• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord (A)

"He had to rise from the dead."

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 139(138):18, 5-6 — “I have risen, and I am with you still, alleluia. You have laid your hand upon Me, alleluia. Too wonderful for Me, this knowledge for all the ages of eternity, alleluia, alleluia.”

First Reading: Acts 10:34a, 37-43 — “We ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23 — “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”

Second Reading: Col 3:1-4 — “Seek what is above, where Christ is.”

Sequence: Victimæ paschali laudes … “Christians, to the Paschal Victim offer your thankful praises!”

Alleluia: 1 Cor 5:7b-8a — “Alleluia, alleluia. Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed; let us then feast with joy in the Lord. Alleluia, alleluia.”

Gospel: Jn 20:1-9 — “He had to rise from the dead.”

Communion Antiphon: 1 Cor 5:7-8 — “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, alleluia; therefore let us keep the feast with the unleavened bread of purity and truth, alleluia, alleluia.”

A few years ago, an Ohio man asked a court of law to declare that he was alive. It seems, after Donald Miller had been missing for a number of years, his wife had her husband declared legally dead. She needed to do so in order for her children to receive Social Security benefits. Nearly 20 years later, when Mr. Miller returned to his hometown of Findlay, he found out it was not easy to come back from the dead, at least, in a legal sense. As a matter of fact, a judge told him it couldn’t be done, saying the state’s law doesn’t allow a declaration of death to be reversed after more than three years. The town’s newspaper described Mr. Miller as “the most famous dead man alive.”

The message of Easter is that, despite clear and definitive evidence of His death, one man did return to life. Although the Gospels report that the risen Lord was seen by numerous witnesses, the events of Jesus’s Death and Resurrection remain for us a matter of faith. It is only through faith that we can today declare, “He is risen.”

When Christ rose from the dead, everything changed. Jesus showed us what we can expect for ourselves. Although each of us will experience suffering and death, we can overcome and rise to new life through Christ, His Father, and the Holy Spirit.

Easter Sunday is the high-point of the Church year. No Sunday ... no other feast day, compares. Except for perhaps this year, because of COVID-19, in spite of the crowds in church at Midnight Mass ... not even Christmas equals Easter. Let’s face it. Without the Resurrection, no one would have celebrated Jesus’ birth. Rather, both His birth and His death would have faded from the world’s memory. Easter is the center of our faith. Saint Paul puts it this way, “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is empty, senseless” (see 1 Cor 15:14).

Jesus’ Resurrection is crucial for our faith … for who we are as God’s people … and for what we believe and trust. And “crucial” is the right word. It comes from the Latin word crux meaning “cross.” In both the word “crucial” and the phrase “the crux of the matter,” we see something about the unique character of the Cross ... something that is stressed throughout the Triduum … something we all should have been focused on. It’s all about the Cross. The Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus are the turning point of God’s world.

But let’s face it. We’re not here for a lesson in Latin. We’re here to celebrate the Resurrection. Notice, though, how the first Easter with Mary Magdalene at the tomb is not the sort of Easter we are used to celebrating. In fact, at the beginning … at that first Easter … there is no celebration ... there is no joy ... there are no songs of alleluia. Instead, there is only Mary Magdalene standing next to the tomb in the dark of early morning. The first Easter begins with weeping, grief, and sadness. “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put him.” After the betrayal and the suffering, after the crucifixion and the dying, the empty tomb appears one more layer of heartbreak in a tragic story. Celebrating Easter in the commemorations this year, we aren’t in church … we’re live-streaming … is there the same celebration? … is there joy? … are we singing “alleluia?” Most definitely ... YES! I was encouraged when I received pictures from families who took up the Easter challenge of the Diocese. Those young people who created “Alleluia” banners proclaiming, “In spite of COVID-19, we believe Jesus rose from the dead and we are celebrating that event!” ALLELUIA!

But let’s step back a minute to the First Reading, which actually occurs after the events of the Gospel. Saint Peter proclaims the story of the life, death and ministry of Jesus. Saint John the Baptist was first to recognize Jesus and His special role. Jesus demonstrated God’s presence in the world through His teaching and acts of healing under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Peter and the other followers of Christ were witnesses to all that he did. Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter and other believers continued to be witnesses to what was going on. Those who witnessed the marvelous events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus didn’t keep it to themselves. They were commissioned to spread the news about what they had seen. They were sent out ... they became apostles. (remember ... “sent out” is what the word “apostle” means)

We who are believers in Christ should be united with Him. We who believe are urged to keep our minds on what is above and beyond this life. With that being said, as followers united to Christ, we are destined to be with Him in heaven. However, while continuing to live on this earth, we are urged to put matters of our lives into proper perspective.

Those who loved and followed Jesus were the first to recognize that He had risen. The first Easter begins with Mary Magdalene expecting to find Jesus still in the tomb. Instead, as the Easter story continues to unfold, she is found by the risen Lord. Resurrection breaks into the world in ways no one expects. The risen Christ soon gives Mary a message that no one expects, either. She is sent out with the message of new life. Our Lord literally makes her an apostle. And the message Mary Magdalene is given is the message that stands at the heart of Easter’s new life. “Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God’” (John 20:17). After the betrayal and the suffering … after the crucifixion and the dying, there is no animosity or revenge … there is no guilt or shame. Mary Magdalene was among the first to discover that something remarkable had happened. Mary ran to tell Peter and the beloved disciple what she had seen. Peter and the other disciple raced to the tomb to see for themselves what had happened. Although both saw the stone rolled away and the burial clothes, their reactions to the evidence were different. After Mary, the beloved disciple was the first to believe that Jesus had truly risen from the dead.

Similarly, our belief in Jesus is affected by both the evidence and by our own backgrounds. Although Easter is at the core of our faith as Christians, the Resurrection remains a great mystery that is often difficult to comprehend. People are able to believe because of God’s grace as well as the testimony of others. Those who want to see Jesus and who are open to Him and the Holy Spirit can still know God’s presence today. We know the love of God and the healing presence of Jesus through our daily interactions with others. We demonstrate God’s presence to others by the way we live and by the example we give.

As we observe Easter over the next 50 days, we share in the celebration of all Christians who have come before, gathering in the name of the risen Christ. As we worship together, let us open our hearts to the Lord who continues to live in our midst. And on this Easter, this first day of the week, we all need to recognize that this new beginning is filled with God’s gifts of forgiveness, hope, and life.

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