By Father Donald Dilger
Solemnity of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus
First Reading: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Response: Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; Gospel: John 20:1-9
Happy Easter! The celebration of Spring was a rite long before Christianity. It celebrated the resurrection of nature. How appropriate that Jesus rose from the dead in Spring. Even though we celebrate his resurrection at this time, there remains an element of pre-Christian in our celebration. It is seen and heard in the greeting for this day — Happy Easter! What is the origin of the word Easter? We turn to the great English monk, priest, theologian, historian, Doctor of the Church, St. Bede the Venerable. According to Bede, the name Easter derives from the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess Eastre, possibly meaning Dawn. It is doubtful that anyone can change how we greet each other on the greatest Solemnity of the Year of Grace. Its centuries-long usage has sanctified it, baptized it. Even though it would be more appropriate for Christians to wish each other a joyful resurrection, it would come across as rather odd. Nevertheless, a Happy Resurrection to all!
The context of the first reading is St. Peter’s divinely commanded visit to Cornelius, a Roman military officer (centurion). Luke, the author of Acts of Apostles, describes Cornelius as a devout man, who with his family was a God-fearer, a Gentile who observed much of Jewish ritual celebration. He was generous to the poor and prayed constantly to God. Peter arrives at the house. He listens to Cornelius’ story about an angel appearing to him, praising his good works, and telling him to get in touch with Peter. The latter is astounded. His response is a brief sermon — today’s first reading. Luke composed this sermon decades after Peter’s death. It is a summary presentation of the Good News. Like our gospels, the sermon begins with the baptismal ministry of John.
Then follows the anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit, his healing ministry, his death and resurrection. Peter establishes his own and others’ legitimacy as witnesses of Jesus, “. . . we who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” To this witness he adds their commissioning to preach the resurrection. The purpose of preaching closes the sermon, “that everyone believing in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” There are many who would be happy with a homily as short as this one — one paragraph in Acts. Was the sermon effective? “While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word . . . and he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” That was the original RCIA!
Psalm 118 is a song of thanksgiving after a king returns from battle. It is appropriate to celebrate with thanksgiving because our own King has just returned victorious from battle. The words of the Psalm can relate to the Father’s intervention at the moment of Jesus’ death — from the rending of the temple veil to the earthquake and mysterious opening of tombs to the resurrection of Jesus, “The right hand of the Lord has struck with power. I shall not die but I shall live.” The people’s response is particularly appropriate for this day, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.”
Paul begins our second reading with a homey example. “Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens (changes) the whole batch of dough?” One of the Corinthian Christians was living in public sin, married to his stepmother. Paul is afraid this will corrupt the whole congregation. He instructs them to “clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a new batch of dough.” This must be done not only to get rid of the scandal, but especially “because our Passover Lamb Christ has been sacrificed.”
On the first day of the week before sunrise a beloved disciple of Jesus comes to his tomb. She is Mary of Magdala. Along with other wealthy women, even some royals, she became a disciple of Jesus and supported his ministry. They followed him all the way to his death and burial. Her love for Jesus impels her to be the first to visit his grave after the Sabbath ended. To her surprise the circular stone that had been rolled across the entrance to the tomb was rolled back. She ran to report the empty tomb to Simon Peter “and the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Her report was that someone moved the body. Peter and the beloved disciple ran to the tomb. John notes that the other disciple got there first because he could run faster. An ancient commentator explained, “He could run faster because he was not married!” He looked into the tomb, saw the burial cloths, but did not enter. Why not? Respect for Peter, leader of the apostles, older and slower. Peter entered the tomb. He saw the burial cloths including the rolled up cloth used to cover Jesus’ face. Mary taught her Son not to throw his clothes on the floor. The other disciple also entered the tomb. The author of the gospel compliments him, “He saw and believed.” Was Peter still clueless? But here is what the author of the Gospel of John is doing. He presents “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as a model of faith in the resurrection of Jesus. The beloved disciple is one of the heroes of John’s gospel. He is probably a major source of detailed information contained in this gospel.
Throughout much of Christian history Mary of Magdala was thought to have been a prostitute who reformed after she became a disciple of Jesus. There is no biblical evidence for this opinion. All we know of her background is in Luke 8:1-3. Jesus cured her and other wealthy women of their illnesses. They became his disciples and financially supported his ministry. Mary became not only the first to find the empty tomb, but also the first to meet Jesus after his resurrection, (at least in John’s gospel). It is only in our time that Mary Magdalene’s reputation is being rehabilitated. When Pope Gregory the Great, died 694, identified her with the public sinner of Luke 8, he did so without gospel evidence. Pope Francis did right when he elevated her liturgical celebration to the rank of a Feast, same as the Feast Days of the Apostles. She was the Apostle to the Apostles.