Sunday Sermon for April 4, 2021, Easter Sunday, Year B
Readings: Acts 10: 34a, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9
Alleluia! It is not merely because we have not spoken this beautiful word for six weeks, but given our present circumstances, it is more necessary than ever to sing Alleluia in our hearts. It is true that anyone can speak the word with their mouth, but do they really mean it? That is why I say we need to sing it loudly in our hearts. If something comes from the heart, it has real meaning in our lives. Alleluia joins two Hebrew words and means “Praise God.”
With all the lunacy that has been taking place in our world and in our nation, why should we be praising God loudly in our hearts? After all, many people have been convinced that they should be terrified that they might get sick and they might even die. While we all know we are going to die one day, one would think that the older we get, the more we should be a peace with the reality of dying. But the fear that is gripping so many people, especially so many older people, is the fear of death. In the Victimae Paschali, which we pray today, it says: “The Prince of life, Who died, reigns immortal,” and again: “Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.”
Jesus is risen from the dead! This is certainly great news for Him, but as we just read, He has obtained new life for us. Christian people should not live in fear of death. We know we will die one day, but we also know this is the transition to new and everlasting life. We are not afraid because our King has conquered the one who held humanity in the bondage of fear. Why would we want to go back to being captured in the shackles of Satan? Jesus has broken the bonds; we are free! Alleluia!
In the first reading St. Peter says he and the other Apostles had been commissioned by Jesus to testify that Jesus is the Judge of the living and the dead. He is our Judge. If we have served Him selflessly, we have no need to be afraid; ours will be a merciful judgment. But, one might ask, what about those of us who have not always served Him this way? If you have been to confession, your sins have been forgiven and if you are striving to love and serve Him now, none of those past sins will be remembered. Praise God!
So, the only reason why we should be afraid is if we do not believe. St. John relates the story of the events of Easter morning when he and St. Peter ran to the Lord’s tomb after being informed by St. Mary Magdalene that the stone (about six feet in diameter and about a foot thick) was rolled back from the entrance to the tomb. The Apostles saw the burial clothes there together, but the cloth that covered our Lord’s head was rolled up in a separate place. This was enough to convince St. John, and his inclusion of this point suggests it should also be enough to convince his readers.
That the cloth was rolled up and in a separate place tells us two things. First, the body was not stolen, because thieves would not have taken the time to remove the cloth while in the tomb. Moreover, most thieves were not interested in stealing dead bodies, they were interested in stealing the burial cloth and anything valuable that may have been buried with the person. Beyond this, even if someone wanted to steal the body of our Lord, it would have been considerably more difficult because there were Roman soldiers stationed at the tomb.
Secondly, the rolled up cloth points to the truth of the resurrection. The main cloth was lying flat, similar to what they showed in the movie The Passion of the Christ when the clothes simply “deflate” to show that our Lord’s resurrected body was no longer held bound by the normal physical limitations of the body. The cloth around the head may have been wrapped more than once and it maintained its form. Even if someone wanted to steal our Lord Body and leave the clothes, they would not have taken the time to arrange them carefully and make sure the cloth around the head maintained its shape.
Faith in the resurrection of Jesus leads to faith in the new life He has obtained for us. St. Paul tells us in the second reading that when “Christ your life appears, you too will appear with Him in glory.” The entrance to eternal life is through the doorway of death. Death is not the end; it is the means to life. Be not afraid: death is swallowed up by life; eternal life is yours. 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.