Resurrection Of The Lord (April 16, 2017)
Today, we celebrate what surpasses and transcends every other Christian, religious celebration: the rising to new life of Jesus.
Today’s gospel expresses john’s focus on the events of Easter morning: the reaction of three persons to the empty tomb.
First, Mary of Magdala. What did Mary understand when she stood in the chilly early morning and saw the stone rolled back and no Jesus? In the light of the terrible Friday past, she thought that “they” heaped on one more indignity: now “they” stole his body. Ironically, later, the “they” that Mary speaks about will accuse the apostles of the same crime, saying that the apostles stole the body to make it look like a resurrection. Mary runs to tell peter and the beloved disciple.
Interesting that the politics surrounding Jesus’ death were so acute that they eclipsed any spiritual reflection.
Peter and the beloved disciple, arrive. The Gospel author makes a note that perinea leadership is slow by comparison: the beloved disciple knows early on not to supersede an authority figure. Peter, true to form in all four Gospels, rushes in and sees only what is readily apparent. . Neatly folded cloths indicate a peaceful event – not the messiness of the theft of a body as Mary thought. He sees, but he doesn’t see. [A week later, Jesus will reprimand Thomas for making physical sight a requirement for believing.]
The beloved disciple is the hero of the 4th Gospel, though we are never told his actual name, he is thought to be the apostle, John. That he was beloved was more important than his name.
His initial understanding is cryptic. The Gospel says: “He saw and believed.” Yet, the gospel writer’s next verse reads: “For they [Peter and the beloved disciple] did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” So, what, exactly, did he believe?
On that same Easter morning, we read that Mary Magdalene first comes to realize the resurrection when she hears Jesus’ voice call her name: “Mary.”
We learn, elsewhere, that Jesus appeared to Peter later that day. Unfortunately, nothing is recorded of that visit – just the fact of it. Faith increased in Peter to the point where we heard his bold, fearless words in today’s first reading. His outspoken faith will lead to his death
From John’s progressive understanding, an important truth emerges later in the letter attributed to him in 1 John 4: “God is love” and “whoever is without love does not know God.” [Conversely: one who loves does know God, for God is love.]
What is my point? My point in all this is that the first Christian community came to the truth of the resurrection only gradually. We can expect no more for ourselves. The faith, earlier accepted from our parents needs to be claimed personally, individually by us.
So, what evidence do we have for the resurrection that would convince the skeptic within each of us as well as “professional skeptics? Can we absolutely prove our case in human opinion court?
The truth is, we can’t prove it with irrefutable evidence. There were no eyewitnesses to life entering the dead body of Jesus. There was no CSI Jerusalem to help. There must be some leap of faith.
Having said this, do we have anything to at least strongly indicate the reality of the resurrection? Yes! There is strong evidence that points the way for the one who honestly seeks. We remember the state of the disciples on Good Friday night. They were terrified; they were in fear for their lives. Those leaders had neither the courage nor the faith even to appear in public.
As time passed, the very existence of the church, the people of God, is the best sign of the resurrection. The church [people of God] continued to believe that Jesus rose from the dead during three centuries of unrelenting, bloody persecution. In Rome, persecuted Christians fled from their homes and were forced to live in the catacombs. Why would they leave their homes to live in caves and risk a merciless, tortuous death unless they were absolutely certain of Jesus’ resurrection? Who would go through that if one were in doubt?
Why didn’t Jesus also appear to the chief priests, Annas and Caiaphas, and the scribes, and Pharisees, and the Sanhedrin, and to the roman, Pontius Pilate? Simple: because their hearts were hardened.
The lesson to be learned is: the hardness of heart in people who walk among us today is no softer than the people of Jesus’ day who do not listen. To listen would mean we’d have to change. We don’t want to.
We, like our super-courageous spiritual forebears are not called to be convincers, debaters, we are called to be witnesses. Our “job’” as witness is to have the courage to tell the truth about Jesus when opportunity presents itself. Our task is to live lives that profess our faith each week in celebrating at mass with our community his and our resurrection. We witness to at least our neighbors by mass attendance.
We are Easter people. May the risen lord go before each of you to guide you and behind you to protect you. May the risen lord go beneath you to sustain you - and most of all – may the risen lord go within you to enlighten others by your witness.