Easter Sunday - Year A
In the Church’s liturgical cycle the Mass of Easter Sunday follows the Easter Vigil, which is a symbolic re-enactment of humanity’s passing from the slavery of sin to the freedom of the children of God. The readings of the Vigil recall the events of the Exodus, the great freedom event of the Israelites, who fled from Egypt under the leadership of Moses.
The Christian festival of Easter is a parallel in as much as it celebrates our passing from slavery to sin and death into the new life of freedom and a close relationship with God.
The word Easter comes from the name of the ancient Saxon deity Eostre (Eastre), the dawn goddess of fertility and life. Eastre was the old Saxon word for ‘spring’ and so the festival of Easter has always celebrated the end of the northern winter and the beginning of new life in spring. The connection between the feast of Christ’s resurrection and Easter is obvious. According to the gospels Jesus’ resurrection occurred around the time of the Passover, which was, and still is, a Jewish festival that commemorated the Exodus. It has always been celebrated on the first full moon in the northern spring.
Resurrection in the Gospels
One thing that is common to the resurrection narratives of all four gospels is that the first witnesses were women. Jewish law at the time did not give much credence to women as witnesses. In a court of law their testimony would not be credible. This means that if the story of the women at Jesus’ tomb were made up, we would expect that the inventor would have been smart enough to use men as the witnesses. The presence of the women in the gospel stories suggests that that’s the way it was. It is also interesting to note that none of the four gospels tries to describe the actual resurrection since nobody witnessed it.
Because of the Sabbath, the women were forbidden by the Law of Moses to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. The preparation of the body would involve washing and anointing with oil to clean the body and then rubbing aromatic spices and oils on the corpse that would act as deodorants while decomposition took place. The washing and anointing of the deceased, like attendance at births, was unclean work and was always attended to by the women. This explains why it was the women who were on their way to the tomb.
The two messengers who spoke to the women were informing them what had taken place. In Jewish literature of the time heavenly messengers or angels performed the function of telling characters in the story of things that they could not find out by normal human means. In this case they informed the women that Jesus had been raised. The earliest Christian tradition describes Jesus as having been raised from the dead, that is, by the power of God (cf. 1 Cor 15:5-7).
The Nature of Christ’s Resurrection
It is important to note that none of the New Testament writers gives the impression that Jesus’ resurrection was a resuscitation of his corpse. His body had clearly been changed, as St Paul puts it in 1 Cor 15:50-55. The gospel writers wrestle with ways to describe this change, trying to steer a middle course between two extremes: 1) suggesting that Jesus was a resuscitated corpse and 2) suggesting that he was a ghost or merely a spirit. We recognise in all the resurrection accounts that the writers are struggling to deal with a reality, namely, that Jesus is alive. The best language available to them was that of resurrection, so they did their best to describe how Jesus was the same person but significantly different. He could suddenly appear in a room with locked doors and just as suddenly depart. There was something visionary about him and yet he was real. All this defied human language.
In Jewish culture at the time of Jesus the Greek idea of a person being made up of body and spirit was not widely accepted. Traditional Jewish thinking saw individuals as whole persons with no separable parts. Hence, if one were to have a life beyond death it would stand to reason that one would be recognizably the same person as before death but with certain fundamental differences. In the case of Jesus, he is described as having the same features as before but he had entered into ‘his glory’ (Luke 24:26) and so was different or transformed. Saint Thomas Aquinas writes of Christ’s ‘glorified body’ which, in effect, means that the observer could see that it was the same Jesus who was crucified but that a fundamental change had taken place. No longer does Jesus have to rely on bodily functions like eating, drinking, sleeping. He is no longer limited by space and time and will never die again and therefore does not have the same physicality as before.
The Resurrection Message
The essential message of the resurrection story is that Jesus has won a victory over death. Through his suffering and death he has achieved all that God had planned and so entered into his glory.
Realization of this event takes time to sink in and Luke shows in subsequent episodes that the disciples slowly come to accept that Jesus was their risen Lord living in glory with God the Father. St Paul makes the point that Christ is the first fruits of what will happen to all those who follow the way of Jesus Christ. He writes: ‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.’ (1 Cor 15: 20). Jesus’ resurrection is a guarantee that all his faithful followers will rise again and enjoy the happiness of eternal life.
In the reading from the letter to the Colossians in the Easter Sunday Mass there is encouragement for us to live the kind of life that should characterize people of hope, who can see their lives in the context of God’s divine plan and who can recognise that good will ultimately triumph over evil, life over death. Our faith in the resurrection, St Paul tells us, should make us positive people who accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.
Christian wisdom holds that resurrection is not only something that occurred in the past. Resurrection is something that happens to us every day. Each new day is a rising to new life, an opportunity for us to grow, to make a difference to the lives of those we live and associate with.
The resurrection of Christ assures the believer that along with every heartbreak and time of depression there is the hope of new life and a rising to renewed vigour. Death, sin and depression do not have the ultimate victory. St Paul declares in his letter to the Philippians that all he wanted to know was ‘Christ and the power of his resurrection’. As resurrection people, Christians always live in the assurance that light, life and happiness are our final destiny. The new life of Christ might also mean we inject more imagination and creativity into our lives and our view of the world around us. We could enkindle in our lives an appreciation of the feminine and masculine that resides in each of us, realizing that we are all connected, that we all come from the one ultimate life – the creator God who is life, beauty and creativity itself.
Our present circumstances might give rise to new ways of appreciating family relationships. It may prompt many of us to revitalise old friendships, to value keeping in contact with others and to look at our own ability to cope with confinement and unusual restrictions. Here is an opportunity for openness to some self-discovery and personal recalibration of our spiritual compass.
As resurrection people we can also do well to seize the life that is in the present moment. If our doctor told us we had only six months to live we would surely take on a renewed appreciation for the present moment and a focus on things that really matter, like our relationships with God, ourselves, our fellow human travellers and the natural world around us. We would surely want to heal the wounds in our life so that we could leave life feeling we had done our best to right the wrongs in our relationships, achieve reconciliation where it is needed and be at peace with ourselves and others.
God is a comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh - H.L. Mencken (American journalist and literary critic)
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. - St Paul, Romans 8:38-39
The teenage patient’s mother was very concerned and said to the doctor, ‘He must have a temperature, doctor, he has not taken his motorcycle out all day.’
‘Let me ask you,’ said the doctor. ‘Do you happen to have a thermometer?’
‘No,’ she answered. ‘It’s a Kawasaki.’