Sunday Scripture

By Father Paul Nord, O.S.B.

Easter Sunday

First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 10:34a, 37-43; Response: Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4; Gospel: John 20:1-9

Today, on Easter Sunday, the Church gives us readings that emphasize Christ’s resurrection – and its consequences of salvation for those who belong to Christ. Our first reading (Acts 10), contains the prophetic words spoken by Peter immediately before the baptism of the Roman centurion Cornelius with his relatives and friends. The preceding verses – 10:1-33 – recount this important event when God revealed to Peter that these Gentiles should be baptized. Cornelius and his household are described as “God-fearers” in 10:2. “God-fearers” sought to live certain aspects of the Jewish faith – but without becoming Jewish through circumcision. After a vision, and led by the Spirit, Peter travels to Cornelius’ home.

This is the context for today’s reading, in which Peter recounts Jesus’ miraculous works to Cornelius and company – presuming their familiarity with these events. Peter declares about Jesus: “We are witnesses of all that he did.” Peter witnesses to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and resurrected bodily appearance “to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance.” Then Peter asserts that he and his colleagues have been commisioned by Jesus to preach and testify “that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.” 

Notice the recurring theme of “witness.” Peter and the other apostles are commissioned as witnesses to all that Jesus has done. Peter also points to the prophets as bearing witness to Jesus. The Holy Spirit enables and guides Peter and the apostles in their witness of word and deed. Indeed, Peter’s baptism of Cornelius and his household is entirely directed by the Holy Spirit. In the verses that follow today’s reading (10:44-49), the Holy Spirit descended upon Cornelius and his household while Peter was speaking the prophetic words of 10:34-43. This gift of the Holy Spirit to Gentiles convinced Peter that they must be baptized immediately – without first becoming Jews.

Next – from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians – is a powerful exhortation that we Christian believers should live lives worthy of salvation by Christ’s resurrection. We are exhorted to “seek what is above” and to “think of what is above.” This way of living is a consequence of “dying in Christ” and thus having our life “hidden with Christ in God.” This is a recurring theme of Paul’s – that it is necessary for us to die with Christ if we hope to also live with Christ. Paul boldly states that Christian believers will appear with Christ “in glory.” This will occur when Christ appears in his second coming – the parousia.

Finally, today’s Gospel is John’s account of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Mary Magdalene arrived at Jesus’ tomb “early in the morning, while it was still dark.” In John’s Gospel, light and darkness are recurring themes. In this passage, the darkness reminds us of Mary’s lack of understanding – her absence of faith. Jesus is described in the prologue of John’s gospel as “the light [which] shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). Jesus, the Son of God, reveals God to humanity through his life and death.

Mary’s arrival at the tomb early in the morning shows her love for Jesus. Mark’s Gospel (Mk 16:1) says that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb – with two other women – to anoint Jesus’ body on the day after the sabbath. John 20 apparently describes the same event – although John’s and Mark’s accounts include different details.

When Mary arrives at the tomb, she is immediately alarmed by seeing that the stone – which had covered the tomb entrance – had been removed. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had buried Jesus in this rock-hewn tomb (John 19:38-42; Mk 15:43-47), which showed their reverence for Jesus. Among the Jewish leaders, they were both prominent men. Thus they were risking their positions by identifying themselves with Jesus.

Seeing the stone removed, Mary assumes that Jesus’ body has been stolen. So she runs and finds Simon Peter and “the other disciple whom Jesus loved.” Tradition usually identifies this “other disciple” as John the Evangelist. Mary tells them: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb.” She is greatly alarmed, and now they are also – so they begin running to the tomb. 

The text contrasts the actions of Peter versus the “other disciple.” Although the “other disciple” arrives first at the tomb, he only enters the tomb after Peter arrives. While still outside, the other disciple “bent down and saw the burial cloths” inside the tomb. He is bending to cautiously look through the tomb entrance. 

Peter enters the tomb first. Peter notes that the burial cloths have been “rolled up in a separate place” – that is, separate from the “head cloth.” This is strong evidence that Jesus’ body has not been stolen. First, thieves would leave a dead body wrapped because carrying an unwrapped dead body is more unpleasant than carrying a wrapped body. Second, thieves would not take time to carefully roll up burial cloths. They would be in a hurry to escape. Thus Peter was surprised by what he saw. 

The “other disciple” also enters the tomb and sees the same thing. The gospel texts notes that the other disciple “saw and believed.” Similar language is found later John 20 after Thomas insists that he will not believe that Jesus is risen until “[I] put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side” (John 20:25). When Thomas does encounter the risen Jesus and proclaims his belief, Jesus responds “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29). The gospel narrator recognizes that Jesus’ words apply well to the readers of his gospel – including us today.

Today’s gospel text remains silent about Peter’s belief upon seeing the burial cloths rolled up carefully, and the head cloth laid separate. He and the other disciples perhaps required a direct encounter with the risen Jesus to fully believe. Therefore today’s text ends: “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”