EASTER SUNDAY: SOLEMNITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD
Acts 10:34a 37-43; Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; JOHN 20:1-9
Easter is the central liturgical feast of the Year of Grace. Every Sunday is a celebration of Easter. But the name “Easter” seems meaningless to designate this major solemnity of the year. What does this name mean? Since the time of St. Bede, (died 735), English monk, priest, theologian, historian and Doctor of the Church, it has been generally accepted that the name “Easter” is derived from the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring, Eastre, possibly with the meaning, “dawn.” Strange indeed, that English-speaking Christians have not come up with an expression of a more wholesome origin than “Happy Easter!” To celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from death to life we invoke the name of an ancient heathen goddess!
The first reading for Easter Sunday is not taken from the Old Testament as usual, but from Acts of Apostles, which is Luke’s second volume to his gospel. Acts is thought to have been written in the late eighties of the first Christian century definitely after Luke’s gospel. The author himself tells us this in the first sentence of Acts. The speeches in Acts of Apostles are written by Luke some years after the historical proclamation was made by the Apostles, by St. Paul, and others. Luke follows a general principle of Greek literature that went like this, “We don’t always know what an individual said at such and such a time, so we write what we think they should have said.” Of course Luke uses traditions handed down, traditions that he gathered in his research – perhaps even in personal contact with Peter and Paul and others.
The speech of St. Peter that we have today was a standard form of catechesis in earliest Christi-anity. A few sentences summarize the life of Jesus from his baptism by John, his guidance by the Holy Spirit, his ministry of healing, the eye and ear witness of his disciples, his death and resur-rection. Next the speech notes the credentials of the disciples whom Jesus commissioned to preach. Then an affirmation of the agreement between the oracles of the Old Testament prophets and what happened to Jesus. It was all planned by God from the beginning. The result of the speech is not included in this reading. “The Holy Spirit fell upon those who heard the word … and Peter commanded that they all be baptized.” How simple the RCIA in early Christianity!
The theme of the Responsorial Psalm (118) is joy and thanksgiving. The people’s response is an expression well-known to Christian Catholics, and could serve as a Christian substitute for the greeting, “Happy Easter!” Here it is: “This is the day the Lord has made!” To this a Christian would respond in the remaining words of the people’s response, “Let us rejoice and be glad!”
The second reading for the feast of the resurrection of Jesus is taken from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Paul was warning his congregants of the corrupting influence of a crime against marriage committed in their Christian community and their indifference about it. He uses the language of the kitchen. “Don’t you know that a little leaven (yeast) corrupts (spreads through) the whole lump of dough?” He commands them to clean up this situation. Why? And this is the reason for the selection of this reading for today. “For Christ our Passover (Paschal Lamb) has been sacrificed.” As the blood of the original Passover lamb on the doorposts of Israelite homes in Egypt spared the lives of their firstborn, so the blood of the ultimate and perfect Passover Lamb, (Jesus Christ), on the post of the cross, spared the lives of those who believe in him. Paul adds a fitting conclusion, “Let’s celebrate this feast, not with the old yeast which symbolized sin, but with the unleavened (no yeast added) bread of sincerity and truth.”
The gospel for the feast of the resurrection of Jesus is the opening story of the events that took place after the death and burial of Jesus. Recall how Jesus’ body had been hurriedly buried on “Friday” to avoid handling a corpse on the Passover Sabbath or seventh day. Now it was the first day of the week (our Sunday). Love is a major attraction, so who is out and about so early? Mary of Magdala, a major disciple and financial support of Jesus’ ministry. Note the contrast between her and the Apostles who had sealed themselves into fearful seclusion. She becomes the first witness to the empty tomb. She reports to Peter and to “the other disciple, whom Jesus loved.” He remains unnamed throughout the gospel. Both ran to the tomb. The other disciple got there first because “he ran faster.” Love for Jesus is the motivation for speed, and not, as was the opinion of a Church Father, that the other disciple was unmarried and could therefore run faster. One suspects the Church Father was celibate.
The other disciple respectfully waited until the one, whom Jesus already tentatively designated as the boss, came up and entered the tomb. Simon Peter sees the burial shroud lying there somewhat like we drop our pajamas on a bed in the morning. The cloth which Jewish custom placed over the face of the dead was rolled up separately. Perhaps a credit to the neatness Jesus learned from his mother. More likely the statement about the rolled up face cover is intended as a refutation of the rumor that later gained momentum – that the body had been stolen by thieves or was hidden by the disciples. Even though Simon Peter is treated with respect by the authors or editors of this gospel, clearly their favorite actor is “the other disciple.” Those responsible for the development of this story do not say so, but we are left with the impression that Simon Peter remained clueless at this time. Not so the other disciple! “He saw and believed.” We are not told what he believed. Did he believe that Jesus had risen from the dead? The last sentence seems to contradict it. “For they did not yet understand the Scripture, that he had to rise from the dead.” The faith of that “other disciple” serves as a contrast to doubting Thomas about to appear on stage.