8th April. Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34, 37-43. Peter and the other apostles witness to the resurrection, having seen and heard their risen Lord, now alive again and a source of saving life for all.
Col 3:1-4. (or 1 Cor 5:6-8.) Christ is now in glory and already, in faith, we share in his risen state.
Jn 20:1-9. The empty tomb suggests the resurrection of Jesus. In faith, the Beloved Disciple knows that Christ is alive.
Theme: Alleluia is our Easter cry of joy. When Christ broke the death-barrier on the first Easter morning, he did so for all of us. Dying he destroyed our death; rising he restores our life.
Surprised by Easter Joy
We often speak about being pleasantly surprised. We can head into a situation expecting the worst, and the worst does not happen. We can go to a meeting with someone, dreading what might come out of it, and to our surprise it turns out to be a positive experience. We start into an enterprise with a group of people expecting nothing but trouble and it turns out to be a really worthwhile happening that bears fruit in all kinds of unexpected ways. We have all had our own moments of being pleasantly surprised.
Those moments are a little bit like the experience of Jesus’ followers on that first Easter Sunday. The gospel describes the journey of Mary Magdalene to the tomb on the first day of the week. She had stood by the foot of the cross as Jesus was dying. Now she comes to stand outside his tomb and mourn. Those who have accompanied dying people on their final journey from this life often experience the need to spend time at the graveside after burial. Yet what Mary Magdalene found at the graveside on that first Easter morning was contrary to all her expectations. The stone that had blocked the opening was now rolled away, and the tomb itself stood empty. Standing outside the tomb weeping, as she had expected to do, was no longer an option. She had to run to tell the others, in particular Peter and the other disciple, what she had found.
Although she did not yet understand the significance of the empty tomb, something extraordinary had happened. The crucified one had become the risen one. The tomb of death had become the womb of life. According to our gospel, it was the beloved disciple who first recognized the true significance of the empty tomb. “He saw and he believed.” The deeper truth of that empty tomb soon became clear to the other disciples, including Magdalene. The risen Lord would appear to them, and confirm them in their calling as disciples and in their mission to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth. St. Paul, writing about twenty five years after the crucifixion, makes this famous declaration: “[Christ] appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
These appearances revealed why the tomb was empty – not because the body had been stolen, as Mary Magdalene first thought, but because God had raised his Son from death to new life. If the crucifixion reveals the faithfulness of Jesus to God the Father, the resurrection reveals the Father’s faithfulness to Jesus. In raising him from the dead, God vindicated his Son, raising every value that Jesus stood for, every story that Jesus told, every choice Jesus made, and every purpose that Jesus followed.
It is also true that as the crucifixion shows the faithfulness of Jesus to all of us, his faithful love for us, the resurrection reveals the faithfulness of God the Father to all of us. In raising Jesus from the dead, God the Father ensured that the life-giving movement that Jesus began would endure to embrace future generations, including all of us here in this church right now. If God had not raised his Son from the dead, Jesus would have been reduced to an historical footnote. Without the discovery of the empty tomb that first Easter Sunday, the gospel would not have been preached, the church would not have been born, and we would not be gathering here . As Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and you faith has been in vain.” Easter is by far the most important feast in the church’s calendar. This is why a whole season is given over to the celebration of this feast. This season of Easter lasts seven weeks, extending from today, Easter Sunday, until Pentecost Sunday.
During this Easter season we give thanks to God who, in raising Jesus from the dead, assures us that he can raise us from death also. Because of that first Easter we live in hope of sharing in the risen life of Christ, beyond our time in this life. Because of that first Easter we also believe that God can work powerfully in us through all of our Calvary experiences. We each travel our own way of the cross from time to time. But Easter invites us to be surprised by God, surprised by joy, as Magdalene was on that first Easter. As Paul puts it, our prospects are glorious, for “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” We pray this Easter for a more expectant and hopeful faith.
First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 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: Epistle to the 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: First Epistle to the 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.