Acts: 10: 34, 37 – 43
Psalm : 118
Colossians 3: 1 – 4
John 20: 1 – 9
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
The hymn of praise, “The Exultet” (The Easter Proclamation), beautifully details what it is we celebrate on the night of the Resurrection, in those dark hours before Mary Magdalene arose at dawn to discover the empty tomb. It is the night, the Exultet states, when the Lord saved our fathers; the night that destroyed the darkness of sin; the night when Jesus Christ broke the chain of death and rose triumphantly from the grave; the night when the sin of Adam became a necessary sin to gain a redeemer for us, that fault which became a happy fault; that night that became our light and joy; the night that acquired the power to dispel all evil; the night when heaven was wedded to earth and man was reconciled to God.
Such is the Night we celebrate, the night that rings us into Easter and gives us the joy and peace to last for eternity. Our Saviour rose from the dead, and now sin, Satan and death have no lasting power over us. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus, all of us are capable of experiencing true joy, true peace and true light. This night tells us that once again we can be free. Through this new freedom, we may experience a genuine and authentic interior transformation of our lives. One that changes all our thoughts, actions, decisions and our very being.
All of this is summarized in those triumphant words – ‘Christ is Risen, Alleluia’. These words are to be the motivating light and energy of our life. For, as St. Paul said, we who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into his death. We were buried with him in baptism, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
This newness of life is revealed to us in the experience of the Apostles, recounted for us in the Acts. Let us then consider two aspects of this newness, as seen in the transformation of these first disciples.
Firstly, the Apostles experienced a new kind of inner freedom. Often in the Gospels we see the Apostles’ all too human struggles – their pride, fear, naivety, their inability to fully understand the mission for which Christ has come. Acts shows us a transformation in these men. Their words and actions reflect souls for whom attachments to this material world have been fully destroyed. Now they the doors to their hearts and minds were open to a new kind of power. Their lives reflect a confident selflessness. They became totally unselfish in love and unconditional in forgiveness. They were ready to embrace enemies rather than hate or condemn them. They were ready to undergo suffering rather than flee it. Their life became an open book to all. They travelled wherever their sense of mission led them, reaching as many persons, tribes and nations as possible. Such was the new sense of freedom they experienced.
From where does this new freedom come? The Resurrection threw a totally different light on the passion and death of Jesus. It created a very different understanding of what at first seemed to Jesus’s followers a tragedy, disaster and failure. The Resurrection strengthened their faith to entirely new heights. The Apostles now understood the words and deeds of Jesus anew. They obtained greater insight into the person and mission of Jesus, and became living witnesses to it. They began to form new Christian communities wherever they preached the Word of God. No more were they influenced by the values of this early world, they lived by the values uniquely brought into the world by the Gospel. Now no power on earth could prevent them in fulfilling their mission.
At the Passion the Apostles often showed great fear of dying or being persecuted for the Lord, now they were ready to give their lives for the preaching of the Word. Where once he denied the Lord three times, in Acts we see Peter, now a completely transformed man, bodily, courageously and convincingly giving witness to the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord. Surely the Apostles own transformation acted as further proof of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Of course the transformative power of Jesus’s Resurrection is not to be limited only to the Apostles. Numerous persons throughout these 21 centuries have experienced it and thereby allowed themselves to be transformed with the newness of life that has prompted them to be exemplary witnesses of Jesus in this world. The Resurrection of Jesus is not an event in history that happened once upon a time, it is an event to be experienced by everyone at all times. So what we must ask ourselves in this Easter season is whether we too have shared in this personal transformative experience of the Resurrection.
And if we feel we have not, why is this so? What prevents us from arriving at that experience all Christians are called to? What often holds us back is our own lack of will and openness to experience it, the inner obstacles that prevent us from going out of ourselves. Something of Mary Magdalene and the women who went to the tomb is in us. The men in dazzling apparel said to them “Why do you seek him among the dead?”. We cannot have the experience of Jesus if we seek the living among the dead. For Jesus is not dead and gone. By dying he destroyed death and by rising he restored life. We need to look for the living Jesus.
Mary Magdalene was troubled not to find the body of Jesus in the tomb. She would have been satisfied at least if she saw him in the tomb. Like we so often do, Mary Magdalene was sticking to her past, to her past understanding and image of Jesus. In this she was missing that which is far more important, that is, the present state of Jesus, the living Jesus. We too may be like her. We too want to stick to our past, the memories of past sufferings, past grudges, our past sinfulness, past losses and missed opportunities, past acts of omission and commission. We brood over them and lose sight of today. But the moment we let them go we hear what Magdalene heard: ‘Mary’, said by the one she presumed to be the gardener. Mary then recognizes Jesus. She no more sticks to her past images and understanding. She listens to Jesus. She rushes to the disciples and communicates to them that Jesus is alive, that she has experienced him. She becomes the first communicator of the message of Resurrection. Now she experiences joy, peace, serenity, calmness and bliss.
Are we then, prepared to do likewise? Are we let ready to let go of our past? Are we ready to recognize Jesus, not as an image of the past, but as a living person who we can embrace as Magdalene did. Only then we will be able to hear our own name being called by Jesus. Only then do we truly realize he is speaking directly to us. Change, growth and transformation are possible only then.
An Ancient Christian symbol for Christ is the anchor. The anchor steadies the vessel; the anchor safely holds the vessel in place. Christ holds us steady when life gets rough. Christ holds us connected to God when the waves of life come crashing over us. Christ our Hope is Risen. As the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “Let Him Easter in us.” Happy Easter.