ACTS 10:34, 37-43; PSALM 118; COLOSSIANS 3:1-4; JOHN 20:1-9
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Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA
DIVINE REBOUND: FROM A CRUCIFIED MESSIAH TO A GLORIOUS RISEN LORD
At Easter, Christians the world over solemnly celebrate the most defining event of their faith: the Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. St. Paul expresses this without any equivocation: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain …and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:14-17). In other words, the entire Christian message revolves around the event of the resurrection. The resurrection constitutes Christianity’s foundational story, the Good News that animates its every-day life of faith and charity, and the undying hope that sustains its match into the future.
The Liturgy of the Resurrection begins with the Vigil Mass which has four fundamental moments:
1) The Lucernarium, which is the service of light. This moment which constitutes the solemn beginning of the vigil and symbolizes a moment of watching and praying as the faithful await the Lord’s resurrection just as he had promised. The Christian community gathers around a blessed fire from which the Easter candle is lit according to a formula which invokes Christ as the beginning and the end, as well as the Lord of all ages.
This is followed by an insertion of nails carrying grains of incense into the Paschal Candle, invoking Christ’s holy and glorious wounds for protection over his people. This part is concluded with a procession with the Paschal Candle into the Church, with a three-fold invocation of the Light of Christ (Lumen Christi) and with a solemn Easter proclamation, called the Exultet, which calls heaven and earth to rejoice and commemorates strategic moments of our salvation history in praise of the risen Christ.
2) The Liturgy of the Word: This second part consists of the proclamation of the Word of God. Selected passages are taken from the Pentateuch (Torah) and the Prophets (Nevi’im) which border on creation, liberation, and the new covenant, and passages of the New Testament on the resurrection. These passages call to mind the most significant moments of the history of salvation.
3) Baptismal Liturgy: In this moment, those who have been prepared for baptism (“catechumens”) process to the baptismal font where they will receive baptism. Where there are no candidates for baptism, a renewal of baptismal promises takes place after which all are sprinkled with blessed water. This part is concluded with the universal prayer.
4) The Liturgy of the Eucharist: The celebration of the Eucharist continues in the normal way. Where possible, the Eucharist is administered in both species (bread and wine), especially to the newly baptized.
At the Mass During the Day (the Easter Day Mass proper), we find in the Entrance Antiphon the following words: “The Lord is truly risen, alleluia. To him be glory and power for all the ages of eternity, alleluia alleluia!
These words reflect the sense of great rejoicing among Christians on this day of Easter when we celebrate the cornerstone of our faith, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed as we sing in the Responsorial Psalm, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad!”
A remarkable feature of the day’s liturgy is that all the three readings (the 1st, 2nd and the Gospel) come from the New Testament. The 1st Reading (Acts 10:37-43) is a part of the speech that Peter delivered in the house of Cornelius, identified as a centurion of the Italian cohort, that is, an officer of the Roman army.
This speech is a synthesis of the main storylines of the Gospel message: it touches on the themes of the preaching of John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus, Jesus’ public ministry, the crucifixion, the resurrection, Christ’s post-resurrection appearances, and the mission to the world. The speech resembles, in many respects, Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. In fact, the Holy Spirit also came down as Peter was still delivering this speech in the house of Cornelius and baptism was immediately administered on those who listened (see vv.44-48). It was in some sense the Pentecost of the Gentiles.
We are told that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power and so he went about doing good and healing those oppressed by evil. However, men killed him by hanging him on a tree. At this point, it would seem that Jesus’ project of defeating evil and advancing the reign of goodness in the world had been aborted.
During the forty days period of Lent and especially on Good Friday, we contemplated and participated in that deep sense of sorrow and disappointment that engulfed the disciples of Jesus in the days of the tragic passion and death of the Lord on the cross. With the resurrection at Easter, however, our fears and sorrows give way to great rejoicing. In some sense, Jesus bounces back; there is a divine rebound, so to speak. As we read in v. 40, “God raised him on the third day and made him manifest.”
As we rejoice at his resurrection, the risen Christ is entrusting to us the mission to preach him as judge and source of sanctifying grace. In v. 42 we read, “He commanded us to preach and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
In the 2nd Reading (Colossians 3:1-4), St. Paul points to the implication of the resurrection for Christian living. The sign that we are partakers in the resurrection of Christ is that we “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God…not the things that are on earth.”
The theme of Christ seated at the right hand of God (very common in the New Testament) seems to echo Psalm 110:1: “The Lord said to my lord, ‘sit at My right hand while I make your enemies your footstool’”. In the ancient Near East, the one who sat at the right hand of the king was his second in command. This imagery may have been used to explain the relationship of Jesus, the Messiah (Christos) with God the Father.
In early Christian circles which consisted of Christians of Jewish origins, although they acknowledged Jesus’ privileged position and special relationship with God, they did not think of him at once as one and the same with God but more probably as his second in command.
The Gospel Reading (John 20:1-9) underscores the experience of the resurrection as progressively communal. First, it was on the first day of the week, which is the day after the Sabbath (i.e., our Sunday). This constitutes one of the fundamental reasons why Sunday takes the place of the Sabbath in Christianity as the day of worship: it is the Day of the Lord’s Resurrection.
The second thing to note is that even though it was Mary Magdalene alone who is mentioned as the one who came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed, she made her report to the apostles in communal language: “‘We’ do not know where they have laid him” (Jn 20:2c).
As they ran to the tomb to see for themselves, although the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first, he did not go in. He only bent down to look in, hence, could see only the linen wrappings lying there (Jn 20:3-5). But when Peter arrived and entered, he saw also the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. Then the other disciple also entered and saw. Only then did their seeing transform into faith: “He saw and believed” (20:8).
Just as witnessing to the resurrection was progressive and communal, so too living the Resurrection Faith. Although Jesus calls us individually, he calls us that he may make of us a community of individuals who though have seen differently, together believe!
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
Easter and The Rest of us
The Bible says in 1 Cor. 15:14, that without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, “our preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain.” Again, in Rom.1:4 the Bible says that the resurrection of Jesus is a powerful declaration that Jesus is the Son of God. They killed because he said he is the Son of God. The resurrection has further proven this truth of faith. Jesus is the Son of God! Beloved in Christ, belief in the resurrection is foundational to Christianity. If you do away with the resurrection, we have nothing to believe or profess. Therefore, the resurrection is the reason for our Christian vocation. John 11:25 Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live”. The resurrection is the reason we shall live after our death. This resurrection Sunday is called Easter. It is the dawn of a new era for the disciples and the rest of us. Therefore, let us not keep quiet about this glorious dawn, let us like Mary run to the elders of our streets, run to our neighbours and friends and tell them about the Easter in words and deeds. Easter and the rest of us! What can we learn from this celebration?
Easter shows that Despair is never an option- Easter demonstrates to us that no matter how bad things might look right now, God has the power to change our conditions. In spite of the darkness of Good Friday, the mourning of Holy Saturday, the tears of the women of Jerusalem, and the Sorrows of Our Lady; Easter has changed the disaster. In Easter God spoke and said no more sorrow and no more weeping, no more shame and no more pain, I have come to give you cheers for the tears. And he says to us today, despair is never an option, no matter your situation there is hope of a brighter dawn. Ps.3:3 says that “God is the lifter of my head”. The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead; will raise you up. For he says in Hosea 13:14 “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O death, where is your sting; O grave, where is your ruin?” Beloved in Christ, never give in to despair; it is only despair that says a situation is beyond repair. But up from the grave He arose. Therefore, never give up. This country may appear so bad; don’t give up on grace! There is a silver lining at the end of the tunnel. Darkness may last all through the night but joy comes in the morning. Never give up!
Easter Calls us to be the Lords Witnesses: The woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons was the first human being in history to see the resurrected Christ in person and recognized who He was. What an honour! Upon that honour she was given a mandate to go tell others. Anyone who has been honoured by the Lord has also been mandated by the Lord. Our mandate is to witness, like Peter and John in the first reading we are called to bear witness. Christians; witness is our business. Wherever you are, permeate that place with the presence of God. Let witnessing be your life style: tell the truth, show love, share the gospel, share your bread and praying with a neigbour. In fact, the three keys of Lent remain. The end of lent is not the end of fasting, prayers and almsgiving. Easter simply gives us the uncommon confidence to continue to fast, pray and give alms.
Easter calls us to seek the things are above: In the Second reading St. Paul says if you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Many Christians today have set their minds on earthly gains and patterns. Before his death the disciples had a mindset thus they had to argue who is the greatest; but after the resurrection the mind set changed, they were concerned about how to gather in the upper room. They were concerned with winning souls and things of eternal relevance. Beloved in Christ, Easter comes to reset our mind, to reset is to reorder, so Easter comes to reorder our minds for heaven. We need to free our minds from vain things; we need to clear our minds from that doubt and confusion, from illicit images and videos. If we don’t do that we cannot crave ardently for things that have eternal value. Beloved from this Easter learn not to conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom.12:2)
Easter shows that the grave is not our final destination- In John 14:1-3, Jesus tells the disciples, do not let your heart be troubled, believe in God and believe also in me, he says I go to prepare a place for you that “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” This is true for all Christians. The resurrection proves that Jesus has the power to live up to this claim. He will come and take us to himself and we will dwell with him. Beloved in Christ, one may die and be buried in the Church’s cemetery or in a grave dug in one’s compound. The funeral may say “we now take the corpse to the place of it final rest” but that does not mean that the grave is one’s final destination. Up from the grave he arose! Beyond the grave is paradise for those who have prepared themselves. Just as Jesus demonstrates to us today that the grave is not our final destination I stand upon that revelation and pray that after our earthly sojourn the grave will not be our final destination in the name of Jesus. Amen! God bless you! Happy Easter.
Fr. Evaristus Okeke
CHRIST RESURRECTION IS OUR RESURRECTION TOO
The joy of the Resurrection fills the whole world and clouds our liturgical celebrations too. This joy is different from what material things or any human being can give us. The liturgy henceforth will do two things simultaneously: celebrate the joy of the resurrection and describe the nature of this resurrection.
In today’s gospel reading, we encounter the issue of the empty tomb. Ordinarily, this does not conclusively prove the resurrection. Something else could have happened to Jesus’ body. Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty and thought that someone must have taken away the body of Jesus. In fact, permission had earlier be sought for soldiers to guard the tomb because it was thought that the disciples will come and steal away Jesus’ body and claim that he has resurrected.
Although the empty tomb is not enough argument for the resurrection, it is a necessary condition. Jesus cannot be risen if he is still lying in the tomb. And so, the empty tomb is the starting point for discussing Jesus’ resurrection. At this point, the first reading of today makes up for what is lacking. Peter boldly testifies that he and the other disciples ate and drank with Jesus after he rose from the dead. This means that nothing else happened to Jesus’ body other than resurrection.
Jesus resurrected with a glorified body. Possessing a flesh, he could eat, drink and be touched by mortals; being gloried, he was not bound by space such that he could enter the midst of his disciples even while the doors were shut. It is in this glorified body that sin and death are destroyed.
In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that since we died with Christ, we also resurrect with Him and so, we too share in his glorified nature. Although we remain subject to existential conditions of life, we are not determined by them. The life we share in Christ is what gives meaning to our earthly existence. Thus, as an Easter People, St. Paul invites us to be responsible for this new life by seeking the things that are above as against worldly ambitions and glory.
As Christians, this is a time to make spiritual resolutions to live holier lives and become better persons henceforth. This explains why we renewed our baptismal promises at the vigil Mass Just as children should take-after their parents so too should our lives bear witness to our belongingness to God. Therefore, Easter does not mean relieve from the burden of mortification practiced during lent. That we have resumed the chatting of Gloria and Alleluia at Masses, does not mean we should resume your old way of life. You have become glorified, so henceforth, live gloriously. God Bless You and Happy Easter!