April 16: Resurrection of the Lord
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22- 23; Col 3:1-4 or 1 Cor 5:6-8; Jn 20:1-9; or Mt 28:1-10 or Lk 24:13-35
In an article in the journal Commonweal, the writer Alice McDermott — whose novels wonderfully capture the realities of Irish Catholic families in our country — muses about her faith and that of her fellow Catholics. How do all the things we affirm as Catholics ultimately make sense?
She refers to an exercise she once gave her students in a writing class when she asked them to start an essay or short story with “The point is …” She directs the same question to herself and her fellow, sometimes befuddled, believers: What is the point of it all? Her answer: Love redeems us, even from death.
She admits that this fundamental conviction seems stronger for her at some times more than others, for example, at the funeral of a loved one or in a moment of quiet peace. But it is there and is the ground zero of Catholic faith.
That is the Easter conviction we celebrate today and that is the motif that runs through the rich array of biblical readings assigned for this Sunday. God’s love is more powerful than death. How that happens and how we will experience it is not always clear to us. Nevertheless, that is the deepest, most tenacious conviction of our Christian faith.
Jesus, God’s only Son and humanity’s most beautiful boast, truly experienced death — as we all will — but through the power of God’s love, death’s grip is broken and Jesus lives. We believe we all will share in the triumph of Christ’s victory over death.
That is surely the message of the three Gospel accounts we hear today. It is in John’s account of Mary Magdalene rushing to tell Peter and the beloved disciple that the tomb was empty, and when they run to see for themselves, they find the burial cloths carefully rolled up and the tomb empty. This is not a scene of chaos or defeat but of quiet victory.
This message is also in the account from Matthew’s Gospel, where the guards sent by the religious leaders to guard the tomb are overwhelmed by the blinding light of an “angel of the Lord” who rolls back the stone — a tomb now empty. When the faithful women come to anoint the body of the crucified Jesus the angel announces “He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.” This is the astounding news that they are to take to his fearful disciples, and as they set out, they themselves encounter the Risen Jesus. “Do not be afraid,” he tells them.
For the evening Mass, one can listen to the astounding story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus from Luke’s Gospel. Both of them are discouraged and disillusioned because the Master they loved had been struck down by death. Then a mysterious pilgrim joins them, ignites their hearts with his explanation of the Scriptures and lifts away their despair.
They plead with him to dine with them and in the breaking of the bread they realize that this mysterious pilgrim is their Lord who has triumphed over death.
Snatches of the other Easter readings drive home this same incredible, astounding message. Peter preaching to Cornelius and his household in the Acts of the Apostles: “We are witnesses. ... They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.” But “this man God is raised on the third day.” Or in the responsorial Psalm 118 now applied to the Risen Jesus and those who believe in him: “The right hand of the Lord has struck with power; the right hand of the Lord is exalted. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”
Or the exquisite words of the sequence, a hymn of praise special to the Easter liturgy: “Speak, Mary, declaring what you saw, wayfaring. ‘The tomb of Christ, who is living, the glory of Jesus’ resurrection. … Yes, Christ my hope is arisen.’”
Alice McDermott is right. The point is God’s love prevails, even over death.
Senior is a New Testament scholar.