MARCH 27TH, 2016: EASTER SUNDAY
Peter proceeded to speak and said:
“You know what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.
We are witnesses of all that he did
both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.
This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us,
the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commissioned us to preach to the people
and testify that he is the one appointed by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Brothers and sisters:
Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?
Clear out the old yeast,
so that you may become a fresh batch of dough,
inasmuch as you are unleavened.
For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.
Therefore, let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.
Every grade school morning for eight years I stared at a stain glass window depicting Jesus’ resurrection. It was just above the altar on the “epistle side.” The scene was obviously from Matthew’s narrative of the event. Guards were strewn over the ground as the risen Jesus came majestically out of the tomb. Of course, at that time I didn’t know that no one in the church had the nerve to describe Jesus’ actual resurrection for hundreds of years after the event. Our evangelists narrate only the discovery of an empty tomb, messages from angels, and the risen Jesus’ later appearances. Technically we have no “resurrection narratives.” (When the author of the apocryphal Gospel of Peter eventually described the actual resurrection, the risen Jesus is taller than the clouds and he’s carrying a “talking” cross!)
The main reason our sacred authors don’t describe Jesus’ resurrection was because they believed it really was a resurrection and not a resuscitation. Many of Jesus’ followers today aren’t familiar with such a distinction. When someone is resuscitated they return from the dead pretty much as the same person he or she was when they died. For instance, when in Luke’s gospel Jesus resuscitates the widow of Nain’s son, if the boy was Democrat before he died, he’d no doubt still be a Democrat after Jesus brought him back to life. He wouldn’t have become a Republican.
That doesn’t happen when someone is risen - or rises - from the dead. The problem is Jesus of Nazareth is the only biblical person who accomplishes that feat. As Paul reminded his communities, a risen person morphs into a “new creation.” He or she is completely freed from all the limits that restrict us humans. The Apostle once pointed out to his Galatian Christians that the risen Jesus is no longer a Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. He/she’s simply “other” from anyone we’ve ever encountered. How do you describe such a person?
The late Fr. Frank Cleary was convinced that if someone set up a camcorder outside Jesus’ tomb on Easter Sunday morning, the recorded tape would simply show just a tomb on Easter Sunday morning. The risen Jesus can only be experienced by those who do what’s necessary to surface such an individual.
That seems to be why, in today’s Acts passage, Luke has Peter point out, “This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance . . . .” Jesus’ resurrection is obviously a matter of faith; an event only people of faith can perceive.
No wonder Paul consistently reminds his communities that they, like the historical Jesus’ original followers, must experience a “metanoia:” a complete reversal of their value systems. “Clear out the old yeast,” he commands his Corinthian Christians, “so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened.” Jesus’ resurrection not only transformed him, it also transforms us.
The three participants in John’s empty tomb passage provide us with a classic example of the gradualness of this metanoia. It’s rarely instantaneous. At this point of today’s passage, Mary of Magdala, Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple seem to be looking for just a “removed” Jesus. “They have taken the Lord from the tomb,” Mary reports, “and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” Though all three disciples eventually come to believe, John mentions, “They did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”
Is it possible, on this day of all days, some of us still don’t understand the Scripture that we also must rise from the dead?