By: By Father Douglas Grandon
Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of the Lord, April 12
Acts 10:34a,37-43; Psalm 118:1-2,16-17,22-23; Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9 or Mark 16:1-7 or (at an afternoon or evening Mass) Luke 24:13-35
Harry Houdini, the famous magician and escape artist, died from peritonitis on Oct. 31, 1926. Prior to his death, Houdini informed Bess, his wife of 32 years, that if at all possible, he would communicate with her from the dead. The Houdinis agreed upon a 10-word code, which only the two of them knew. The code would serve as proof that Houdini really had made it back from the other side.
Bess offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could communicate with Houdini. Although countless psychics claimed to have contacted him, no one ever managed to reproduce the code. In 1936, Bess tried one final time to reach Houdini. After that last attempt, Bess proclaimed, “I do not think that Harry will come back to me, or anyone. I think the dead don’t speak. I now regretfully turn out the light. This is the end, Harry, good night!”
Bess then blew out the candle that she had lit 10 years earlier after her husband’s death.
Despite all the effort, attention, and interest, Houdini has not spoken to anyone since he breathed his last earthly words to his brother on Halloween night in 1926
By the way, Houdini’s 10-word secret code was: “Rosabelle. Answer. Tell. Pray. Answer. Look. Tell. Answer. Answer. Tell.”
In first-century Israel, people knew, just as we know today, that dead people don’t return from the dead. First-century Jews did share with us Christians the belief in a universal resurrection at the end of time, but they did not believe that people in their time could individually return from the dead.
This explains why the first Christian disciples had such difficulty grasping Jesus’ promise that, three days after his death, he would rise again from the grave. In fact, in this week’s Gospel reading from John 20, we learn that even after Peter and John had visited the empty tomb, “they did not yet understand the Scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”
Events that transpired later on that very first Easter Sunday morning, however, absolutely convinced the disciples that Jesus really had risen from the dead.
In our first reading from the Book of Acts, Peter confidently proclaimed concerning Jesus, “This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”
In our alternative reading from Luke 24, we find the amazing story of two disciples encountering Jesus as they journeyed on foot from Jerusalem to Emmaus. “It happened that while they were conversing and debating (about Jesus’ passion and death), Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.”
Jesus rather playfully feigns ignorance and inquires what this is all about. The two men (Cleopas and a friend) explain that the matter involves Jesus of Nazareth, who was handed over to a sentence of death and crucified. “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel,” they sadly confess, before describing how several of their friends had discovered Jesus’ tomb to be empty, “but him they did not see.”
Then Jesus chides the men for not believing what the prophets had foretold about the Christ. For their benefit, he surveyed numerous Old Testament references to Christ’s passion. Fascinated by this insightful conversationalist and having at last arrived at their destination, they convince Jesus to spend the night. Only during their dinner did Jesus reveal himself to them — when “he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” And then Jesus vanished.
The two disciples were so excited by this post-resurrection encounter that they raced the six miles back to Jerusalem to inform the apostles that Jesus really had risen from the dead. The eleven, however, also ablaze with excitement, beat them to the punch. “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” they exclaimed. The two then recounted their own story of how Jesus had met them on the road and how he had made himself known in the breaking of bread.
The first Christians were no less skeptical of Jesus’ resurrection than was Bess of Houdini’s return. Like the Houdinis with their code, Jesus had his own way of proving that he had risen.
Jesus twice revealed himself by his characteristic manner of breaking bread — and openly showed himself to friends (the apostles and his women followers) and foes (James and Paul) alike. Paul even affirms in 1 Corinthians 15 that on one occasion Jesus revealed himself to more than 500 men at one time!
Skeptics suggest that first-century Jews were predisposed to believe in miraculous resurrections. The skeptics are wrong. The first Christians proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead only after eyewitness testimony caused them to abandon their serious doubts.
On this Easter Sunday morning, we can have every confidence that Jesus really did rise from the dead on the third day.
The Lord is risen! Risen indeed!
Father Douglas Grandon is parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Parish in Moline and assistant director of catechetics for the Diocese of Peoria.