Easter Sunday – Resurrection of the Lord – Year A – April 16, 2017
Act 10, 34a.37-43; Ps 118; Col 3,1-4; Jn 20,1-9
1) Christianity is the religion of the living.
“Of all the days in the year that the Liturgy celebrated in various ways, there is not one that is more important of the feast of Easter because, in the Church of God, this day makes holy all the other solemnities. Also the birth of the Lord is directed towards this mystery: the meaning of the birth of Christ is for Him to be nailed to the cross. In the womb of the Virgin he took mortal flesh; in this mortal flesh the design of passion is realized completely; and so it happened that, for an ineffable plan of God’s mercy, this became for us redeeming sacrifice, abolition of sin and beginning of the resurrection to eternal life “(St. Leo the Great, Sermon XLVIII, 1 – PL 54, 298 A – 299 TO). It was right and proper to prepare ourselves for Easter with the Lent journey (= the exodus) that has made us more aware that we are a people “established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth” (Lumen Gentium, 9), and taken by Him as the instrument of salvation for all humanity.
Today begins the Easter exodus so that we can walk “in the world in search of a future and permanent city (see Heb 13, 14), bring to the world “Jesus as the author of salvation and the source of unity and peace”, and establish us “the Church that for each and all may be the visible sacrament of this saving unity”. (Lumen Gentium, 9).
Who guides us on this journey? Christ risen from the dead, a death to which he had been condemned absurdly because he had told the world the truth and loved it.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, guide us using as a pastoral the cross on which he died. Jesus’ dying on the Cross among insults and ill-treatment suffered by him until his death, has been a dying for us, poor creatures, taking our place for our benefit. While he was suffering the hatred of men, he took this hatred upon himself removing it from them and welcoming it in his mercy. His death was a death of the love that never dies.
Christ, the Good Shepherd, not only leads his sheep, but takes the lost one on his shoulders and carries it home. If we are clenched to his Body we live, and in communion with his Body we reach the heart of God.
This infinite heart was revealed to us by Christ who, through his resurrection, demonstrates that love is stronger than death, stronger than evil. This is the force by means of which He brings us to himself, holding us tight on his shoulders. United to his love, let’s go with him to the house of Heaven, the abode of Life in love.
In the crucified Christ, human suffering has a meaning, because this suffering does not seek to destroy life, but to those who knows how to accept it, serves to make life more intense and perfect: holy and redeeming.
The cross is not “scandal” for the Jews and “foolishness” for the Greeks of two thousand years ago, but even today for many it is “scandal” and “madness.” But if we contemplate with care and devotion the mystery of Easter, we understand that the “absurd” and “outrageous” act of God has, as a reason, the free, merciful and almighty love of God for men that is entirely and powerfully manifested on the Cross of Christ. In fact, this Cross has two faces: the apparent defeat and the victory, the Crucified and the Risen. In the Cross are revealed all the evil and misery of man who does not hesitate to condemn the innocent Son of God, but are also manifested the depth and effectiveness of God’s forgiveness.
In Christ crucified and risen, love and not hate has the last word. In this total charity and not elsewhere, it is to be found the true reason of the Christian hope, the good news that gives meaning and depth to life and history in spite of the failures. It is a good and happy news that demands conversion not only to a good moral life, but to the religion of true Life.
In this religion, we walk with the Risen Christ who goes from death to life, and we pass from sacrifice to glory, from abnegation to fertility, from renunciation to love, from love to life. There is no other path that leads to happiness, the complete fullness to life. It is the path traced by the Resurrection.
2) Christ is risen, He is not here.
To the holy women who, in the first glow of the day, had gone to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, the angels said: “You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen, he is not here.” This words express all the mystery that we celebrate today: Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified, has resurrected.
What does this statement “He has resurrected” means? It does not mean that the Jesus dead on the cross was revived and returned to the life of before such as it happened to the Naim widow’s son and to Lazarus, who were recalled from death to a life which was to end with a final death. The resurrection of Jesus is not an overcoming of physical death that we know even today: a temporary overcome that at some stage ends with a death with no return. Jesus does not live again as a reanimated dead, but by virtue of divine power, above and beyond the area of what is physically and chemically measurable. The power of God does so that the dead-crucified body of Jesus may be made partaker of the divine life: eternal life. A life qualitatively different from that experienced before.
To use more concrete words (at least I hope): the Incarnate Word, passing through death, is introduced with his humanity in the divine Glory which in his divinity He has always enjoyed. On the last evening of his earthly life, Jesus had prayed: “and now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17.5). On Easter morning this prayer has been heard.
3) Seek Him in Galilee, namely among the living.
Having told the pious women: “He is not here, he is risen,” the angels add immediately: “Go to Galilee, there you will see him.” What does it mean for us today this indication to go to Galilee? In my opinion, at least for us, “Galilee” is not a geographical place; it is a place of the heart, an existential place.
We must not seek Christ in the graves of the dead, not even among the great men covered with dust by the time we call history, nor in books and utopias. Let us seek him among the living. Let us seek him because Christ is the God of the living flower and not of the dead thoughts.
But you might ask me: “How can we be sure that the living do not deceive us?” In this case I would reply: “Look for him among the living in Christ that is the Church.” Let us seek among those who have the strength and grace to say: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life – for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us – what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so you also may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete “(1 Jn 1: 1-4).
In the light of the words of St. John, I try to point out some ways to where and how to encounter the Risen Jesus.
The first – I have mentioned it just above – is the Church that becomes concrete experience in the Christian community where the Word enlightens us, the sacraments sanctify us and make us partakers of Christ’s life.
The second is the familiarity with the Bible and, in particular, the Gospel to be understood as the testimony of those who have met Jesus and by the Holy Spirit have communicated their experience in the four Gospels. The Gospel is fundamental: to be read, studied, meditated, prayed, lived with the help of the Holy Spirit and in the Church that, faithful down the centuries to the testimony of the Apostles, presents it in the liturgy and put it in our hands because it is our daily nourishment.
The third way to encounter Christ, dead and risen, are the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist that puts us in communion with the self-giving of Jesus and makes us his Body, and Confession through which we receive the fruit of the redemption that comes from the cross of Christ. Confession renews our life with a heart cleansed and open to the Redeemer and to the neighbor.
The fourth way is to practice the works of material and spiritual mercy that enable us to perceive the presence of Christ in the poor and the needy neighbor. In this regard, let’s remember the parable of the Last Judgment, where Jesus says: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to me “(Mt 25,35-36).
4) Witnesses to the Risen Love.
Every Christian, cultivating in his heart a commitment to abide the love of God, remaining in Him and with one another, is called to be a witness of the resurrection of Christ, especially in those human environments where the forgetfulness of God and man’s confusion are stronger. What is the specificity of the testimony of the consecrated Virgins in the world? The one that it is possible to live only for love to Christ. Giving themselves completely to Christ, they also live a love of obedience to Him, doing His will and living his crucified love. At one point, Christ in order to love went into a progressive experience of self-emptying up to the cross. If we want to love as Christians, we need to know and do like him. This way of loving puts the Other before me, and makes me live by his love of Risen One. Yes, the love of Christ is a resurrected love, a love that always begins again; it is an Easter love. The love of the Christian is as bright as the morning sun. It is a love that bounces back, and does not remain lying. It is full of courage because love is the moving gift of self. The love of Jesus is so and is able to transform sadness into joy, to burn the heart, and to recall to us the Scriptures, like to the two disciples of Emmaus. The virginal love is, in a special way, a resurrected love. Consecrated virginity proves that it is possible to live for God and in His love, and to proclaim by word and deed the resurrection of Christ bearing witness to the communion among us and the charity towards all, without exception.
Saint Augustin of Hyppo (354 – 430)
Mary Magdalene had brought the news to His disciples, Peter and John, that the Lord was taken away from the sepulchre; and they, when they came thither, found only the linen clothes wherewith the body had been shrouded; and what else could they believe but what she had told them, and what she had herself also believed? “Then the disciples went away again unto their own” (home); that is to say, where they were dwelling, and from which they had run to the sepulchre. “But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping.” For while the men returned, the weaker sex was fastened to the place by a stronger affection. And the eyes, which had sought the Lord and had not found Him, had now nothing else to do but weep, deeper in their sorrow that He had been taken away from the sepulchre than that He had been slam on the tree; seeing that in the case even of such a Master, when His living presence was withdrawn from their eyes, His remembrance also had ceased to remain. Such grief, therefore, now kept the woman at the sepulchre. “And as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre.” Why she did so I know not. For she was not ignorant that He whom she sought was no longer there, since she had herself also carried word to the disciples that He had been taken from thence; while they, too, had come to the sepulchre, and had sought the Lord’s body, not merely by looking, but also by entering, and had not found it. What then does it mean, that, as she wept, she stooped down, and looked again into the sepulchre? Was it that her grief was So excessive that she hardly thought she could believe either their eyes or her own? Or was it rather by some divine impulse that her mind led her to look within? For look she did, “and saw two angels in white, sitting, the one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” Why is it that one was sitting at the head, and the other at the feet? Was it, since those who in Greek are called angel” are in Latin nuntii [in English, news-bearers], that in this way they signified that the gospel of Christ was to be preached from head to foot, from the beginning even to the end? “They say to her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” The angels forbade her tears: for by such a position what else did they announce, but that which in some way or other was a future joy? For they put the question, “Why weepest thou?” as if they had said, Weep not. But she, supposing they had put the question from ignorance, unfolded the cause of her tears. “Because,” she said, “they have taken away my Lord:” calling her Lord’s inanimate body her Lord, meaning a part for the whole; just as all of us acknowledge that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, our Lord, who of course is at once both the Word and soul and flesh, was nevertheless crucified and buried, while it was only His flesh that was laid in the sepulchre. “And I know not,” she added, “where they have laid Him.” This was the greater cause of sorrow, because she knew not where to go to mitigate her grief. But the hour had now come when the joy, in some measure announced by the angels, who forbade her tears, was to succeed the weeping.
- Lastly, “when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing Him to be the gardener, saith unto Him, Sir, If thou hast borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni, which is to say, Master.” Let no one speak ill of the woman because she called the gardener, Sir (domine), and Jesus, Master. For there she was asking, here she was recognizing; there she was showing respect to a person of whom she was asking a favor, here she was recalling the Teacher of whom she was learning to discern things human and divine. She called one lord (sir), whose handmaid she was not, in order by him to get at the Lord to whom she belonged. In one sense, therefore, she used the word Lord when she said, “They have taken away my Lord; and in another, when she said, Sir (lord), if thou hast borne Him hence.” For the prophet also called those lords who were mere men, but in a different sense from Him of whom it is written, “The Lord is His name.”1 But how was it that this woman, who had already turned herself back to see Jesus, when she supposed Him to be the gardener, and was actually talking with Him, is said to have again turned herself, in order to say unto Him “Rabboni,” but just because, when she then turned herself in body, she supposed Him to be what He was not, while now, when turned in heart, site recognized Him to be what He was.
- “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; to my God, and your God.” There are points in these words which we must examine with brevity indeed, but with somewhat more than ordinary attention. For Jesus was giving a lesson in faith to the woman, who had recognized Him as her Master, and called Him so in her reply; and this gardener was sowing in her heart, as in His own garden, the grain of mustard seed. What then is meant by “Touch me not”? And just as if the reason of such a prohibition would be sought, He added, “for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” What does this mean? If, while standing on earth, He is not to be touched, how could He be touched by men when sitting in heaven? For certainly, before He ascended, He presented Himself to the touch of the disciples, when He said, as testified by the evangelist Luke, “Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have;”2 or when He said to Thomas the disciple, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and put forth thy hand, and thrust it into my side.” And who could be so absurd as to affirm that He was willing indeed to be touched by the disciples before He ascended to the Father, but refused it in the case of women till after His ascension? But no one, even had any the will, was to be allowed to run into such folly. For we read that women also, after His resurrection and before His ascension to the Father, touched Jesus, among whom was Mary Magdalene herself; for it is related by Matthew that Jesus met them, and said, “All hail. And they approached, and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him.”3 This was passed over by John, but declared as the truth by Matthew. It remains, therefore, that some sacred mystery must lie concealed in these words; and whether we discover it or utterly fail to do so, yet we ought to be in no doubt as to its actual existence. Accordingly, either the words, “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father,” had this meaning, that by this woman the Church of the Gentiles was symbolized, which did not believe on Christ till He had actually ascended to the Father, or that in this way Christ wished Himself to be believed on; in other words, to be touched spiritually, that He and the Father are one. For He has in a manner ascended to the Father, to the inward perception of him who has made such progress in the knowledge of Christ that he acknowledges Him as equal with the Father: in any other way He is not rightly touched, that is to say, in any other way He is not rightly believed on. But Mary might have still so believed as to account Him unequal with the Father, and this certainly is forbidden her by the words, “Touch me not;” that is, Believe not thus on me according to thy present notions; let not your thoughts stretch outwards to what I have been made in thy behalf, without passing beyond to that whereby thou hast thyself been made. For how could it be otherwise than carnally that she still believed on Him whom she was weeping over as a man? “For I am not yet ascended,” He says, “to my Father:” there shalt thou touch me, when thou believest me to be God, in no wise unequal with the Father. “But go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father.” He saith not, Our Father: in one sense, therefore, is He mine, in another sense, yours; by nature mine, by grace yours. “And my God, and your God.” Nor did He say here, Our God: here, therefore, also is He in one sense mine, in another sense yours: my God; under whom I also am as man; your God, between whom and you I am mediator.
- “Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples, I have seen the Lord, and He hath spoken these things unto me. Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when He had so said, He showed unto them His hands and His side.” For nails had pierced His hands, a spear had laid open His side: and there the marks of the wounds are preserved for healing the hearts of the doubting. But the shutting of doors presented no obstacle to the matter of His body, wherein Godhead resided. He indeed could enter without their being opened, by whose birth the virginity of His mother remained inviolate, “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. Then said He unto them again, Peace be unto you.” Reiteration is confirmation; for He Himself gives by the prophet a promised peace upon peace.4 “As the Father hath sent me,” He adds, “even so send I you.” We know the Son to be equal to the Father; but here we recognize the words of the Mediator. For He exhibits Himself as occupying a middle position when He says, He me, and I you. “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” By breathing on them He signified that the Holy Spirit was the Spirit, not of the Father alone, but likewise His own. “Whose so-ever sins,” He continues, “ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever ye retain, they are retained.” The Church’s love, which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, discharges the sins of all who are partakers with itself, but retains the sins of those who have no participation therein. Therefore it is, that after saying “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” He straightway added this regarding the remission and retention of sins.
- “But Thomas, one of the twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe. And after eight days, again His disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.” He saw and touched the man, and acknowledged the God whom he neither saw nor touched; but by the means of what he saw and touched, he now put far away from him every doubt, and believed the other. “Jesus saith unto him, Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed.” He saith not, Thou hast touched me, but, “Thou hast seen me,” because sight is a kind of general sense. For sight is also habitually named in connection with the other four senses: as when we say, Listen, and see how well it sounds; smell it, and see how well it smells; taste it, and see how well it savors; touch it, and see how hot it is. Everywhere has the word, See, made itself heard, although sight, properly speaking, is allowed to belong only to the eyes. Hence here also the Lord Himself says, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands:” and what else does He mean but, Touch and see? And yet he had no eyes in his finger. Whether therefore it was by looking, or also by touching, “Because thou hast seen me,” He says, “thou hast believed.” Although it may be affirmed that the disciple dared not so to touch, when He offered Himself for the purpose; for it is not written, And Thomas touched Him. But whether it was by gazing only, or also by touching that he saw and believed, what follows rather proclaims and commends the faith of the Gentiles: “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” He made use of words in the past tense, as One who, in His predestinating purpose, knew what was future, as if it had already taken place. But the present discourse must be kept from the charge of prolixity: the Lord will give us the opportunity to discourse at another time on the topics that remain.1(Ps 68,4,