“Till this moment they had failed
to understand the teaching of scripture,
that he must rise from the dead.”
by Fr Hayden Williams OFMCap
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Acts 10:34,37-43
Peter addressed Cornelius and his household: ‘You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea; about Jesus of Nazareth and how he began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil. Now I, and those with me, can witness to everything he did throughout the countryside of Judaea and in Jerusalem itself: and also to the fact that they killed him by hanging him on a tree, yet three days afterwards God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen, not by the whole people but only by certain witnesses God had chosen beforehand. Now we are those witnesses – we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead – and he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to tell them that God has appointed him to judge everyone, alive or dead. It is to him that all the prophets bear this witness: that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.’
Our first reading is a powerful example of the early preaching associated with Peter. Notice how in a short few verses it brings out three major points: even though Jesus went about doing good, healing people and liberating them from spiritual oppression he was rejected and was scandalously put to death on the cross: for it is written, cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree (Galatians 3:13). Second, the resurrection is God’s wonderful vindication of who Jesus is and everything he stood for. Resurrection is God’s awesome yes to our destructive no. Third, the apostles are witnesses to all these events. The challenge for us? Side with God’s yes. Live the resurrection life.
Lord Jesus, how wonderful the change in Peter! How awesome your mercy! In the pre-dawn dark of a high priest’s courtyard a cock’s second crow convicted him of his fear and betrayal. Now in the full light of day he stands up and proclaims resurrection life to all and sundry. He stands openly for you before the people. Touch us with the same Spirit. Lift us beyond our fears and disloyalties. Let light shine in our darkness! Let life be renewed within us! Fill us with resurrection life today. Take us by the hand. Free us from fear and help us share your glory with the world. Alleluia, Amen!
Psalm – Psalm 117(118):1-2,16-17,22-23
Given the reference to the cornerstone it should come as no surprise that Psalm 118 was one of the first Psalms to be applied to Jesus in the early faith community. It is also basic to our understanding of the interplay between our no and God’s yes that dances in the resurrection. As we side with God’s yes in the Risen One, we let our souls sing songs of praise and gratitude to a God whose compassion and mercy is unimaginably vast. We rejoice at the power of God’s right hand to bring life from death. And we celebrate in the One who was rejected the cornerstone of our faith and way of life.
LORD, Adonai, Abba God. This is the day you made! The day of resurrection glory! The day of everlasting mercy! Hear our prayers of gratitude! Hear our songs of praise! Life conquers death! The silence of fear is overcome! The stone rejected is the everlasting cornerstone! And new light and new life blaze! Your power is at work in the world! Our eyes blink at the shimmering wonder! Our minds fail to fathom the glory! But the stars know, creation knows, the cosmos rejoices! Let us be one with all that is as we cry our Alleluia, Amen!
2nd Reading – Colossians 3:1-4
Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.
or 2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
You must know how even a small amount of yeast is enough to leaven all the dough, so get rid of all the old yeast, and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be. Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed; let us celebrate the feast, then, by getting rid of all the old yeast of evil and wickedness, having only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
(a) The resurrection life empowers us to lift our minds and hearts, our whole lives, body, mind and spirit, to higher values, purposes and behaviours. We can recognise our habitual negative reactions, the patterns of our false self, and choose the way of compassion wherever we are, whatever we face. We can do this because the roots of our existence are hidden in God.
(b) The resurrection life empowers us to do a spring-cleaning of our inner lives, clearing out the old leaven of our no, the yeast of malice and wickedness, and replacing it with the new leaven of God’s glorious yes. We do this by putting on the mind of the Risen Christ. We do it by baking in our lives the life-changing bread of sincerity and truth. Are we up to the challenge?
Lord Jesus, lift us up to what is above. Lift us up to where you are now. Help us understand what is above mercy, above compassion, above forgiveness. Teach us what lies beyond humility and patience, beyond gentleness and kindness. Teach us what makes them all possible: love! Teach us about love made flesh, love conquering death, love that heals and love that saves. Teach us to be bearers of your love to the world. Alleluia, Amen!
Gospel Reading – John 20:1-9
It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’
So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
or Mark 16:1-7 or (at evening Mass) Luke 24:13-35
Two different early traditions are at work in John’s account. The first is the tradition that Mary Magdalen, drawn there by her grief and her love, discovered the empty tomb. She reports this to Peter and the other disciple, the only men to show up at the empty tomb. Magdalen challenges all of us to see Christ and all reality with the eyes of the heart, with the eyes of love. She invites us to come to an ever-deepening faith in the transforming power of love. The second tradition concerns Peter’s visit to the tomb to which John adds the race between with the other disciple, noting the latter’s act of faith. At that point in time they still did not understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. But the story is not finished. We need Ascension and Pentecost if we are to fully understand.
In Mark’s text Mary Magdalen is accompanied to the tomb by Mary, the mother of James, and Salome to complete the burial rites. Wondering how they might enter the tomb they were amazed to find it open. A young man there dressed in white tells them that Jesus is risen. He instructs them to bring the good news to Peter and the disciples who are to go to Galilee and meet him there. It took time for them all to grasp the meaning of resurrection life. It is a journey for us too. Are you seeking to live the resurrection life in the power of the glorious Ascended One? Are you open to the transforming breath of Spirit?
In the story of Emmaus, Luke offers us the most beautiful account of the resurrection appearances in a way that reflects early Christian worship. We too can know him in the breaking of bread. Are we ready to sit and let him teach us the way of resurrection life today?
Lord Jesus, Mary of Magdala was led by love and grief to an empty tomb. It was still dark, but she was not afraid. The one she looked for was not among the dead. And she became the messenger of something new, something unexpected, something gloriously wonderful. The Peter and the other raced to that empty place, that place of discarded cloths and stones rolled back, of angels and light instead of darkness and tears. Help us sit with Mary. Help us hear her message of a love that brings wholeness, of a life dancing new rhythms in a tired world. We will not find you in an empty tomb. You are the Gardner of our souls. Alleluia, Amen!
Word of God and Salesian Life by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB
The gospel account covers the first moments of the paschal experience. It describes how the empty tomb led to faith in the Resurrection. Not all, indeed only one, of those who found the tomb empty, came to faith. Neither Mary nor Peter saw and believed – they were so sure of the death of their master that they could not understand that God had restored him to life, a life without death or shroud. Only the beloved disciple knew that Jesus was alive, when he saw that he was no longer in the tomb and no longer had need of a shroud. Peter and the beloved disciple were alarmed by what Mary said. Together they ran the same road, but only the beloved disciple believed. Knowing that we are loved by Jesus is still the way to know that he is alive.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
The synoptics emphasize the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus (Mk 16, 6; Mt 28,6-7; Lk 24,5-6.34). John tells instead of the personal meetings that took place with Jesus in Jerusalem, on the first day of the week (20, 1.19). John 20 is divided into two scenes. The first takes place at dawn, at the tomb (20, 1-18). It speaks of the disappearance of the corpse (20, 2.13.15). The second took place that evening in a particular house (20, 19-29) when the Risen Lord appeared (20,18.25.29). Jesus dominates the account – he is mentioned fourteen times.
Our passage recalls the first episode (20, 1-9) of the scene around the empty tomb (20,1-18). It was still dark when Mary and Peter arrived at the tomb which was open and empty. The account is true to life but it is especially a story of faith. Seeing is a necessary step before we can believe (20, 8), but seeing does not necessarily lead to faith (20, 1.7). Finding an empty tomb and a discarded shroud is not sufficient to make one believe that the man who was crucified is alive.
The empty tomb discovered at dawn points to the darkness in the heart of Mary, one of the women who assisted as the death of Jesus (21, 1. 19, 25). No indication is given as to what prompted Mary to go to the tomb. (Compare Mk 16, 1; Lk 24, 1: the women brought perfume to anoint the body; and Mt 28,1: they went to visit the sepulchre). Mary of Magdala (20, 16.18), was the first to witness the triumph of Jesus over death, but she still did not believe. She imagined, “logically” that the body has been stolen and, again logically, she ran to tell Peter and the other disciple.
There is a double theological significance in this reaction of Mary. On the one hand, seeing the open empty tomb does not, by itself, lead to faith in the resurrection (20, 10). On the other hand, the fact that the first person to go to the tomb finds it already open excludes, without saying so explicitly, the theft of the body (cf. Mt 27, 64; 28, 11-15).
Following this first fruitless visit we are told of the haste with which the two disciples competed to be first to arrive at the tomb (20, 3-4). Peter is mentioned first and is first to enter the tomb (20, 6). He sees only the cloths (20, 6-7). The unnamed disciple (19, 25-26) is the first to arrive at the tomb (20,4) He sees the cloths (20,5; 19 40) and, most importantly, he comes to believe (20,8). Those who saw or entered the tomb were struck by the absence of Jesus. Those who had lived with him and had assisted at his passion (18, 15-16), can confirm only the disappearance of the body. Here the disciples, and not the women (as in Lk 24, 24), are witnesses of his death (20, 5-6).
But only one of them saw and believed. He was the one who arrived first at the tomb but did not enter (20, 8), the one who was known as the beloved disciple (20,2). He saw what Peter had seen, an empty tomb and some cloths laid aside, but he believed that the Absent One had conquered death. In John’s gospel, unlike the synoptics, the disciple who is first to believe in the Risen Lord is the one who believes that he is the most loved. The first believer in the Risen Lord is the one most loved. Love leads to a particular and profound form of recognition. Only the one among the disciples who loves is capable of seeing without proof, or better, capable of believing that his beloved Lord is alive, when all he saw was the shroud. The beatitude at the end of the fourth gospel applies especially to the beloved disciple, since he began to believe without needing to see (20, 8.29).
An editorial note for the benefit of the reader concludes the account. It expresses a very ancient Christian conviction. Scripture alone did not lead to faith in the resurrection, even though it had been foretold in Scripture. The understanding of the scriptures came, not before but after the paschal experience (20, 9. Cf. Lk 24, 25-27.44-45). Peter and Mary went back home knowing that Jesus was not in the tomb (20, 10). They did not know where the body might be. They went away without knowing that he was alive. So far, they are witnesses only of his disappearance. Only the one who knew that he was loved by Jesus came to know that he was alive.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
This gospel reading comes from the very beginning of the paschal experience. God was ahead of the early risers and restored Jesus to life. Indeed God was active so early that Easter morning that he caught even the earliest of the disciples unawares. They were so preoccupied with a corpse that they never suspected that God was already busy giving life, before even their day began. The open empty tomb was a silent witness to God’s action, but one that alarmed them. The power of death was shattered and defeated, but the disciples continued to search the graves, unable to believe it.
We still experience some of that early uncertainty and sadness that befell the disciples. We are conscious of the loss of Jesus and of being left orphans by his departure. We are lost in our world without him, and we make the same mistake as the disciples. We go looking for him among the dead, instead of among the living. We take it for granted that he’s gone but we don’t know where. We continue to act like those well-intentioned grave-searchers when, all the time, what Jesus needs is courageous witnesses to his resurrection. This may well be the impression we give to those who see us concerned about many things that are not the things of God.
We should return to our origins, go back to proclaiming what we know – that He is not among the dead, that He is alive forever, that He does not belong in any grave for He is risen. We should exchange our sadness for joy and speak to others of our experience. Wherever the Lord’s absence is felt today, there is need of Christians who will proclaim that He is present and alive. Where He is lost, we, as Christians, offer others a chance to find Him. Where people believe that He is dead or has disappeared from our world, we must find courage and enthusiasm, and the right words to proclaim that He is risen. The witness we have to give the world must not be limited to mere words. His new life is proclaimed when we life a new life, a life that is not guided by the criteria that condemned him to death, a life that is understandable only on the basis the He is truly alive. How do we come to the conviction that He is risen, that He is really alive? By following the same road travelled on the day of Resurrection by Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. Both of them were alarmed by what Mary said. They ran together to the tomb, in great haste and great uncertainty, unable to believe what the woman had told them and incapable of imagining what God had done. They ran together, unashamed of their anxiety and incredulity, companions in haste and in bewilderment. They arrived together at the tomb and found it open and empty – death was overcome, but the body was missing, only the cloths remained. They both saw the same things, but only one of them believed, the disciple whom Jesus loved. The one who was loved most was first to arrive at faith. Knowing that he was loved led him to recognise the one who loved him.
To become witnesses of the Risen Christ we, like the one who was first to believe, must know that we are loved by Him. He was first to arrive at the conviction that Jesus was alive, not because he was first to arrive at the tomb, but because he knew that he was still loved by Jesus. Love sees more in the emptiness, is less put off by appearances, is quicker to overcome despair, is first to comprehend the darkness, and banishes doubt with greater conviction. Just as at dawn on the first Easter Day, Jesus is alive today in those who know they are loved by Him, in whom no doubt lingers, in those who feel loved and are sustained by love. Faith in the Resurrection is not so much an option that is taken, contrary to all the evidence, but an affirmation of what is not seen, an acceptance of gratuitous love, an affirmation of what we have already experienced. If we are certain of being loved we don’t need to see Him in order to believe, nor to find Him personally to know that we are personally loved.
We have to go against those who would wish in any way – and there are thousands of ways – to bury Jesus anew. We count on the love that He has for us. We have to be courageous enough to declare that all death has been conquered, and every tomb opened, because Jesus is risen. Nobody has a right to stay silent about the new life of the Risen Jesus. That would be denying our right to feel loved by Him. We must accept that God continues to anticipate our sadness and our death, as He did that first day of Easter. We must again proclaim what we know – that His tomb is empty because our heart is full of Him. Those who proclaim this are the witnesses to Christ that God and the world need today. When we say what we know, that Jesus is alive, we will know that we are His beloved witnesses.
It is not difficult, therefore, to become witnesses to Christ. All we have to do is to say what we know – that God still rises earlier than any of those who search among the graves, that the tomb of Jesus is empty, and that death has been defeated. We cannot be silent about it because we would lose our sense of being loved and the life without end that is ours after death. We risk too much if we do not feel that we are loved by the living Christ. He lives today to love us, and it is to love Him that we will live forever.
Pray: desire that what you have heard be done in you
I praise you, Risen Lord. Your victory over death fills my mortal life with hope. Give me strength to proclaim that you are alive, even where all, myself included, feel your absence. Come to me when I am surrounded by death and desolation. Let your empty tomb be the cradle of my faith, and the place of rebirth of your Church. Grant that I may feel your love even though I do not enjoy your physical presence. In that way I will be able to see the proofs of your death, to feel your absence and still believe that you are alive. If you allow me to feel loved by you, I will proclaim that you are risen. I praise you, Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, that you were up early that first day of the week to keep your Son from experiencing corruption, even though He had suffered death, and what a cruel death! Waking early that morning, before the dawn visit of the disciples, you recovered Jesus for yourself… and you did not leave us alone in this world. Grant that I may perceive your presence in the darkness and solitude when I am faced with death, my own and that of my loved ones. Help me to understand that death is but a passing stage that I must go through, with hope that one day I will become the companion forever of your Son, my Lord.