Jesus gives us cause to celebrate now and for all time
Easter Sunday, March 31
Acts of the Apostles 10:34a,37-43; Psalm 118:1-2,16-18,22-23; Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; Sequence: Victimae Paschali Laudes; John 20:1-9 or Luke 24:1-12 or (in the afternoon or evening) Luke 24:13-35
Easter celebrates the focal point of Christianity — the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection provides the lens through which all of the events memorialized in sacred Scripture are seen and understood. In all probability, had Jesus not risen from the dead, we would know nothing of his life or his teachings.
Because of the singular importance of this feast, the church opens the sacred Scriptures to a degree unmatched by any other liturgical celebration. The Easter Vigil offers nine readings from sacred Scripture. No other event in the liturgical year proclaims salvation history in as complete a context as the Easter Vigil.
The seven readings from the Old Testament recount some of the highlights of salvation history. The first reading from Genesis proclaims God as the all-powerful Creator. In the second reading, God tests Abraham’s faith when the Lord asks him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, through whom God had promised to make Abraham descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky. The irony was not lost on Abraham. Before the fatal blow can be struck, an angel intervenes. Abraham has passed the test.
The third reading picks up some six or so centuries later. Moses guides Abraham’s descendents, the Children of Israel, out of Egyptian captivity and Pharaoh’s army is in hot pursuit. God, who created nature, now commands it. The sea opens insuring the survival of the Chosen People.
Another six centuries pass and Israel has again turned from God to their peril. Their Temple lay in ruins and their most able citizens have been enslaved in Babylon. The next four readings, two from Isaiah, one from Baruch and one from Ezekiel, recount Israel’s liberation from the Babylonian captivity and the promise of the Messiah, who will free humanity from the captivity of sin and death.
“I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David,” proclaims Isaiah. The fulfillment of this promise will occur in mystery because, “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” Ezekiel reveals that fulfillment involves transformation: “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.”
In the eighth reading, St. Paul explains that we who are baptized in Christ are baptized into His death and resurrection: “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”
Paul and the other Apostles looked to the events, prophecies and wisdom contained in the Old Testament in order to discover the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus: “As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”
Because the apostles witnessed Christ risen, they could recount the events of His life in the context of their eternal significance. Jesus is the Messiah who offers us eternal life.
The Gospel recounts the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection occurred at a specific point in time at a specific place to specific witnesses and yet it and the risen life it reveals transcend time, space and analysis. That’s OK, because we don’t need to know how it happened, only that it did happen.
Let us celebrate Easter trusting in God’s providence as Abraham did. Let us allow God to replace our stone hearts so that we might be moved by the Holy Spirit because hidden in this great mystery of our Faith we will find the happiness that our hearts long to experience.
TIM IRWIN teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark’s Parish in Peoria.