HE HAS RISEN; WE SAW AND BELIEVED
Easter is the greatest and the most important feast in the Church. It marks the birthday of our eternal hope. "Easter" literally means "the feast of fresh flowers." One thing is certain, if Jesus had not risen from the dead and appeared to his disciples, we would never have heard of him. Nothing else could have changed sad and despairing men and women into people radiant with joy and courage. The reality of the resurrection is the central fact of the Christian faith. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Lord gives us "eyes of faith" to know him and the power of his resurrection. The greatest joy we can have is to encounter the living Christ and to know him personally as our Lord and Saviour.
As the pay attention to the gospel reading today, we are greeted with a resounding word SAW!!! What exactly did Mary, John and Peter see; let us examine the evidence, and decide on the verdict.
First up in Verse 1: “Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” The tomb was cut out of the rock, like a cave, and a big stone sat in front of the entrance, closing it over – however, the stone is no longer there. So Mary Magdalene ran and went to Simon Peter and John and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Notice that her first thoughts at seeing the tomb open and the stone rolled away is not that Jesus is alive – it is that his body has been stolen. The disciples were not expecting it. Mary does not immediately think that Jesus is alive. His body must have been stolen. All we know for certain is that there is no body. The tomb is empty.
Our second witness is the disciple whom Jesus loved. He and Peter set off on the race to the tomb, having heard what Mary saw. John, the younger of the two, makes it to the tomb first, but he doesn’t go in - he just stoops at the entrance. And what is it he sees? ‘He saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.’ He sees the linen cloths lying there, and of course the tomb was empty. What were these linen cloths? Look back to 19:40. After Jesus had died, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus come to bury Jesus in the tomb. They bring almost five and a half stone of spices, myrrh and aloes, and some linen cloths. ‘So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.’ The cloths are wrapped around the body, with the spices in between the layers of wrapping. But now, as John sees from outside, the linen cloths are there, but the body isn’t.
Peter is next, the slower runner, but the more forward of the two, so characteristically; he goes on into the tomb. What does he see? In a way, his testimony is similar to John’s, with one further detail provided - ‘He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.’ In the Jewish custom, the head was wrapped in a separate piece of cloth. It was actually fairly big, wrapped like a turban around the head of the deceased. We find the same thing with Lazarus - ‘his face wrapped with a cloth.’ There in the tomb, Peter sees that it retains the shape of being wrapped, but is separate from the linen cloths.
What do all these mean to us? The tomb is open, but the body hasn’t been stolen - the linen grave clothes remain. The body hasn’t simply been unwrapped - the linen clothes remain in position, and the face cloth is in its own place, still as it had been. The evidence points in only one direction - Jesus is alive. It’s the conclusion John reaches, as we come to the final ‘saw’.
Why do we celebrate it with so much joy, pride and jubilation?
The Resurrection of Christ is the basis of our Christian Faith. The Resurrection is the greatest of the miracles -- it proves that Jesus is God. That is why St. Paul writes: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain; and your Faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, then your Faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins… But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor 15:14, 17, 20). If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then the Church is a fraud and faith is a sham. All the basic doctrines of Christianity are founded on the truth of the Resurrection. “Jesus is Lord; He is risen!” (Rom 10:9) was the central theme of the kerygma (or "preaching"), of the apostles.
Easter is the guarantee of our own resurrection. Jesus assured Martha at the tomb of Lazarus: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in Me will live even though he dies” (Jn 11:25-26). Christ will raise us up on the last day, but it is also true, in a sense, that we have already risen with Christ.
Easter is a feast which gives us hope and encouragement in this world of pain, sorrows and tears. It reminds us that life is worth living. It is our belief in the Real Presence of the Risen Jesus in our souls, in His Church, in the Blessed Sacrament and in Heaven that gives meaning to our personal, as well as to our common, prayers. Our trust in the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord gives us strength to fight against temptations and freedom from unnecessary worries and fears.
Easter is a testament to what Jesus said of Himself. Jesus himself testified to his Resurrection from the dead (Mark 8:31; Matthew 17:22; Luke 9:22). One thing is certain, if Jesus had not risen from the dead and appeared to his disciples, we would never have heard of him. Nothing else could have changed sad and despairing men and women into people radiant with joy and courage.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR US?
We are to be Resurrection people: Easter, the feast of the Resurrection, gives us the joyful message that we are a “Resurrection people.” This means that we are not supposed to lie buried in the tomb of our sins, evil habits and dangerous addictions. It gives us the Good News that no tomb can hold us down anymore - not the tomb of despair, discouragement, doubt or death itself. Instead, we are expected to live a joyful and peaceful life, constantly experiencing the real presence of the Risen Lord in all the events of our lives. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” (Psalm 118:24).
We need to seek our peace and joy in the Risen Jesus: The living presence of the Risen Lord gives us lasting peace and celestial joy in the face of the boredom, suffering, pain and tensions of our day-to-day life. “Peace be with you” was Jesus’ salutation to his disciples at all post-Resurrection appearances. For the true Christian, every day must be an Easter Day lived joyfully in the close company of the Risen Lord.
We need to live new, disciplined lives in the Risen Jesus: Our awareness of the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord in and around us, and the strong conviction of our own coming resurrection, help us control our thoughts, desires, words and behavior. This salutary thought inspires us to honor our bodies, keeping them holy, pure and free from evil habits and addictions.
We are to be bearers of the Good News of Resurrection power. Resurrection is Good News, but at the same time, it’s sometimes painful because it involves death. Before the power of the Resurrection can take hold in our own lives, we’re called to die to sin, to die to self. We may even have to die to our own dreams, so that God can do what He wants to do with our lives. Resurrection is about seeing our world in a new way.
The resurrection should affect our life’s purpose. What is the purpose of life? What is your goal in life? Where is your heart in life? Life has only one ultimate goal, to prepare for the next life, and if you are not preparing for your own resurrection you are like a train that has become derailed. What happens to a train that gets derailed? It goes nowhere. Can you take your house to heaven with you? Then why make such a fuss about your house? Can you take your car to heaven with you? Well then, why become so engrossed in your car? Can you take your bank account to heaven with you? Use your money for the spread of the Gospel. Why are you so busy that you have no time to pray to God every day? It is God you want to meet in the next life, isn’t it?
Paul wrote to the Philippians, “For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the Savior we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body.” (Phil 3:20) Just think of it, you will be transformed to become glorious like Jesus. Do you live like someone who believes in such a glorious future? If you do, surely everything in this world takes on a new perspective, so that, as I said earlier, we do not become possessed by our possessions.
Again, what is life all about? “Our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the Savior we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body.” John, in his first letter says something similar, “My dear people, we are already children of God, but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.” (1 John 3:2)
St Paul urges us therefore to celebrate the Easter festival with the old leaven of sin, the old leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor 5:8) We are urged to cleanse out all that holds us captive in the grave, and take away all that presents itself as a stone. That is why the second reading (Col 3:1-4) exhorts us to rise with Christ after dying with him by seeking what is above. The world wants to see us resurrect from our sinfulness and from those evil things that were part of us before now. We should not go back to the grave by doing those things we abandoned during our Lenten observance.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, witnessed by hundreds in the early days of the Church, is our proof that one day we will all be united as one eternal family. This life is temporary. What awaits us is so much better and greater. Until we reach that day, let us live the joy of Easter with all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us make a special effort to reach out to those who do not share in our joy and especially those who have been forgotten so they may manifest their joy outwardly as we are doing today. As of today, may you all go forth in the Spirit of Christ and bring the joy of the Lord to all those who touch your lives!
Prayer - Lord Jesus Christ, you have triumphed over the grave and you have won for us new life and resurrection power. Give me the eyes of faith to see you in your glory. Help me to draw near to you and to grow in the knowledge of your great love for us and your great victory over sin and death. Amen!!!