by Fr. Tommy Lane
Christ is Risen! What joy we have today as celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection. To whom did Jesus appear first after he rose from the dead? The Gospels give different accounts but Pope John Paul II (in 1997) said it is legitimate to think that Jesus’ mother, Mary, is the first person who saw Jesus after his Resurrection. He suggested that the Gospels not mentioning an apparition of the risen Jesus to Mary must not lead to the conclusion that no such apparition took place. The Holy Father suggested that perhaps the evangelists omitted it because it might be considered biased. I would like to suggest that such an apparition simply could not be described in words and if well known by the first Christians was not necessary in the Gospels. In one of his letters (1 Cor 15:6) St. Paul mentions appearances of the risen Jesus to many others not recorded in the Gospels so the Gospels do not record all the appearances of the risen Jesus. The reason why Jesus’ mother Mary did not accompany the women to the tomb early on Easter Sunday morning is probably because she had already seen Jesus risen.
The New Testament makes it very clear that when Jesus rose he was not just a ghost but also had a body although his body was transformed. In the first reading today we heard Peter say in his sermon that they “ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:41) Jesus had a physical body after her rose. A number times we read of Jesus eating after he rose. Jesus asked for food and they gave him baked fish which he ate (Luke 24:41-43). Jesus showed them his wounds (Luke 24:39; John 20:24-28) and he breathed on them (John 20:22). They could touch Jesus (Luke 24:39; John 20:17). Yet even though Jesus rose in his body there was something unrecognizable about him because he had a glorified body (Luke 24:16; John 20:14; 21:4) and he could pass through walls and doors (John 20:19, 26). We read in all the Gospels about the tomb being empty but that was never an issue in proving that Jesus rose from the dead. When Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb she thought it meant that the body of Jesus was stolen; we heard her say in today’s Gospel, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” (John 20:2) Instead what mattered for them was that they knew Jesus was truly present with them; they saw Jesus many times, ate and drank with him, saw his wounds and listened to him teaching.
It is the presence of Jesus with the early Church continuing after his Ascension that was so special. We see this in the Acts of the Apostles. Beginning today the first reading for every Sunday and daily Mass until our celebration of Pentecost is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. The Acts of the Apostles makes it clear that after Jesus rose and ascended to heaven he was still with the Church. Jesus continued to be with the Church and to guide it from heaven. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus learned that Christ is present when the Scriptures are read and proclaimed and when bread is broken and shared. During the Last Supper Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me.” Christ continues to be present with us when we gather to listen to Scriptures and break and share bread as he commanded during the Last Supper. When you want to meet Jesus now, he is present with us during every Mass as on the road to Emmaus when the Scriptures are proclaimed and explained and bread is broken and shared. When you feel like you are on the cross with Christ, remember that since his resurrection Christ is present everywhere.
The Gospels make it clear that all these apparitions took place on the first day of the week, Sunday. God began creating on the first day of the week in Genesis, but that was preparing for a still more wonderful new creation also on the first day of the week when the women went to the tomb of Jesus and were told by the angel that Jesus had risen. God began creating on the first day of the week and performed an even more wonderful creation in the resurrection of Jesus also on the first day of the week. God firstly created mankind and then created us a second time by redeeming us in Christ.
The apparitions of Jesus on the first day of the week, Sunday, not only meant a new creation but paved the way for how the early Christians would worship. The early Christians were Jews and continued to worship in the temple and synagogue on the Sabbath, Saturday, but because Jesus rose on the first day of the week they began to worship as Christians on the first day of the week in honor of Jesus’ resurrection. They even gave a name to the first day of the week, referring to it not as Sunday but the Lord’s Day. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, refers to the Lord’s Day (Rev 1:10), not to the sabbath. The letter to the Colossians states, “Let no one, then, pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ.” (Col 2:16) So the Sabbath was a shadow preparing for Christ and the Christians worshipped Christ on the day of his resurrection. A document from the late first century or early second century, the Didache or Teaching of the Apostles, refers to Sunday as “the Lord’s Day of the Lord.” This unusual phrase, “the Lord’s Day of the Lord” seems to mean the early Church understood that it was Jesus himself who instituted the change of worship from Sabbath to the Lord’s Day, the Lord’s Day of the Lord. (Didache §14) In the New Covenant the day holy to God is the day of Jesus’ resurrection.
Not only did the resurrection of Jesus mean a change in the day of worship for Christians but it also meant a completely new way of reading the Old Testament. No longer did Christians read the Old Testament as Jews but now they read the Old Testament as Christians, seeing it preparing for Jesus. In the first reading we heard Peter in his sermon say, “To him [Christ] all the prophets bear witness.” (Acts 10:43) On the road to Emmaus Jesus taught the two disciples how to correctly interpret the Old Testament referring to himself, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25. See also Luke 18:31-32; 24:46-47; John 5:39) Part of the Nicene Creed which we pray at Sunday Mass says “On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.” (See 1 Cor 15:3-4) The early Christians searched the Old Testament for references to Jesus because Jesus himself after his resurrection taught them to see the Old Testament referring to himself and fulfilled in him.
Both Peter and John, the Beloved Disciple, ran to the tomb as we heard in the Gospel after Mary Magdalene reported the body of Jesus stolen. “They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first.” (John 20:4) “When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb...” (John 20:6) So John waited and allowed Peter to go into the tomb first. John showed deference to Peter. Here we see two aspects of the Church working in harmony, the hierarchical represented by Peter and the mystical represented by John. Not long after this Peter would be asked three times if he loved the Lord (John 21:15-19). John was the one who was close to the Lord, the Beloved Disciple, who leaned back on the chest of Jesus during the Last Supper at the request of Peter to get information about the betrayal (John 13:23-24). John went right into the high priest’s courtyard during the Jesus’ trial and got permission for Peter to be allowed in also (John 18:15-16; see also John 21:20-23). We have the mystical in the Church - prayer groups, saints, holy people - and we have the hierarchical - bishops and the Pope, and we need both functioning harmoniously for a healthy Church. We see this in Peter and John going to Jesus’ tomb and John deferring to Peter.
Christ is Risen! What joy we have today as celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection. When we were baptized we shared in the fruits of Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection. The second reading today called this to mind, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (Col 3:1) When we were baptized our soul was changed forever and we became sons and daughters of God. If we are not living as sons and daughters of God we are wasting our lives. As we heard in the second reading, “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:2-3) Christ is Risen! What joy we have today as celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection.
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
More homilies for Easter Sunday
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cloth over Jesus’ head, The Sudarium