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Reflections for Easter Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for Easter Sunday. He says that Easter marks the birthday of our eternal hope.

Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9   

Homily starter anecdote: “He is not here.” Egyptian pyramids are world-famous as one of the “seven Wonders” of the ancient world. But they are actually gigantic tombs containing the mummified bodies of Egyptian Pharaohs. Westminster Abby is famous, and thousands visit it because the dead bodies of famous writers, philosophers and politicians are entombed there. But there is a Shrine of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, and pilgrims from all over the world visit a tomb there which is empty with a note at its entrance which says, “He is not here.” It is famous because Jesus Christ, who was once buried there, rose from the dead, leaving an empty tomb, as He had told his disciples he would. Thus, He worked the most important miracle in His life, defying the laws of nature and proving that He is God. We rejoice at this great and unique event by celebrating Easter. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 

Significance of Easter: Easter is the greatest and the most important feast in the Church. It marks the birthday of our eternal hope.  "Easter" literally means "the feast of fresh flowers."  We celebrate it with pride and jubilation for three reasons:

1) The resurrection of Christ is the basis of our Christian Faith.  The Resurrection is the greatest of the miracles -- it proves that Jesus is God.  That is why St. Paul writes: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain; and your Faith is in vain…  And if Christ has not been raised, then your Faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins…  But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor 15:14, 17, 20).  If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then the Church is a fraud, and Faith is a sham. But if He really did rise from the dead, His message is true! Without the Resurrection, Jesus would have remained forever a good person who had met a tragic end.  People would remember some of his teachings, and a handful of people might try to live according to them. All the basic doctrines of Christianity are founded on the truth of the Resurrection.  “Jesus is Lord; He is risen” (Rom 10:9) was the central theme of the kerygma (or "preaching"), of the Apostles.     In fact, the seventeenth-century philosopher, John Locke, some of whose ideas were incorporated into the Declaration of Independence, wrote, "Our Savior’s Resurrection is truly of great importance in Christianity, so great that His being or not being the Messiah stands or falls with it."

2) Easter is the guarantee of our own resurrection.  Jesus assured Martha at the tomb of Lazarus: “I am the Resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me will live even though he dies” (Jn 11:25-26).  Christ will raise us up on the last day, but it is also true, in a sense, that we have already risen with Christ.  By virtue of the Holy Spirit, our Christian life is already a participation in the death and Resurrection of Christ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1002, #1003).  

3) Easter is a feast which gives us hope and encouragement. In this world of pain, sorrows, and tears, Easter reminds us that life is worth living.  It is our belief in the Real Presence of the Risen Jesus in our souls, in His Church, in the Blessed Sacrament, and in Heaven, that gives meaning to our personal, as well as to our common, prayers.   Our trust in the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord gives us strength to fight against temptations and freedom from unnecessary worries and fears.  The prayer of St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, reads: “Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ within me, never to part.”

Reasons why we believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (1) Jesus himself testified to his Resurrection from the dead (Mark 8:31; Matthew 17:22; Luke 9:22). (2) The tomb was empty on Easter Sunday (Luke 24:3). Although the guards claimed (Matthew 28:13), that the disciples of Jesus had stolen the body, every sensible Jew knew that it was impossible for the terrified disciples of Jesus to steal the body of Jesus from a tomb guarded by an armed, 16-member Temple Guard detachment. (3) The initial disbelief of Jesus’ own disciples in His Resurrection, in spite of His repeated apparitions, serves as a strong proof of His Resurrection. Their initial disbelief explains why the Apostles started preaching the Risen Christ only after receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. (4) The transformation of Jesus’ disciples: Jesus’ Resurrection and the anointing of the Holy Spirit transformed men who were hopeless and fearful after the crucifixion (Luke 24:21, John 20:19), into men who now were confident and bold witnesses to the Resurrection (Acts 2:24, 3:15, 4:2). (5) Neither the Jews nor the Romans could disprove Jesus’ Resurrection by presenting the dead body of Jesus. (6) The Apostles and early Christians would not have faced martyrdom if they were not absolutely sure of Jesus’ Resurrection. (7) The Apostle Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christians to a zealous preacher of Jesus supports the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection (Galatians 1:11-17, Acts 9:1,  Acts 9:24-25,  Acts 26:15-18). (8) The sheer existence of a thriving, empire-conquering early Christian Church, bravely facing and surviving three centuries of persecution, supports the truth of the Resurrection claim. (9) The New Testament witnesses do not bear the stamp of dupes or deceivers. The Apostles and the early Christians were absolutely sure about the Resurrection of Jesus. Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright have commented incisively that if Jesus had not been raised bodily from the dead, Christianity would never have survived as a Messianic movement. Wright says that the clearest indication to a first-century Jew that someone was not the Messiah would be his death at the hands of the enemies of Israel. That the Church of Christ endured as a Messianic religion is possible only on the assumption that the Crucified One was, nevertheless, objectively alive.

Exegesis: The Resurrection of Jesus had certain special features. First, Jesus prophesied it as a sign of His Divinity: “Tear down this temple and in three days I will build it again” (Jn 2:19).  Second, the founder of no other religion has an empty tomb as Jesus has.  We see the fulfillment of Christ's promise on the empty cross and in the empty tomb. The angel said to the women at Jesus’ tomb, “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive?  He is not here: he has been raised” (Luke 24:5-6).  The third special feature is the initial disbelief of Jesus’ own disciples in His Resurrection, in spite of His repeated apparitions.  This serves as a strong proof of His Resurrection. It explains why the Apostles started preaching the Risen Christ only after receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  

 Scripture readings summarized: Proclamation and witness-bearing are the main themes of today’s readings. In the first reading, St. Peter shares his own experience of Christ’s Resurrection and its joy with the newly baptized members of Cornelius’ family. In the second reading, St. Paul, converted on the Damascus Road by Jesus from a persecuting Pharisee into a zealous apostle of Jesus, urges his converts to live the new life in the risen Christ, to which they were raised by their conversion, in order to share in the glory of Christ on His return. Today’s Gospel explains the empty-tomb-resurrection-experience of Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. Mary Magdalene proclaims her personal experience: “I have seen the Lord.” “The best proof of the Resurrection is a Church on fire.” Clarence Jordan, Christian Century 7/9/14 year of service to the Church in the U.S.

Resurrection of Jesus in St. Paul’s letters: The earliest Biblical exposition on the Resurrection of Christ is in 1 Cor 15 which runs thus: “The Messiah died for our sins, was buried and was raised according to the Scriptures.” (Here, Paul simply proclaims the Resurrection without the aid of any apparition story). Why did Paul write this? The Corinthians had a tendency to “collapse” Christian teachings back into pagan religion. In particular, they had a tendency to view the afterlife as a bodiless immortality of the soul. Paul is trying to teach them “eschatology” - the story of God’s plan to put the world right in Jesus (Eschatology = the branch of theology dealing with the ultimate destiny of mankind and the world). In the middle of this, Paul is trying to teach them the Christian view of our future – a bodily resurrection. Following the mention of Jesus’ Resurrection, the discourse continues with our own bodily resurrection. What is this new resurrection body? “The resurrection body possesses both continuity and discontinuity with the existing body.” 1 Cor 15:38 give us an example of this continuity/discontinuity: “The plant grows from the seed yet is a different sort of a thing.” The resurrection body should be thought of as a transformation of the existing body into a new mode of physicality (“transformed physicality”). At the same time 1 Cor 15:58 gives the impression that the present physical body matters. What you do in the present body is in continuity with who you are going to be in the future body. Paul further discusses the meaning of the transformation of the present body at the end of Philippians 3 and at the beginning of 2 Cor 5. In 2 Cor 5 he uses the metaphors of Seed and Corn; Tent and Temple. The present body is metaphorically thought to be a shadow of our future self. The eschatology of Paul we can summarize thus: “We live in this odd interval in God’s purpose in history, between the Resurrection of Jesus in the past, and our own future resurrection with God’s remaking of the whole world in the future, and these two together hold us in a newly-storied world, in a new imaginative world, in which we can live and work as Christians and in which we know that what we do in the present is not in vain, is not going to be thrown away. We are building, hopefully with gold and silver and precious stones, and when the day appears, then that work will appear with it.” That means Paul experienced, understood and proclaimed (wrote) the Resurrection of Christ even without the aid of Resurrection stories. <https://www.facebook.com/jijo.kurian.58?fref=ufi).

Life messages: 1) We are to be a Resurrection people:  Easter, the feast of the Resurrection, gives us the joyful message that we are a “Resurrection people.”  This means that we are not supposed to lie buried in the tomb of our sins, evil habits and dangerous addictions.  It gives us the Good News that no tomb can hold us down anymore - not the tomb of despair, discouragement or doubt, nor that of death.  Instead, we are expected to live a joyful and peaceful life, constantly experiencing the real presence of the Risen Lord in all the events of our lives.  “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” (Psalm 118:24). 

2) We need to seek our peace and joy in the Risen Jesus:  The living presence of the Risen Lord gives us lasting peace and celestial joy in the face of the boredom, suffering, pain and tensions of our day-to-day life.  “Peace be with you!” was His salutation to His disciples at all post-Resurrection appearances.  For the true Christian, every day must be an Easter Day, lived joyfully in the close company of the Risen Lord.

3) We are to be transparent Christians: We are called to be transparent Christians, showing others, through our lives of love, mercy, compassion and self-sacrificing service, that the Risen Jesus is living in our hearts.  

4) We need to live new, disciplined lives in the Risen Jesus:  Our awareness of the all-pervading, loving presence of the Risen Lord in and around us, and the strong conviction of our own coming resurrection, help us control our thoughts, desires, words and behavior.  These salutary thoughts inspire us to honor our bodies, keeping them holy, pure and free from evil habits and addictions. Our conviction that the Risen Lord is present in our neighbors and in all those we encounter should encourage us to respect them, and to render them loving, humble and selfless service.

5) We need to remember Easter in our Good Fridays:  Easter reminds us that every Good Friday in our lives will have an Easter Sunday and that Jesus will let us share the power of His Resurrection.  Each time we display our love of others, we share in the Resurrection.  Each time we face a betrayal of trust, we share in the Resurrection of Jesus.  Each time we fail in our attempts to ward off temptations – but keep on trying to overcome them – we share in the Resurrection.  Each time we continue to hope – even when our hope seems unanswered – we share in the power of Jesus’ Resurrection.  In short, the message of Easter is that nothing can destroy us – not pain, sin, rejection or death – because Christ has conquered all these, and we too can conquer them if we put our Faith in Him. 

6) We are to be bearers of the Good News of Resurrection power. Resurrection is Good News, but at the same time, it’s sometimes painful because it involves death. Before the power of the Resurrection can take hold in our own lives, we’re called to die to sin, to die to self. We may even have to die to our own dreams, so that God can do what He wants to do with our lives. Resurrection is about seeing our world in a new way. Early that Easter morning, Mary Magdalene did not find what she was looking for, the dead body of Jesus. But she found something better than she could have imagined: The Risen Jesus. Sometimes, the things we think we want most are not granted to us.  What we get instead is an experience of God’s new ways of working in the world. That’s the power of the Resurrection. When those moments come, we must spread the news--just as Mary Magdalene did: We have seen the Lord!

7) We need to be Easter people: We are in truth called to be an "Easter people", because there are many Easter moments in our lives. It may be in prayer, when for a moment we really experience the love of God, especially having felt His absence, as we often do, like the disciples who experienced the emptiness of the tomb. It may be that moment when we are touched and given hope by a word of Scripture - like the disciples on the road to Emmaus when their hearts were uplifted in joy and hope as the Lord opened up the scriptures to them. Or it may be a moment during the sacrament of reconciliation, after we have acknowledged honestly our weakness and selfishness, our sinfulness and come to experience his forgiveness. Indeed, there are times in our lives when we know, through Faith, that the times of calm after the storm, of joy after sorrow, of restored vitality after weary days on our journey of Faith, are truly times when we share in his paschal mystery. (Fr. Antony Kadavil).

18 April 2019, 20:05