May all of our readers have a happy and blessed Easter celebration today! We would also like to wish our Jewish readers a blessed Passover, as both events take place this weekend.
Tonight’s Gospel reading from the Easter Vigil is Luke 24:1–12, when the women come across the empty tomb and are the first to be told its implications:
At daybreak on the first day of the week the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them. They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.” And they remembered his words.
Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others. The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone; then he went home amazed at what had happened.
Later today, we also hear the same scene from John 20:1-9, where John joins Peter at the tomb. The testimony is somewhat different, but the message the same:
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.
Finally, we go back to Luke again (24:13-35) for the story of the road to Emmaus:
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.
Resurrection is a running theme through all of these readings, as it should be on Easter, but in more than just the primary point of Jesus’ victory over death. There is another theme worth considering, too, which is our own continuing resurrection in faith. Every single one of these readings either explicitly or implicitly makes the point that Jesus’ disciples gave into the despair of the moment rather than remember His teachings. That becomes much more explicit in the Emmaus narrative, but that theme is present in both of the empty-tomb Gospel narratives as well. The disciples are all confounded by Jesus’ death and then confused and distraught over the disappearance of His body.
The season of Lent and the promise of Easter calls us back from that despair, just as it did to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They struggled with despair in the brokenness of the world. Christ’s presence restored their hope, even when they could not recognize Him. When they broke the bread and He appeared, their souls were restored and refreshed.
We all go through this despair, and we do it in better knowledge of Christ’s salvation than the disciples had in that moment, too. It is still very human to forget the larger and more important battles in our spiritual life in the travails of the world. We all get derailed from the former by the latter at times; I have struggled with that over the last few years, and more than a couple of my friends have as well. It is our weakness, our propensity, to order the world to our own external senses than to order it to our inner spiritual life and essentially trap ourselves in the illusion of despair. In that orientation, death is an end, troubles are existential, and life is essentially meaningless.
Our Easter story makes this choice very clear. Do we choose the path of materiality or the path of spirituality? It’s the denial of our spiritual selves that leads us down the path of ruin and death. The path of the world ends at the cross. The choice of our spiritual life begins at the empty tomb, and in the resurrected Christ’s triumph over death.
May this Easter Sunday leave us with our hearts burning for Him again, with our spirits refreshed in this new encounter with Christ, just as He refreshed the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus Christ is Risen — He is Risen Indeed!
Addendum: For a final bonus, I’d like to offer this YouTube presentation I’ve been sharing with friends the last couple of days. I’ve sung in my parish choir all three nights of the Triduum (I’m a baritone) for the first time ever. This is my first Holy Week in my new parish as well, and my fellow parishioners in Texas have been marvelously welcoming. One of the songs we sang on Good Friday was Antonio Salieri’s “De Profundis,” a magnificent orchestration of Psalm 130. “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord, Lord hear my voice …”
This is not our humble church choir, of course, but I hope you’ll enjoy this presentation and that it will add to your Easter celebration.
The front-page image is a detail from “The Resurrection of Christ” by Hendrick van den Broeck, c. 1571-2. On display in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.