Sunday Sermon for April 17, 2022, Easter Sunday, Year C
Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9
In the Gospel reading today, St. John makes a humble confession of his own ignorance regarding the Resurrection. He tells us first that when he went into the tomb, he saw and believed. This is followed by the statement that “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” This lack of understanding makes perfect sense because no one had risen from the dead previously. It also makes sense because most Jewish people were not expecting a Messiah Who would suffer and die. For this reason, there was no need to even attempt to understand what rising from the dead meant.
We know that our Lord told His disciples on several occasions that He would rise from the dead. More specifically, Jesus spoke of His Resurrection to Peter, James, and John after the Transfiguration. But even then, the Apostles could only discuss what this might mean because it did not make sense to them.
We must also recognize the grace that was given to St. John at the moment he entered the tomb. He saw and believed. We do not know what happened within St. Peter, but we do know Peter and the other Apostles believed when Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection. We also know that after hearing about what happened at the tomb, two of our Lord’s disciples left for Emmaus with no belief in either the resurrection or that Jesus was the Messiah.
We know the holy women believed because of what the angels who were in the tomb told them. We also know that Mary Magdalene was graced with a vision of our resurrected Lord and, of course, after this she believed. But even after the Apostles heard from Mary Magdalene and the other women, they still did not believe. This makes it all the more extraordinary that St. John believed before he saw our risen Lord!
All this is mentioned to emphasize the difficulty in believing in the resurrection. I do not assume that any of us has had a vision of the resurrected Lord. We must believe based on the accounts of the people who saw Jesus after He rose from the dead. This sounds reasonable until we think about the fact that they did not believe when they had been told. It is perfectly reasonable to believe what the holy women and the Apostles have said and what is accounted for us in the Gospels. But perhaps we can learn the most from St. John.
As we celebrate today the greatest and most important event that has ever happened, each of us must ask the question of whether or not we believe. This question is of the greatest import because our salvation depends on our answer. When I speak of this belief, I am not speaking merely of an objective belief. We can look at things from an historical point of view and say that we believe a man named Jesus was born in Bethlehem and died in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Such a belief gains us little or nothing.
I say this because we can believe in the existence of many people from the past and we can be grateful for them. For instance, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. Without his invention we would not be reading this article right now. So, we can be grateful for his contribution to history, but we are not going to look to him for anything further. We can say the same about many people: Henry Ford, the Wright brothers, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the list could go on almost endlessly. What these people did has helped us in many ways, yet once they died, that was the end of their ability to contribute to the world.
To say Jesus rose from the dead is not something we can say with a shrug of the shoulders. If we truly believe He rose from the dead, then what follows is the belief that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. It follows from this that everything He told us is true, that our sins can be forgiven, that we will share in His resurrection, that we can go to Heaven for eternity.
It is also true that the crucified, resurrected, and glorified Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist. Come to Him in the Blessed Sacrament, peer into the depths of this mystery with the eyes of your soul. Like St. John, we can see and believe. This mystery cannot be kept at an arm’s distance, but must be received into our hearts. The resurrection is not just an historical event, it is salvation for those who open their hearts to see and believe. Christ is risen, alleluia!
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.