May all of our readers have a happy and blessed Easter celebration today, especially in this time of crisis. We would also like to wish our Jewish readers a belated Passover greeting, as this year both events take place close to each other as they did the year before. We are struggling through separation and isolation and looking for a resurrection this year as well, so perhaps the Easter Vigil Gospel reading this year from Matthew 28:10 is particularly appropriate for the state of our minds, hearts, and spirits:
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
The morning Mass reading comes from John 20:
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.
The afternoon and evening Masses use Luke’s Gospel story of the road to Emmaus, which is itself a story of resurrected hope in a world that had crashed all around Jesus’ disciples. It is only through Christ’s Passion and Resurrection that the two men see the Lord’s work at hand, and only in the breaking of the bread that they discover Christ among them:
That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
This Easter will be like no other the world has known for at least a century, and maybe in the history of the Church. We are called to show love for our neighbor and our enemies in a new and frightening way, not through engagement but in physical separation. This has left us wondering what our fate will be, whether we will ever regain our ability to worship as a community in the same manner as before, and whether the world has been lost to us.
In these times, we can take heart in these Easter Gospel readings. Jesus redeemed us by being separated by death from us for three days, a defeat that looked total and permanent to His disciples, friends, and family at the time. They hid in the upper room awaiting death and destruction after the crucifixion. Those who escaped Jerusalem lamented His removal and put no heed to rumors of His return. Their world had been destroyed, and they were momentarily bereft of hope.
What happened next? Christ returned to His disciples and showed them His victory over death. The world had indeed changed by His sacrifice and their faith in Him, but for the better. Trials and tribulations still awaited mankind and Christ’s church, and still do to this day. However, we go forth as an Easter people with the sure knowledge that death is not an end, and that this world is just a path to communion with the Lord in joy and everlasting life — if we so choose it.
May this Easter Sunday leave us with our hearts burning for that choice, and with recognition of He who walks with us through this life while we allow the Holy Spirit into our hearts. He Is Risen Indeed!
The front-page image is “The Angel is Opening Christ’s Tomb” by Benjamin Gerritsz Cuyp, c. 1640. On display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. Via Wikimedia Commons.