Sunday Sermon for April 24, 2011, Easter Sunday
Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9
In the last lines of the Gospel today we read that St. John went into the tomb after St. Peter, he saw and he believed. So far, so good. However, the next line tells us that as yet they did not understand that He had to rise from the dead. Beyond the fact that our Lord had told them several times that He was going to be handed over, mocked, scourged and crucified and then rise again on the third day, it is the simple reality that, practically speaking, this made no sense because it had never been experienced before.
At that point the Apostles were still reeling from the horror of what they saw, what they heard, what they did over the few days previous. All their hopes seemed dashed when our Lord was crucified. The dreamed of Messiah was not what they had hoped; the glory they imagined would be theirs when His kingdom was established was gone. They had to deal not only with the hopes they had put in Jesus, but their own actions of running away, denying and betraying Him, wondering what to do next because they would certainly be ridiculed by family and friends for being so gullible.
Now, they come to the tomb and find that His Sacred Body is gone. The burial cloths are all there but His Body is not. Did someone steal the Body? What happened? After all of the confusion of the past days, this would only add more. What were they to make of it? St. John believed that our Lord had risen, but at this point he would not even had known what that meant. Was He going to be like He was before? Was He going to be like Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus or the son of the widow of Naim? They would not understand until later in the day when our Lord would appear to them and begin to explain the Scriptures to them.
Over a period of two days (recall that according to the Jewish notion of time, any part of a day would be considered a day, so dying late on Friday, all day Saturday and rising early on Sunday was considered three days although the time lapse was only about a day and a half) they would experience grief, bewilderment, and ecstatic joy. Peter speaks, in the first reading, of how the Apostles ate and drank with Jesus after He had risen from the dead. Now they began to understand, even to the point that just forty days later St. Peter could be talking about Jesus being the judge of the living and the dead because He had died and risen.
The Cross, which made no sense to them on Good Friday, suddenly was coming into view as the focal point of their understanding. What appeared to be the implement of defeat was, in fact, the instrument of victory. What was seen by the people of the time as the greatest shame was, in an instant, transformed into the greatest glory. This transformation, however, would be reserved only for those who would believe. Faith was the necessary prerequisite for this deeper understanding. This was the point St. Paul made when he spoke to the Corinthians about the Cross being the power and wisdom of God, although it was scandalous and foolish for those who did not possess the insight of faith.
St. Peter also understood that though the Cross and resurrection, forgiveness of sins is granted in the power of the Name of Jesus. It is precisely this forgiveness of sins and the infusion of the new life of grace that St. Paul is referring to when he says that we have been raised with Christ because we have also died with Him. As members of Jesus our lives are hidden in Him, but when He appears, we will appear with Him in glory.
Just as our Lord’s life on earth was a hidden life, so will our lives be. Our faith will shine out like a beacon for those who have faith, but it will be completely hidden from those without faith. The challenge for us is to hear the words of today’s Gospel and, with John and Peter, believe without fully understanding and remain faithful through the grief and bewilderment of this life on earth. Faith in Jesus, hope for the participation in His glory and love for the Person of Jesus allowed the Apostles not only to understand and preach about the Cross and resurrection, but it gave them the strength and courage to endure suffering and death for love of Jesus with the guarantee of their own resurrection and glorification. The same is true for us if, as St. Paul instructs us, we seek the things of Heaven where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.