Sunday Sermon for March 27, 2016, Solemnity of Easter, year C
Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9
Today we celebrate the single greatest event that humanity has ever known: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In our day of modern medicine, there have been many people who have been resuscitated, but of the seven billion people who presently inhabit the earth, not a single one of us has ever witnessed a resurrection. Technically, the Apostles did not witness the actual event of our Lord’s resurrection, but they bore witness to the resurrection because the proof was irrefutable.
It must be made clear before speaking of anyone else, that our Blessed Lady never doubted that her Son would rise from the dead. She knew well what the Scriptures said about the Messiah. She had witnessed everything that had happened from the time of the Annunciation through the crucifixion and, most importantly, she knew that her Son was God. I think it is fair to assume that our Lady did not understand what it meant to rise from the dead, but at the same time, she did not doubt or deny what was prophesied regarding her Son.
What profound patience she had to display when it came to the Apostles. We know that they all gathered around her in the upper room and she taught them. After the resurrection they were certainly very eager and willing students. Having to deal with their own doubts and denials that had occurred over the previous few days, the Apostles had to admit their own weakness and learn to rely on the strength of God.
In the first reading St. Peter speaks of the fact of our Lord eating and drinking with the Apostles after the resurrection. Undoubtedly, it was this which not only sealed the faith of Thomas, but of the other Apostles as well. St. John, however, when speaking of his own experience, tells us in the Gospel today that he believed after seeing the burial cloths in the tomb, but the cloth that covered our Lord’s head rolled up in a separate place. What is so special about this that the Beloved Disciple would believe at that point? After all, the women had told them that someone had taken the body away.
I think that what struck St. John and made him believe was the realization that if someone had stolen the body of our Lord, they probably would not have taken the time to remove the headpiece and roll it up. If they had removed it, they would most likely have thrown it with the rest of the burial cloths. Someone wanting to steal the body would want to get out of the tomb as quickly as possible; they would not want to set the body down, remove the cloth that covered the head, and then carefully roll it up and set it in a separate area. With this in mind, St. John was able to put his faith in the resurrection immediately.
We also know that St. Mary Magdalene did not believe in the Lord’s resurrection until He appeared to her. She came to the tomb early with the intention of washing the body and preparing it for burial. Because it was nearly sunset on Good Friday, the preparations for burial would have to wait until after the Sabbath. The body of our Lord was covered with oils to preserve it for a couple of days until the proper preparations could be made. So, if St. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb to take care of the body of Jesus, she was obviously expecting to find a dead body.
Today we have the advantage of 2000 years of testimony and reflection by the Church and by many Saints. We have the words of the Apostles themselves as recorded in the pages of the New Testament. But even with all of that, do we merely believe in a concept, or do we truly believe in the power of the resurrection? One day our bodies are going to rise from the dead and they will be reunited with our souls to live forever. What we do not know is where, of the two possibilities, we will be spending eternity. At the moment we rise, the resurrection will no longer be a theoretical concept or a catechism answer that we memorized but have not gone beyond.
The reality of the resurrection completely transformed the Apostles as well as those who accepted their message. We need to pray for the grace to allow this truth to transform us so that believing in the resurrection is not just an intellectual effort but one that changes our hearts to live the Faith that we profess. This way, the greatest event in human history is not just about what happened to Jesus 2000 years ago, it is also about us, today, being transformed by His resurrection.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.