Today I got up and opened my Yahoo home page and was surprised to find no mention of Easter. It's not as if there was a lot of pressing or important news items crowding it out. The lead article was about the football draft and Easter wasn't even trending. Then, I went out into my driveway to pick up the Sunday paper. Again, the front page was devoid of any mention of Easter, and even a look inside failed to turn up any mention of the great Christian feast. It's enough to make one a conspiracy theorist.
Anyway, please pardon me if I reflect a little on Easter and its meaning to over a billion Christians all over the World.
The Catholic Church uses many different readings on Easter. The Saturday Vigil Mass has seven readings from the Old Testament: St. Paul's famous letter to the Romans--"Christ raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over Him;" and St. Mark's account of the empty tomb. In the afternoon Mass there is the account of the risen Lord's appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
The morning Mass, however, begins with a reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Peter is preaching. Remember how prominently Peter appeared in the readings during Holy Week. Last Sunday he told Jesus that he would follow Him to prison, even to death. But his Lord predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the cock crows. Peter's subsequent denial is one of the few things reported in all four gospels. It is virtually impossible to doubt the historical basis of Peter's denial.
Today it's a different Peter. He gives as good an account of the life and work of Jesus as you will find anywhere. Then he bears witness to the Resurrection,
This man God raised on the third day and granted
that He be visible...to us,...
who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.
Finally, he makes the claim "that everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins through His name."
However, it's easy to imagine that Peter might have felt differently after the death of Jesus. He didn't know how the story was going to come out. What was there to believe? As St. John says in today's gospel, "they did not yet understand the Scripture that He had to rise from the dead." Not only had his Lord been brutally tortured and killed, but Peter had also turned his back on Jesus. He especially could have no hope of a resurrection or new day. Wouldn't Peter think that his own sin, his own lack of faith, could never be forgiven?
Then Mary Magdalene comes rushing in on the first Easter Sunday morning to tell them that the tomb is empty. Fearing that the Lord's body had been stolen Peter and John race to the tomb only to find the burial cloths neatly rolled up with no evidence of foul play. In the gospel St. John tells us that "he saw and believed." St. Luke tells us that Peter was "amazed."
Is this why Christians come together on Easter Sunday? Is it to peer inside the empty tomb? The empty tomb itself means nothing. As St. Mark said last night, "He has been raised; he is not here." It's His appearances that matter. Over the next fifty days we'll hear about all of His appearances. He'll appear to Mary Magdalene in the garden; to the disciples on the road to Emmaus; to the Apostles in the upper room; to doubting Thomas; to the fishermen in Galilee; and to countless other witnesses. Finally, His Holy Spirit will come upon them at Pentecost..
As we listen to these witnesses we'll have to examine our own belief. After all, St. Paul said that "if Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain." In other words if Christ is not risen, there will be no resurrection for us. However, maybe some of us feel like we're in the same position as Peter. Maybe doubts have crept in, maybe we're too secure, or maybe something has caused us to deny our Lord and turn our backs on Him.
The only way to rekindle our faith is to act differently. We have to realize that like the Apostles we are called to be witnesses of the Risen Christ. St. Paul calls us the "yeast" that leavens the dough. In our own little way each of us is called to bring Christ to each other. Last week during the reading of the Passion, our Lord said to Peter;
Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded
to sift all of you like wheat,
but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail;
and once you have turned back,
you must strengthen your brothers.
The Albanian nun who became Mother Teresa did not wait for someone else to pick up that little deserted child in the street and bathe his sores. She saw the Risen Christ in him and in all the others she helped. Did the young Polish priest who became John Paul II ever imagine when he took his first vows that he would bring the Risen Christ to more people than all the previous Popes put together?
The word "Easter" comes from a Germanic goddess of spring. Latin peoples use the word pasqua from the Jewish pasch or Passover. When the Germanic peoples were converted the Church wisely associated the word for Springtime with the feast of the Risen Lord. All around us new life is springing from the dead of winter. And so, as St. Paul says,
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.
Reading 1.Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Reading II. Colossians 3: 1-4 or
1 Corinthians 5: 6b-8
Gospel. John 20: 1-9 (Easter).