Several years ago, the Italian film maker, Franco Zeffirelli offered the public his cinematic version of Jesus of Nazareth. After the crucifixion of Jesus on Calvary and his hasty burial, a member of the Sanhedrin was informed that certain followers of the itinerant teacher and healer were claiming that his tomb had been found empty. Others were spreading rumors that they had experienced his risen presence.
At that, the Jewish official moaned softly and sighed almost inaudibly, ‘. . . and so it begins,’ the resurrection of Jesus marked the beginning of a new way of life centered in Christ Jesus who died but now lives forever. By virtue of his victory over sin and death, we are offered a new perspective. Jesus’ death and Resurrection changed forever the way we look at death, at life, at this world and at one another.
First reading: Acts 10:34, 37-43
When Luke wrote Acts of Apostles in the mid to late 80s A.D, his key protagonists Peter and Paul had already died, however he chose not to mention the demise of these two heroes. Instead he left his audience with the impression that their ministries were still intact and that the Apostles continued to speak physically. His aim was to present “an orderly account of events” Luke 1:3 and at the same time offer an insight into the plan of the one true God for all people. This discourse contains the key elements of the earliest kerygma with basic message of salvation that Jesus’ death was in accord with God’s foreordained plan, that he was raised from death as foretold in scripture and that witnesses saw him in his risen state. Luke presents it in a way that speeches attributed to Paul present the kerygma intended for the gentiles while Peter’s is geared toward Jewish listeners and as the recognized head of the Church who grants approval to the gentile mission with all its consequences. In this case Jews and Gentiles who are united by faith in Christ would no longer be separated by ethnic differences or rules of clean and unclean.
All this is intended to fulfill the mandate Jesus had issued; that the good news of forgiveness and salvation should be preached in his name “to all nations” Luke 24:47. It is obvious that after the Resurrection of Jesus, Peter and other Jewish Christians began to realize the challenge of embracing this universal perspective about salvation that “everyone who believes in him has forgiveness of sins through his name” Luke 24: 43. This challenge is visible within the context of the conversion of the gentile Cornelius and of his whole household cf. Acts 10:1-11:18. The Cornelius event is landmark decision for the early community and a model for things to come. The universal implication of Jesus’ Resurrection is that human body has been loved and transformed by God and requires that those who celebrate Easter spread the same good news.
Second reading: Colossians 3:1-4
Due to the advances in medical science, a phenomenon known as the ‘near death experience’ has become common. Victims of heart attacks and accidents who could otherwise have died can now be resuscitated and go on living. Many who have survived such experience say that their lives were radically altered. Values and priorities were adjusted. People and relationships became more important than things. In a sense, St. Paul in this short pericope to the Colossians encourages his audience to give similar consideration with regard to life in Christ.
Through baptism all of us who believe have died and risen with Christ to a new life of grace and glory. This experience of dying and rising should radically alter our priorities by influencing our life-style such that our heart is set on what pertains to higher realms and on things above cf. Colossians 1:2. Unfortunately the Colossian were being pulled in other directions. Epaphras had founded the Church at Colossae and probably brought the gospel to other cities in the Lycus’s valley as well Laodicea, Hierapolis. Paul also had ties to the city, through his relationships with Philemon, Onesimus, Apphia and Archippus. The letter to Colossae is consonant with the apostle’s theological concerns. By this time, false preachers had plagued Colossae, attacking both the supremacy of Christ and his true humanity while offering in its place an amalgam of pagan astrology, proto-gnositicism and an aberrant form of Jewish mysticism. Lest they be swayed by these errors, St Paul reminded them that their baptismal commitment to Christ required that they be renewed daily in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Gospel: John 20:1-9
One of the key doctrines of the Christian faith, the Resurrection of Jesus is also one of its greatest mysteries. Fortunately, St John the Evangelist has offered a guide to help us make our way through his gospel with a better understanding of the risen Jesus. Variously referred to as the “beloved disciple/the one whom Jesus loved” John 20:2, the identity of John continues to be debated among scholars. Some have suggested that the beloved disciple was not an historic person but a symbol of the true disciple who remained close to Jesus and was the first to believe in his resurrection. Others have suggested that Lazarus was actually the beloved disciple; still others have posted John Mark. The truth is that the beloved disciple and the source of the underlying historical tradition of the fourth gospel are one and the same, John son of Zebedee. John the Apostle and Evangelist was nearest to Jesus at the Last Supper cf. John 13:23-26; he remained at Jesus’ Cross with Mary and was entrusted by Jesus with her care cf. John 19:25-27.
The beloved disciple was with Simon Peter when Mary of Magdala brought news of the empty tomb cf. John 20:2. He was the first to arrive at Jesus’ tomb; he saw and understood what Mary had not perceived. While she thought that Jesus’ body had been taken, the beloved disciple realized, by the orderly arrangement of the burial cloths, that Jesus’ body had not been stolen but that he was indeed risen and he believed. It is as if his faith is less the result of human effort and understanding but the love he had for Christ and also Christ’s love for him. Later, while fishing with Peter, the beloved disciple would recognize his Resurrected Lord standing on the shore and point him out to Peter cf. John 21:7. In concluding his gospel the Apostle John identified the disciple Jesus loved as the authoritative source of his work cf. John 21:24. Like the angel interpreters in Matthew 22:5, Mark 16:5, and Luke 24:4 narratives on the resurrection, the beloved disciple helps us to sort out the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection and come to faith. The lesson for us is that love for Jesus gives one the insight to detect his presence. The Beloved Disciple is the ideal follower of Jesus. He sets an example for us to follow. As our model and Easter guide, this loved disciple calls us to consider and rejoice with him in the mystery of God’s love for us incarnate, crucified and risen. In the risen Lord, believers find a new perspective of hope and meaning with which to view challenges of human existence. Jesus, who was dead and is now risen assures us of the saving transformation of all flesh. With every Easter celebration we are privileged to affirm again that life is worthy living.
The reality of Easter is that God is not simply up yonder or the totally other transcendent one. He has come to us, in the flesh and blood of human existence to transform us. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of our resurrection because from now on, salvation is sure. The resurrection of Jesus encourages us to stay focused on things from above so as to sustain life values which are fundamental for good living. Today we need to prove that we are genuine disciples by loving Jesus and one another. If we fail to love Jesus, we may fail to see him among us. This is the time to make sure that love makes true disciples.
Fr. Paulino Mondo