Easter message perfectly. Jesus gave up His life, and from the grave He was raised to life again on the third day. New life rises from the ashes of death. Today we are celebrating Christ’s victory over the grave, the gift of eternal life for all who believe in Jesus. That is why the phoenix was one of the earliest symbols of the Risen Christ. The phoenix also symbolizes our daily rising to new life. Every day, like the phoenix, we rise from the ashes [remember how this Lent normally begins – with ashes] of sin and guilt and are refreshed and renewed by our living Lord and Savior with His forgivenesss, and with the assurance that He still loves us and will continue to give us the strength we need.”
Our faith, like the faith of Archbishop Whealon, causes us to go on, in spite of hardships and difficulties of all kinds. Easter gives us the opportunity to celebrate and renew our faith in the Risen Lord. This truly is the “day the Lord has made, and we should rejoice in it.” Let us sing our joyful alleluias, if not in our churches, then in our hearts. As St. John Paul II said, we are an Easter people, we are an alleluia people. Easter reminds us that we are always meant to be joy filled. One of the harshest criticisms of Catholics/Christians is that they don’t look like a people that have been redeemed, they so often look unhappy. Easter reminds us of how much we have to be happy about, for Jesus Christ is risen today, and the alleluias, missing during the Lenten season, return to remind us to be happy. Let our happiness and joy remind others of the cost of our redemption, and may that joy endure through good times and bad times, proclaiming that this, and every day, is a day the Lord has made, and so we never fail to rejoice. Alleluia. Happy Easter.