Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Our Lord
Acts 10:34a,37-43 + Colossians 3:1-4 + John 20:1-9
March 27, 2016
“For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”
Once Jesus had died and descended into hell, would it have been possible for Jesus to accomplish His victory over sin and death by rising straight from hell to Heaven? Why did Jesus spend forty days on earth?
The answer might seem obvious: that is, to convince His followers of His Resurrection. We might think that if Jesus had been raised by the Father straight from death in hell to glory in Heaven, His disciples would not have believed in the Resurrection. On the other hand, we hear at the end of this morning’s Gospel passage that “the other disciple also went in… and he saw and believed.” Mary of Magdala had told Peter and John that the Lord’s Body had been taken from the tomb, but when John—“the other disciple”—saw the burial cloths there, and then entered the tomb, he “saw and believed.”
Does this mean that John believed in the Resurrection? St. Augustine of Hippo answers “no”, noting that the very next sentence of the Gospel text tells us that Peter and John “did not yet understand the Scripture that [Jesus] had to rise from the dead.” So what did John see and believe if not the Resurrection of Jesus? Augustine argues that John “saw the supulchre empty, and believed what the woman had said, that He had been taken away from the tomb” [Tract. 120,9].
So if even the two greatest apostles—Peter, most invested with authority by Jesus, and John, most beloved by Jesus—saw but did not believe in the Resurrection, what hope would other, lesser disciples have of believing without seeing the Lord Jesus in the Risen Flesh?
As we hear all four evangelists’ accounts of these forty days, we learn that the Risen Jesus fosters belief chiefly in two ways. Jesus explains “the Scriptures” of the Old Testament, and celebrates the Holy Eucharist. Jesus manifests the power of His Resurrection in Word and Sacrament, or better yet, in the Word and in the Word made Flesh.
But during these forty days, Jesus does not only convince His followers of what had happened on Easter Sunday morn. Jesus does not merely console them with final chances to be with Him before His Ascension. Jesus during these forty days equips His apostles.
The Easter Season has two poles. Easter is not only about celebrating the truth that Jesus has risen. Easter is also about preparing for Pentecost. Jesus was preparing His Apostles to lead the Church—His Mystical Body—from the day of Pentecost onwards by means of the Word and Sacrament. The focus of the Easter Season on the life of the Church is why the First Reading during Easter comes not from the Old Testament, as it does throughout the rest of the year, but from the Acts of the Apostles.
You and I need to spend this Easter Season, then, not only giving thanks for the gift of the Risen Jesus. Each of us needs to thank God for the Resurrection by faithfully living one’s vocation and daily stewardship within the life of that Mystical Body that this morning conquered sin and death.