I Believe the Message: He is Risen from the Dead!

Easter Sunday, Year A.
Acts 10:34, 37-43 – Colossians 3:1-4 – John 20:1-9

Have you heard the astonishing news? The first witnesses to what happened were so excited that the news spread like wildfire and nowadays it is shouted from the rooftops. It is the talk of the town – and of the city and the metropolis. The news has reached every home and every church. Right now, while you are sitting at home reading this, I am here to give you that astonishing news yet again. The more we hear it, the more we assimilate it, the more we understand its mystery. Jesus Christ is no longer in the grave! He is risen from the dead! He has overcome death for us! What joy the news of the resurrection of Jesus brings to each and every one of us. When Peter was addressing Cornelius’ household, he began by confirming the rumours they had been hearing that Jesus was risen from the dead. This is the stunningly good, astonishing news of Easter.

If Jesus had not risen from the grave, you and I wouldn’t be where we are today. The bottom line, as St. Paul puts it in 1Cor. 15:14, is that “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” The resurrection message is the nub of the Faith, the absolutely essential element on which our personal faith is based. We are followers of Christ because we believe that – just as Christ died and rose from the dead – we will too. We have confidence that the grave has no power over us. Oblivion does not await us at the grave. Yes, in time we will go to the grave; but no, that event will not be the end of us. What the risen Lord has accomplished for humanity is the forgiveness of sin and the concrete hope of eternal life with Him. This is the uniqueness of the Christian Faith. Some religious traditions hold to some sort of belief in an afterlife, but only Christianity has proof of our ongoing existence in eternity (in either Heaven or Hell – that’s our choice) through the salvific mission of Jesus Christ who overcame physical human death by rising again. The Resurrection is the ultimate evidence we present for our well-founded belief that Jesus is both Lord and God: according to His will He can do anything and everything. It is only God who could overcome death and be the first-fruits of new life in eternity because He is eternal.

The reactions of Simon Peter and John to Mary Magdalene’s announcement indicate that they were not expecting the resurrection to occur. The apostles hadn’t anticipated that the victim on the cross would become the victor. Grieving, and reduced to thinking merely in human terms, they presumed that the victim would remain no more than a dead victim, and they would see no more of Jesus: but here we are – He is risen. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

When He raised Lazarus from the grave, Jesus had flagged up that belief in resurrection was well-founded. His capacity to raise a dead man to life, and to do it in public, prompted those with worldly interests to get rid of Him. In today’s gospel passage, it’s clear that the apostles hadn’t taken on board fully the message that the resurrection of Lazarus carried. Perhaps we can forgive them for their human frailty and unbelief, as they were stricken by the cruelty on display during the Passion of the Lord, and by the hatred the Jews and secular authorities exhibited towards Him.

Mary Magdalene “saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb”. We would rightly recoil at the thought of the grave of someone who’s been dead for three days being despoiled. Their initial reaction of Peter and John was that the opening of the Lord’s grave must have been due to desecration. How odd that Peter and John ran to the spot where they had been informed Jesus wasn’t. Why did they go there? The answer is that they went to corroborate the story of Mary Magdalene. It was only when both of them had gone into the tomb and had seen the evidence for themselves, that they believed. The gospel concludes, “Till that moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” Where have we been searching for Jesus? What is it that we understand about the message of Easter from this news? When we are fearful about going to the grave, Jesus reassures us. He says, “There is no need for you to be afraid” (Mt 28:5) and “I am with you all days even unto the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). It’s no longer the case that “when you’re dead, you’re dead”. He is risen!

Jesus has transformed the event of human death. He is triumphant over death. He has destroyed the power that death held over us. He destroyed the fear that death holds over us. When we cling to hope in Him, we are insulated from the worst of the terror of the world’s cruelty (even from that of a global pandemic). Just as the disciples didn’t see the whole picture of the resurrection at first, so we too might not see the bigger picture of divine healing active of our world. May the resurrection of the Lord Jesus mark a turning point for our world which is ravaged by fear of sickness, disease and death. May we all come to see and believe in the reality of what the Resurrected Lord has done for us. He is Risen! I believe. Do you believe? Amen. God bless you. Happy Easter.