28Mar 28/03, 2016. Easter Monday

1st Reading: Acts 2:14, 22-33

Peter announces the dawning of a new age, with the resurrection of Jesus

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know, this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

For David says concerning him, “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life;you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, “He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.”

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.

Gospel: Matthew 28:8-15

While the disciples worship, the priests bribe the guards to deny that Jesus has risen

So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.


Different understandings of resurrection

Our New Testament writers attempt in varied ways to describe the miracle and mystery of our Lord’s dying and rising. As Peter’s sermon at Pentecost was addressed to Jews from different countries but all sharing a Jewish identity, he sets Jesus within the framework of Jewish history. Just as the living God guided the people’s national history, so He directed the life, death and resurrection of his chosen Messiah. The act of divine power that raised Jesus from the dead was already predicted in an inspired psalm of king David, a thousand years before. In Peter’s view, David’s prediction of victory over death applied directly to Jesus, to whose resurrection “all of us are witnesses.” In this sermon, therefore, God was being true to his biblical word, in raising Jesus from the dead.

Where, we may wonder, did Saint Matthew get his story, reported by none of the other Gospels, about the guards at the tomb, who were bribed to claim that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body? Probably from the fact that some such claim was being made, in his vicinity, by enemies of the Christian movement. Knowing that such a slanderous claim was in the air, Matthew may even have invented the bribery story as a suitable rejoinder. At any rate his unusual account draws attention to the varied ways whereby the Evangelists and the author of the Acts sought to express to the inexpressible, the mystery of One who had passed beyond death, and was still a vital presence among his faithful followers.

Easter joy and alleluia

The mood of Easter is very well captured in today’s gospel, “Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.” Easter is a feast that fills us with wonder and joy because it tells us that God’s love is stronger than human sin, and the life God gives is more powerful than the death humans often inflict on each other. Easter also tells us that we do not walk through life alone. As the risen Lord says to the women in today’s gospel, “Go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.” As the risen Lord went ahead of his disciples to Galilee, so he goes ahead of us to all the places that we journey to and find ourselves in.

There will always be people who will try to deny Easter and all that it means. That was so from the very first Easter Sunday, as is clear from today’s gospel. The chief priests and the elders put out a story, to the effect that the disciples of Jesus stole his body while the guards were asleep. You will find modern versions of that anti-Easter story in our newspapers today at times. There will always be those who want to deny what God has done and put something trite in its place. This Easter week, however, we rejoice what God has done, the story of Easter, of life’s triumph over death, of love’s triumph over evil. [MH]