24Apr Easter Sunday

Theme

When Christ broke the death-barrier on the first Easter morning, he did so as our Saviour, for all of us. He opens up the gateway and prepares for us a highway to the loving presence of God. So we often proclaim, “Dying, he destroyed our death; by rising he restored our life.” This Easter message is at the very centre of our Christian faith. Today’s Scriptures offer an experiential account of this new life, from the lived experience of Peter, Paul and the Beloved Disciple.

Readings

Acts 10:34, 37-43. Peter claims that he and the other apostles are witnesses to the resurection because they have experienced their risen Lord, now alive again and a source of saving life for all.

Col 3:1-4. Christ is now in glory; we share in his risen state. This will be manifest when Christ comes again.

Jn 20:1-9. The empty tomb becomes a sign of the resurrection of Jesus. In faith, the Beloved Disciple knows that Christ is alive.

Bidding Prayers:

– that our sharing in this Easter Mass may give us spiritual joy, and a desire to live as followers of Christ, our living Saviour.

– that like the beloved disciple, we may find the empty tomb to be a sure sign of God’s hand at work in our world, to save and to restore all things.

– that whatever illness or sorrows may burden any of our neighbours or fellow-worshippers may be eased by the gracious mercy of our life-giving God.

– that we may go out from this Easter Mass strengthened to live a recognisably Christian life, renewed in our sense of being God’s beloved children.

The Cymbals Clash (Joseph Cassidy)

I don’t know whether you have ever been at a live performance of a really big orchestra. If you have, there is always a lad at the back with a pair of cymbals. As the music reaches a crescendo, he clashes the cymbals. Well, the cymbals are dashing today because this is the climax of the Christian year. This is such a climactic feast that its reverberations will be felt in the Church from now until Pentecost. The Church celebrates Easter, not just for today but for fifty days, over a period that’s called “The Great Sunday.” Why all the noise? What does the Resurrection mean?

Firstly, it means that this person, this extraordinary person Jesus of Nazareth, who was nailed into timber, hammered into the ground, buried under stone, put death completely into reverse and rose to new life. Death is so prevalent, in our experience so final and irreversible, that it really takes beating. He beat it.

Secondly, it means that the Resurrection is not just a historical fact, it’s a continuing experience. We do not say “Christ rose;” we say “Christ is risen.” He is risen now. “Where two or three are gathered in my name . . .” He is present in his spirit – in his word, in the Mass, in Holy Communion, in the Sacraments, in other people. He’s here as our inspiration, our Saviour and Lord.

Thirdly, it means that the Resurrection is ours. It’s not just a personal achievement on Our Lord’s part. It’s a public company in which we all have shares. And according to himseLf, the cost of a share, the price of a share, is faith. Not uninformed swallowing of everything, but a basic if sometimes faltering faith in him. “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live” (Jn 11:25).

Fourthly, it means that life is not a dead-end. It’s not a cul-de-sac. We’ve all met situations in life, indeed in our own community, where people died young, in an accident perhaps or from an unforgiving disease. Life can be so uneven, and death is so indiscriminate, that we need something to balance the scales. That something is the Resurrection. You need it to round things off. It’s the one thing that rounds off our jagged existence. And God “will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain. The world of the past has gone” (Apoc 2 1:4).

And fifthly, Resurrection means that we should be improving things now. Resurrection cannot be for the sacristy. It has to be for society. Every Easter is an invitation to build a better community a more just society a risen world. An Easter people can never be complacent in the face of poverty, injustice and starvation.

Finally, one thing I hope is that the Resurrection will be recognisable in its familiarity that we’ll welcome it not because it’s new and different but because it’s something we’ve already begun to know. So I want to end with a short poem that’s called “Resurrection,” written by a Czechoslovakian poet, Vladimir Holan. It celebrates the ordinary things in life, and their continuation in the life to come. It celebrates in particular the central role of mothers. It goes like this:

Is it true that after this life of ours we shall one day be awakened by a terrifying clamour of trumpets? Forgive me, God, but I console myself that the beginning and resurrection of all of us dead will simply be announced by the crowing of the cock.

After that we’ll remain lying down a while… The first to get up will be Mother. . . We’ll hear her quietly laying the fire, quietly putting the kettle on the stove and cosily taking the teapot out of the cupboard. We’ll be home once more.

Share in his Joy (John Walsh)

During the past week we have been recalling the last hours on earth of Jesus Christ, our beloved Redeemer. We have followed his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, his condemnation by Pontius Pilate, his crucifixion, the placing of his body in the tomb. And the feeling uppermost in our minds was one of compassion, the ability and willingness to suffer with a person who suffers, something which is the mark of a love that is truly sincere.

But the ability to rejoice with one who rejoices is even a greater sign of love. For, in certain ways, it is easier to have compassion for those weighed down by affliction and sorrows, that to enter honestly and wholeheartedly into the joy of another, to be glad because he / she is glad. So, our prayer during this Easter Mass should be to ask for the grace to be intensely glad, to rejoice in the great glory and joy of Christ Jesus, our Lord, on this blessed day. And not only must we ask for this grace, we must keep on asking, for the joy we are seeking is not something we can arouse in ourselves through our own efforts. It is something which must come from the bounty of God – a pure gift, which will enable us to be intensely glad, and to rejoice at the resurrection of our Lord, at the happiness that he is now experiencing.

Today’s liturgy is full of this joy, the joy of a new life. For Christ is alive, and we should never allow anything to fill our hearts with so much grief, that we forget that Christ has conquered death. Whether the day is calm or stormy, whether I am in good health or bad, whatever comes my way, nothing can alter the fact that Christ has left the tomb, that he is present, even now, in all those who have faith in his word. If I can really grasp the significance of the resurrection of Christ, then I shall always be happy. “All I want,” said St Paul, “is to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection” (Phil 3:10). Christianity, then, is compounded of far-reaching hope, and of a deep joy, that is not simply a concession to weak human nature, but a privilege and a duty. For a sad Christian is really not an authentic Christian, but a sorry one indeed.

Is it possible for us also to experience the risen Christ in any kind of sensible way. We should remember that Christ when alive had said, “Destroy this temple (meaning his body), and in three days I will raise it up.” In so saying he was promising a sign, but one which was to be a secret sign, for, though many saw the risen Christ, no one witnessed the actual resurrection. It was to be received by many, but on faith alone. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe,” Jesus said to the doubting Thomas. But he had also said much earlier, “Those who have my commandments and keep them, are those who love me, and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them” (Jn 14:21).

A Life Before Death (Liam Swords)

One of the features that characterises the last decades of this century is the extraordinary proliferation of grafitti, particularly in urban areas. If you travel by train through the suburbia of any modern city, you cannot fail to notice how the railway sidings on both sides of the tracks are crammed with grafitti. What motivates those anonymous artists to ply their lonely trade, often in almost inaccessible places and always in unsociable hours? Is it the cry of the dispossessed, one of the faceless masses in densely populated cities seeking recognition? More recently, these grafitti and their artists have taken some tentative steps towards entering the mainstream of modem art. They are emerging from the underground to mount photographic exhibitions of their work. Like modern art they too seem to have gone from the representational to the abstract.

In the Shankill area of Belfast there is a graffiti which makes no pretence to art. It reads: “Is there a life before death?” It is a bleak reminder of the brutal precariousness of life of those who live in war-torn communities. Their existence is a daily passion, struggling to survive under the constant shadow of death. They huddle in fear in bomb-scarred tenements in Sarajevo, like the frightened disciples in the upper room, keeping what seems to them an endless vigil. And on this Easter morning, the Christians among them venture out, braving snipers” bullets and exploding shells, to celebrate the risen Lord, in bombed-out churches. Those like them who have experienced the crucifixion, have a heightened hope in the resurrection. “Dying, he destroyed our death, rising he restored our life” is more than a pious Easter jingle for them. Those who live so close to death have greater cause to hope for life.

Women bear the brunt of war, nursing the wounded, sheltering the old and the young, foraging for food and fuel and water to stave off death and starvation. And when their best efforts fail, it falls to them to bury and mourn the dead. It is no surprise that it was women who kept vigil with the dying Christ. Nor that it was a woman, Mary of Magdala, who first experienced the risen Lord. Those who bear the first stirrings of human life were destined to bear the first tidings of eternal life. The empty tomb was where Christ became “the first-born from the dead.” He broke the death-barrier not only for himself but also for us. Following fast on Mary’s discovery, Peter and John rushed back to the tomb where they “saw and believed.” “Till this moment,” the gospel tells us, “they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” From that moment, a community of belief began, of which we are its latest members. We are the heirs to eternal life.

“Is there a life before death?” the despairing may well ask. St Paul gave the answer to the Colossians, which he gives us today:

Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, arid now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed-and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.

Beyond Words (Jack McArdle)

This account has Mary Magdalene finding the empty tomb and running to the apostles for help. It is the only account where the apostles are directly involved, and where neither Jesus himself nor the angels were there to give instructions. John was one of those who took part in the events of today’s gospel, and apparently this is his own personal account of that experience.

I remember well one of the reactions I had when I saw the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls for the first time. My whole spirit was absorbing the awesomeness of it all. I had a camera, and I used it to the best of my ability. I tried to capture the vision, the emotions, the experience, and the wonder of it all. I later came to realise the futility of such attempts when I came home and tried to explain to someone else what my experience had been. The one over-riding thought I had was that it would be necessary for the other person to go out there and see what I saw, before there was any hope of real understanding or appreciation taking place. For those who don’t understand, no words are possible, and for those who do understand, no words are necessary. I think of that when I read John’s account of the resurrection. It is purely factual. It tells the facts as they unfolded, because there was no point in attempting to capture what was really happening within all of them on that great Easter morn.

When I consider that the gospel is now, and I am every person in the gospel, then I must put myself within the story of this morning’s gospel. Mary Magdalene told the apostles the news of resurrection. They responded immediately by running to the tomb to see for themselves. I’m not exactly sure when I first heard about the resurrection of Jesus. All I know is that it was many years later when I personally came to see and experience this for myself. This discovery came in moments of darkness and of brokenness, when I cried out for help. It is not possible for a human being to fall on his knees, cry out to God, and not be heard. We all have our moments when we cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

On Easter morning, we are told that the stone was rolled away from the mouth of the tomb. This can be quite significant, when I think of my heart as the tomb of resurrection. Can I identify something akin to a stone that is holding me back from enjoying the fullness of life? This could be anything from an addiction, a compulsion, a resentment, or some hidden and dark secret that I have never shared with anyone. Quite often I’m as sick as my secrets. Resentments can be real bondage. If I have a resentment against you, it is as if l am drinking poison, and I am expecting you to die.

Are you a person filled with hope, or are you a doomsday prophet? Because of the resurrection of Jesus, the only real sin I can commit, as a Christian, is not to have hope. This applies to myself, to the church, to the world.

First Reading: Acts 10:34, 37-43

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Or: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, no with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Gospel: John 20:1-9

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.