Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord. March 31, 2024

 Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord. March 31, 2024

Acts 10: 34a, 37-43; Colossians 3: 1-4; John 20: 1-9


Theme: Our Love for Jesus Causes Us to Believe in His Resurrection

This morning, we are gathered here in our Church with an overwhelming sense of joy and celebration as we commemorate the resurrection of our Lord. This event signifies a new life in Christ for each of us, a life filled with hope and promise. Our scripture readings of today bear witness to the fact that our Lord has risen; he is alive. Three witnesses (Mary of Magdala, Peter, and the “other disciple”) share their profound experience of the “empty tomb” (Gospel). Peter, in his proclamation, brings to life the living Christ, his life (all over Judea, beginning in Galilee), death, and resurrection (first reading). Paul, in his explanation, guides us on how to live our lives, knowing that we are raised with Christ (second reading).

Knowing the context of our first reading is essential to understand better what Peter teaches us today. Note that our first reading is a speech attributed to Peter on the occasion of his visit to the house of a Roman centurion named Cornelius (see Acts 10: 1-33). This Gentile Cornelius was a generous supporter of the Jewish community in Caesarea. One day, while praying, he had a vision and was told to invite Peter to his house. (vv. 1-8). Peter also had a vision in which God told him to cancel specific food prohibitions that kept both Jews and Gentiles separated from each other (10:9-16). Then, three men, Cornelius’ messengers, arrived at Peter’s house with a mission to invite Peter to go to Cornelius' home. As Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit of God asked him to accompany these three men without hesitation.  Note that because of the prohibited food, Jews and Gentiles could not enter each other’s homes. So, Peter, a Jew, entered the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, and socialized with many other Gentiles that he found there, namely Cornelius’s household, relatives, and friends (10:17-24). The first thing that Peter did was to acknowledge in their presence that Jews (including himself) were not supposed to associate with or visit Gentiles. But in the vision, God showed him that no human being is to be considered “profane or unclean” (see v. 28). Thus, Peter broke the tradition that separated Jews from Gentiles. Then Cornelius explained to Peter why he invited him (vv. 30-33). After this, now comes our first reading story.

Peter delivers his testimony to the Gentiles about the central mystery of the Christian faith. The first words of his speech, which encourage unity between Gentiles and Jews, are found in vv. 34b-36 that the lectionary omitted. He says, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” The message of the Resurrection of Christ that we bring to our brothers and sisters must be the message not of separation but of unity. The new life that the Risen Lord offers us is the new life of togetherness. Let us break all barriers of division that separated us from one another and start a new life of unity with Christ. Peter continues his speech by summarizing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus went about doing good and healing all the oppressed people. He was crucified and raised by God. He appeared to the apostles as the witnesses chosen by God in advance. Jesus commissioned them to preach and testify that he is the one God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. So, faith in Jesus is required to obtain forgiveness of sins (vv. 37-43). Through this reading, our Holy Mother Church exhorts us to believe that our Lord Jesus, who was crucified, is now alive. We, Christians, are the successors of the apostles, the eyewitnesses of these events.   

Our Gospel passage begins with Mary of Magdala going to the tomb on the first day of the week. She is alone. And it was still dark when she went to the tomb. The Gospel of John is the only one to report Mary of Magdala as the sole visitor to the tomb. This invites us to have a personal experience of the Empty Tomb. Darkness here represents our moments of negative feelings, such as unfaith, fear, and worry. When she arrives at the place, Mary Magdalene has not encountered an angel, nor has she seen the empty tomb. She just saw the stone removed from the tomb (see v. 1). (Note that later, following this passage, she will return to the tomb. That time, she will see and experience the empty tomb; she will see two angels in the tomb and the Risen Lord, whom she will first confuse with a gardener. When Christ calls her by her name, “Mary,” she immediately realizes it is the Lord [see vv. 11-18]). In our Gospel passage, Mary Magdalene deals with an opened tomb. In the darkness, she runs to announce the news to Peter and the other disciple identified here as “the beloved disciple.” Where there is love, everything becomes possible. Because this woman loved her Lord Jesus, the dark moments of her life did not stop her from going to her Lord on the “first day of the week,” Sunday. We, too, have moments when we experience darkness. So, we cannot let our dark moments prevent us from coming to Church, where Jesus waits for us at the Eucharistic celebration. Also, in her darkness, Mary Magdalene seeks help from Peter and “the beloved disciple.” When we are confused and experience moments of darkness, let us seek help from others through spiritual direction or accompaniment.

Mary Magdalene did not mention anything about the resurrection of the Lord in her report to the disciples because she is still in “darkness” at this point. She told the two disciples that the Lord had been taken out of the tomb by an unnamed plural, “they.” “They have taken the Lord from the tomb…” Also, notice how she associates the two disciples with her lack of faith by employing another plural “we,” “… and we don’t know where they put him.” (v. 2). This shows how we function when we are in the dark moment of our lives. We think that we are the ones who are right. We want everybody to agree with us and join us in our unbelief. However, when we seek help in confession or spiritual/psychological direction or accompaniment, we must let God guide us through our confessor or spiritual director. We must be humble to recognize our limits. We cannot teach and testify to the people about the resurrection of Jesus, as the first reading taught us, if we, ourselves, do not believe in him.    

 In v. 2, Mary Magdalene runs from the tomb, and in v. 3, Peter and his companion run toward the tomb. The other disciple arrives first as he runs faster than Peter. However, he lets Peter go first into the tomb because Peter is the leader of the disciples. Peter experiences the empty tomb, but nothing is said about his reaction. The other disciple Jesus loved also enters; he does his own experience of the empty tomb and believes. The narrator adds an important detail: “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” (v. 9). Love can cause us to do things without thinking, trust without logical reason, and accept things without necessarily understanding them first. This is what happens with Peter’s companion in this story. He believes without any evidence of Christ's presence or an angel's testimony. Note that the narrator does not give the name of this disciple. He refers to him as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This unnamed disciple represents all believing Christians like you and me. Jesus loves us, and we love him. Thus, in our own experience of the empty tomb, our love must cause us to believe in the resurrection of our Lord before we can even try to understand its logical process. Love and Faith are connected. 

 The liturgy of this Mass invites us to connect our love for Jesus with our faith in him. No dark moments can stop us from going to Jesus and believing in his resurrection. As we start a new life with our Risen Lord, Saint Paul, in our second reading, exhorts us to seek and think now of what is above, not what is on earth (see Colossians 3: 1-3). May the mystery of the Empty Tomb that we celebrate in this liturgy fill our hearts with the joy of the resurrection. Amen.

Happy Easter!

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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