“The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia, alleluia!”
Jesus rises from the tomb on the third day since his death on the cross. His resurrection manifests his victory over sin and death. He is now exalted as the Lord of life. His death was our death and his life is our life, so great is his mercy.
This Sunday we celebrate with great rejoicing for this gift of life and we proclaim: “The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia, alleluia!”
The Gospel passage for Easter Sunday’s liturgy comes from the Gospel according to St. John. It recalls Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb, “early in the morning, while it was still dark.” She arrives to find the large stone moved away from the tomb. The tomb is empty.
At first she thinks someone has taken the Lord’s body so she runs to find Peter and the beloved disciple. After she tells them, they all run back to the empty tomb. The beloved disciple outruns them and arrives first. He looks in and sees the burial cloths but does not go into the tomb. He waits. When Peter arrives he goes in and likewise sees the burial cloths and the veil along with “the cloth that covered his head.”
This cloth was “not with the others but rolled up in a separate place.” When the beloved disciple goes in – he sees and believes.
The movement from darkness to light, from death to life, is captured as the disciples witness the empty tomb. Mary arrives “early in the morning, while it was still dark.” Darkness has enveloped the disciples in sorrow and fear. Mary and the beloved disciple were there at the cross and witnessed the passion and death of the Lord. Peter and the others fled in fear.
The loss of the Lord filled them with grief. They were confused, lost and alone. They were in the dark. The “darkness” that engulfed them are symbolized by the darkness of the early morning when Mary arrives at the tomb. At this point all she can see is the stone having been rolled back. It is too dark to see into the tomb.
By the time she returns with Peter and the beloved disciple it is light. The new light of morning fills the sky. The light allows them to see into the tomb. They see the burial cloths. The beloved disciple sees the empty tomb, the burial cloths and the one rolled up in a separate place. He sees and believes. The movement from darkness to light is now realized in faith.
The darkness-to-light theme is prevalent in the fourth Gospel. John uses this theme to express Jesus’ victory over the forces of evil represented by darkness. In the very beginning of the Gospel, in the prologue, John writes: “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jesus’ resurrection is the victory of light over darkness, the victory of life over death, the victory of mercy over sin.
The victory is one which we share through baptism. In the Sunday and Saturday vigil liturgies we will renew our baptismal promises. In doing so we profess our faith. We proclaim that God has graciously given us life, at a great cost, and has embraced us in divine love.
The Sequence for Sunday’s liturgy calls us to thanksgiving as it begins: “Christians, to the Paschal Victim; Offer your thankful praises!” Our thanksgiving also expresses itself in proclamation.
The call to proclamation is also recalled in the Sequence. “Speak, Mary, declaring; What you saw, wayfaring; ‘The tomb of Christ, who is living; The glory of Jesus’ resurrection; bright angels attesting; The shroud and napkin resting; Yes, Christ my hope is arisen; to Galilee he goes before you.’” While the words are spoken in reference to Mary Magdalene, they applies to all believers.
As we profess our baptismal faith we are reminded that this is the gift of life for all, it needs to be communicated through proclamation (both in deed and word) to all persons and peoples.
The Acts of the Apostles recalls the proclamation of the nascent church. During the Easter season we will regularly hear passages from this text. Today’s passage contains one of Peter’s speeches through which he proclaims the Risen Lord. He highlights some of the central events of Jesus mission: the baptism, the ministry of “doing good” and “healing all those oppressed by the devil,” Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and resurrection.
Peter speaks of the divine commission to preach and testify that Jesus is Lord so that “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” This, too, is the movement from darkness to light. The proclamation continues today.
St. Paul exhorts us to live in this light by seeking “what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). The promise of life eternal drives us through our time in the world. The Light of Life is drawing us to himself.
Celebrating Easter, we celebrate the life that Christ has won for us. We profess our faith and rejoice in his glory. 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.”
“The Lord is risen, He is risen indeed; alleluia, alleluia!”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.