The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
Today is a day of great rejoicing, for the glory of the Lord has shone upon us in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We celebrate his victory over the tomb as we gather in thanksgiving around the altar of his love. His victory is a victory for all of us for through his passion, death and resurrection. He frees us from sin and opens the doors to eternal life.
The Gospel passage for today’s liturgy recalls Mary Magdalen coming to the tomb. Mary’s heart is heavy as she approaches the tomb where the Lord’s body was laid. To her shock she finds the large stone that blocked the tomb is rolled to the side. The Lord’s body is missing from the tomb. Finding Peter and the Beloved Disciple she tells them what has happened.
When Peter arrives at the tomb he goes in and sees the burial cloths and the “cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.” When the Beloved Disciple enters and likewise sees the burial cloths, he believes.
The empty tomb becomes a symbol of Christ’s victory. He died on the cross three days before, but death could not hold him. He was placed in a tomb. A large stone covered the entrance to the tomb. But the tomb could not hold him. He was bound with burial cloths, his face covered with a sheet. But the burial cloths could not claim him. He is risen.
The Beloved Disciple, John, sees the empty tomb and believes that Jesus has risen. Shortly after, Jesus would appear to Mary, Peter, John and the others numerous times before he ascends to the Father. Yet for John, it was the empty tomb and the neatly wrapped burial cloths that opened his eyes. He saw and believed.
The scene at the empty tomb hearkens back to earlier occasions in the Gospel. We recall Jesus’ feet being anointed by Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. After Judas objects to the costly oil being used Jesus tells him: “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial.”
We recall Lazarus being restored to life when Jesus called him forth from the tomb. This restoration of life foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection with some notable differences. While Lazarus is restored to life, he will die again. Jesus conquers death in his resurrection and will never die again. While Lazarus needed Jesus to call him forth from the tomb, Jesus comes out on his own. While Lazarus was bound head to toe with the burial cloths, no burial cloths could hold Jesus.
Our celebration today of Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We renew our baptismal promises as a reminder of our own baptism where we were united with Christ in his death and so are promised a like sharing in his resurrection.
The time of renewed and reinvigorated faith is upon us. The Lenten fast and the penitential practices give way to great celebration for in the words of St. John Chrysostom:
“Those who were formerly living in the shame of sin are now living in confidence and in justice.
They are not only free, but saints;
Not only saints but just men;
Not only just men but sons;
Not only sons but heirs;
Not only heirs, but brothers of Christ;
Not only brothers of Christ but his co-heirs;
Not only his co-heirs, but his members;
Not only his members, but temples;
Not only temples, but instruments of the Holy Spirit.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.