The Lord is truly risen! Alleluia! Those of us who attended the Easter Vigil last night welcomed with great delight the glorious light that pierced through the darkness and the victorious ringing of the Church bells that pealed as we sang Gloria in Excelsis Deo. The Lord’s death left us in the dark and made us numb. But now we celebrate that he is fully and truly alive!
This glorious rebirth of life and light resonates deeply for all of us as we slowly recover from the havoc that the COVID-19 global pandemic has brought into our lives. Despite massive uncertainties and difficulties, we have clung to our faith in the Lord, the Prince of life, who reigns after conquering death in what the Sequence calls a “combat stupendous.”
In today’s Scripture readings, there are two things that confirm the fact of the Lord’s Resurrection. One is the empty tomb and the other is the appearance of the Lord himself to his chosen ones. In the Gospel options that today’s liturgy provides, we find one or the other. In the passages from John and Mark, there is the witness of the empty tomb. In the passage from Luke, the Lord himself appears and accompanies his disciples on their walk to Emmaus. We will ponder these Resurrection witnesses today.
The empty tomb is a “negative witness.” The reasoning is that if the Lord had not risen, the tomb would not be empty. It should still contain his body that was buried there on Friday afternoon. As the Scriptures tell us, a heavy stone was placed over the entrance to the tomb. In Mark’s account, the women who came to the tomb on Sunday morning to anoint the dead body of Jesus were concerned about how they would be able to move the stone aside. But there was no need! The stone was already rolled back, and the body of Jesus was nowhere to be found.
The tomb is hard, cold and dark; it holds only death. Sin and sinfulness can be described as such too. They truly make our hearts hard and cold – “stony” – as the prophet Ezekiel describes a rebellious, sinful heart (Eze 36:26). Sin and sinfulness, which St. Paul describes as “the yeast of malice and wickedness,” lead only to death. Jesus, the Paschal Lamb, entered into the realm of death; he allowed himself to be buried in a tomb. This is how far he has gone in his desire to save us. He has taken upon himself the entire human experience, up to its farthest point, to the ultimate destiny of a life of sinfulness – darkness, hardness of heart, death.
But Christ has the last say! As we declare in the Easter Sequence, today we see with Mary Magdalene, “the tomb of Christ, who is living, the glory of Jesus’ resurrection; bright angels attesting, the shroud and napkin resting. Yes, Christ my hope is arisen.” The empty tomb is a Resurrection witness, telling us that sin does not reign, Christ does.
In addition to the empty tomb, and far surpassing it, is the revelation of the Risen Christ himself. He who reigns forever reveals himself as having conquered death. At first, the disciples do not recognize him. Even when Jesus draws near the two disciples and walks with them on the road to Emmaus, they do not recognize him. Maybe they are grief-stricken at Jesus’ death? Maybe Jesus is transformed beyond recognition? Maybe the disciples simply do not have the capability to fathom the resurrection event? Whatever the reason, Jesus overcomes it by revealing himself as risen. In the Emmaus account, he reveals himself first through the Scriptures and then in the breaking of the bread.
Our own journey from the death of sin to the life of glory is based on, and is made possible by, the victorious mission of Jesus Christ. He journeys with us and reveals to us the glory that awaits us. But our sinful eyes fail to recognize him. Our feeble brains cannot fathom his Paschal Mystery. Our guilt drags us down. Thus, it is important to pay close attention to the ways the Risen Christ reveals himself. Do we notice that a heavy stone is rolled away from our hearts when we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Do we seek the company of Christian friends, as Mary Magdalene sought Simon Peter and the beloved disciple? Do we pay attention to the subtle details of Christ’s work, as the beloved disciple did in noticing the burial clothes and the cloth that covered his head? Do we allow the Scriptures to make our hearts burn with love? Are we eager for the breaking of the bread, the Holy Eucharist?
We Christians are people of Easter faith. Despite our sinfulness, we are not stuck in a state which only leads to death. Rather, we draw near to Christ who is risen and truly alive. With Easter faith we experience the Lord’s Resurrection, which moves us to transformation and to proclamation. Today’s first reading gives us the example of Peter. He stands as a chosen witness, proclaiming that the Lord took upon himself suffering and death and was raised from the dead. As Easter people, we too are “witnesses chosen by God in advance.” Our forty days of intense Lenten preparation brings us to this glorious Day of the Lord’s Resurrection. Let us live with renewed and joyful faith, for “this is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. Alleluia!”
In the massive uncertainties and difficulties of life, do I cling to my faith in the Risen Lord? In what way do my feeble brain and sinful eyes fail to recognize him in my life? Does faith in the Resurrected Lord move me to transformation and to proclamation?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.