First Reading Acts 10:34, 37–43
Psalm Psalm 118:1–2, 16–17, 22–23
Second Reading Colossians 3:1–4
Gospel John 20:1–9
Psalm 118:1–2, 16–17, 22–23
Alleluia! Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good, for his faithful love endures for ever.
Let the House of Israel say, 'His faithful love endures for ever.'
Yahweh's right hand is victorious, Yahweh's right hand is triumphant!'
I shall not die, I shall live to recount the great deeds of Yahweh.
The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
This is Yahweh's doing, and we marvel at it.
Reading the Word
Acts 10:34, 37–43
Then Peter addressed them, 'I now really understand', he said, 'that God has no favourites,
You know what happened all over Judaea, how Jesus of Nazareth began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil.
Now we are witnesses to everything he did throughout the countryside of Judaea and in Jerusalem itself: and they killed him by hanging him on a tree, yet on the third day God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen, not by the whole people but only by certain witnesses that God had chosen beforehand. Now we are those witnesses -- we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead, and he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to bear witness that God has appointed him to judge everyone, alive or dead.
It is to him that all the prophets bear this witness: that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.'
Since you have been raised up to be with Christ, you must look for the things that are above, where Christ is, sitting at God's right hand.
Let your thoughts be on things above, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed -- and he is your life-you, too, will be revealed with him in glory.
It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,' she said, 'and we don't know where they have put him.' So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in.
Simon Peter, following him, also came up, went into the tomb, saw the linen cloths lying on the ground and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had still not understood the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
Hearing the Word
“The Greatest Gift”
Easter Sunday begins the most important season in the Church’s liturgical year: Easter. This period consists of eight Sundays and is entirely focused on two central themes: the gift of eternal life and the beginning of Christianity. Both of these themes flow from one central event which lies at the heart of the season: the resurrection of Jesus. To reflect this double focus, the first readings of these eight Sundays are not drawn from the Old Testament but come from Acts of the Apostles describing the beginnings of the Church, while the second readings and the Gospels focus on the resurrection.
The first words that we hear on the Easter morning come from Peter who declares with absolute conviction that “God shows no partiality”. In the course of his years with Jesus and then, having seen the empty tomb and subsequently having encountered the risen Jesus, Peter finally understood what Jesus’ mission was all about: bringing God’s gift of eternal life to all humanity. Referring to God’s impartiality, Peter emphasises that this is a universal gift. No human-made distinctions and old religious divisions, no ethnic groupings or cultural categories apply any longer. In Jesus Christ God had done something entirely new and wholly universal.
Peter proceeds by presenting the foundations for this extraordinary claim. He begins with an outline of the life of Jesus in its essential elements: his baptism and the gift of God’s Spirit, the ministry of healing and exorcism and finally his death. But unlike ever before Jesus, death was not the end. Rather, because of God’s love and power at work, the death of Jesus, instead of being the end, became the beginning. Peter attests that God raised Jesus on the third day. He himself experienced the risen Jesus and shared the table with him and other chosen witnesses who went on to proclaim the risen Lord to the world. Peter concluded his speech by linking these events with the Old Testament. The prophets, without realising it, anticipated Jesus’ resurrection by expressing hope for the final redemption of God’s people. This speech of Peter contains the essential elements of what we call the Christian “kerygma”: the proclamation of the foundations of faith which lie in death and resurrection of Jesus.
Like Peter, Paul considers the resurrection of Jesus the very foundation of his faith, his life, and his mission. For him, the resurrection is the most important and the very essential element of Christianity (1Cor 15:3-5) without which our faith would be pointless and absurd (1Cor 15:13-18). When he, or one of his disciples, wrote the letter to the Colossians he drew out the implications of the resurrection for the life of a Christian in this present world. For Paul to be baptized means to be so intimately linked to Christ as to become figuratively “dead” to everything else. Being “in Christ”, that is living one’s faith as a part of the Christian community, means that a person lives exclusively for Christ. On the surface, a Christian lives very much as a part of the present world, but in his or her heart and soul flows a different life – the hidden life of faith. Paul reminds the Christians that this life of faith is the life which will endure beyond death. Thus, he admonishes them to orient their thoughts and action towards Christ because their goal is eternal life with Christ who, after the resurrection, resides with God.
The resurrection stories in all Gospels begin with the women. They are the first witnesses to the empty tomb. In the Gospel of John Mary, probably the most prominent woman disciple of Jesus, plays that essential role. As we will see next Sunday, she will become not only the first witness to the empty tomb, but also the first one to encounter the risen Lord. Yet, the key figure in today’s Gospel account is John, also known as the “beloved disciple”. This young man ran to the tomb in utmost hurry to see what had happened to the body of his beloved master. Arriving at the tomb and out of respect he waited for his elder, Peter. Entering the tomb and seeing the burial shroud with the head covering neatly arranged he realised that Jesus’ body was not stolen by thieves. Robbers do not neatly arrange the place which they have plundered. It is this realisation that led him to believe Jesus truly has risen.
In this story the evangelist highlights the absolute novelty of the resurrection. The run to the tomb symbolically represents the humanity’s ardent desire for the defeat of death. We must remember that the idea of resurrection and life after death is absent from major part of the Old Testament, with the exception of Daniel (12:1-3) and Wisdom (3:1-7). It is only with the confirmed and witnessed resurrection of Jesus that we are clearly assured about life eternal which is offered to humanity by God. The evangelist reflects that view in the last line of today’s Gospel passage where he alludes to the fact that the disciples, even though knowing the Scripture, did not understand, or did not take the possibility of resurrection seriously. John’s experience in the tomb conveyed to us as truthful testimony aims at reassuring us that Jesus truly had risen.
The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. As we see in the speech of Peter, it allows us to understand God’s intentions for all of humanity. The book of Wisdom brilliantly summarises God’s purposes by stating that “God created human beings to be immortal, he made them as an image of his own nature” (Wis 2:23). This ultimate purpose of God was accomplished by Jesus’s resurrection. We could appeal here to the words of the Psalm which states that “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Indeed, Jesus rejected and crucified has been made into the cornerstone, and so the very foundation, for our lives.
Resurrection allows us to orient our lives in the proper direction, as St Paul puts it: we are to “look for the things that are above” where our destiny lies. In fact, our entire life and our faith are founded on belief in the resurrection. John the disciple was the first one to see the empty tomb and believe. Today, the faith of every Christian is based on that testimony. This Easter Sunday liturgy proclaims the resurrection as the foundation of our faith and reminds us that our true destiny is eternal life with Christ in the presence of our life-giving Creator. Therefore, this is the day of the most exuberant and festive Christian celebration, the day when we rejoice in the greatest, the ultimate gift that we have received from our God. What remains is to sing together with the Psalmist: “Alleluia! Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good, for his faithful love endures forever.” We could add, paraphrasing these words, our own exclamation: “Alleluia! Give thanks to God for he is good, because of his love, our life endures forever.”
Listening to the Word of God
The theme of this Easter Sunday is the greatest gift. This greatest gift is not an Easter egg, or sharing expensive gifts, cards, presents or barbecue. But rather the magnificent gift that God has given us, salvation and forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 6:23). The celebration of Easter Sunday will be meaningless if we focus on the social aspect of this celebration without considering the essence of the Pascal Mysteries. A few points will help us to celebrate Easter Sunday meaningfully.
First, salvation is the universal gift for all humankind, “God wills that everyone be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). Christ suffered and died for all people. Jesus offered himself for our sake; through his precious blood we are washed and cleansed of our sins. Doing this he reconciled us to God because when we sin, we are separated from the grace and love of God. Are Catholics saved? Are you a born again Christian? We hear such questions often asked about the Catholics. The answer is simple, as people who have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour we are saved through our faith. Yet, we also insist that salvation is not a matter of simply belonging to this or that church. We demonstrate our Christianity and faith by a life in conformity to Christian virtues and morals. Salvation is not an instant but a life-long project which we work with fear and trembling, which means with utmost seriousness and respect (cf. Phil 2:12). We welcome God’s supreme gift of life by remaining in communion with him, by living lives that he demands of us.
Second, God has no favourites. Peter came to realize that God’s ways are not the same as human ways. God fashioned humankind in his own likeness and image and his love is for all, not just selected individuals of groups. This is well reflected in the Igbo proverb: “The rain does not recognize anyone as a friend, it drenches all equally”. If we are all equal before our Creator God, then why should we consider other people inferior? Why should we as Africans, have a problem of tribalism, nepotism, civil wars, genocide? As people who have risen with Christ we ought to live by his command to love others with tolerance and understanding for their differences. To live the risen life means cleansing our minds from prejudices and stereotypes based on tribe and ethnic belonging because God’s gift of life is not partial but universal. All deserve the possibility of enjoying this gift.
Third, we are reminded of our duty as Christians to bear witness to Jesus’ resurrection by living a life that is entirely focused on supporting and defending the gift of life in ourselves and others. After his resurrection Jesus commissioned His disciples to be witnesses not only in Jerusalem but also to the ends of the world. As a Christian, am I living a life of witness to God’s universal gift of life? For us, Africans, the empty tomb of Jesus proclaims his power over death and every kind of sickness, physical or social. It powerfully reminds us that no oppressive situation or illness is forever. When we pray to God for his intervention or healing, we will see the tombstone rolled away. This Easter season God wants to deliver us most of all from the hopelessness that comes from living in the world surrounded by death, oppression and sickness. The resurrection of Christ shows that death does not have the final word, the final word of God is that which proclaims that God’s greatest gift for all humanity is boundless and endless life in God’s presence. This gift is like the rain which sustains us all, and to which we respond by continually growing in our faith and Christian life-style, seeking “what is above”.
“The rain does not recognize anyone as a friend, it drenches all equally.” (Yoruba Proverb)
Do I sufficiently appreciate God’s care for my life through care for my own body and well-being?
Is my life focused on seeking the “things that are above” through the proper focus on the practice of faith and taking care of my spiritual life?
Response to God
I make a solemn commitment to receive the daily gift of life with due attention and appreciation.
Response to your World
In response to God’s greatest gift I will share my appreciation of it with someone in the community.
In response to God’s greatest gift, our group will think of an activity aimed at sharing our joy and appreciation of it with others. For example, we will organize a workshop on sustaining and protecting life among the youth in our parish.
Almighty God, we thank you for the greatest gift you have given us, the gift of unending life. We humbly ask that you resurrect all that is still dead within us. Save us from hopelessness and grant us a renewed zeal for life. Anoint us with the power of your Holy Spirit and purify our thoughts and minds to bear witness to you with our daily lives of care and love. We ask you, through our Lord Jesus Christ, risen in our midst, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.