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Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed

On the morning of Easter Sunday, as we gather to celebrate the triumph of our Lord, we hear the Gospel from Saint John concerning the earliest realization of the Resurrection.  “Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.  She saw that the stone had been moved away, so she ran off to Simon Peter and the other disciple (the one Jesus loved) and told them, ‘The Lord has been taken from the tomb!  We don’t know where they have put Him!’  At that, Peter and the other disciple started out on their way toward the tomb.  They were running side by side, but then the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He did not enter but bent down to peer in, and saw the wrappings lying on the ground.  Presently, Simon Peter came along behind him and entered the tomb.  He observed the wrappings on the ground and saw the piece of cloth which had covered the head not lying with the wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the disciple who had arrived first at the tomb went in.  He saw and believed.  (Remember, as yet they did not understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)”  (John 20:1-9)

So much of this reading speaks to the way in which so many may approach the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Mary Magdalene had gone off to the tomb assuming that since she had watched Jesus die on the cross on Good Friday, His body would still be there.  When she came to the tomb she noticed the stone rolled away.  The Scriptures do not tell us that she went to look inside, but rather she immediately assumed the easiest explanation as well as a natural one.  Maybe she did not take the time necessary to consider the words that she had heard Jesus say throughout His ministry concerning His death and Resurrection.  Rather she might have thought, if the stone was rolled away then grave robbers or possibly the Roman guard had come and certainly they would have taken the body.

She ran to tell Simon Peter and John.  In response to this news they began to run to the tomb.  I always smile when I see a small item in Scripture that could easily be overlooked, but rather points to the truth of all of Scripture.  Here the Gospel tells us that John outran Peter to the tomb.  We all know that John was one of the youngest Apostles, so it makes perfect sense that the young man would outrun the older man Peter if they had to go any significant distance.

When John got to the tomb, he bent down and noticed the wrappings of the body.  We are not told what John was thinking at this moment, but he did not run away.  Rather he was drawn to the tomb.  The scene is interrupted by Simon Peter rushing up behind John.  Peter immediately went into the tomb, he saw the wrapping as John did, but he also noticed the piece of cloth which covered the head rolled up and set in a place by itself.  We also notice that John entered the tomb at this point and most likely would have noticed the rolled cloth as well.

Here we encounter the very powerful message concerning St. John, “he saw and believed.”  Like most of the powerful messages of Scripture, we need to consider what exactly we are being told.  As St. John was standing within the tomb, possible he began to think back to the words that Jesus had spoken throughout His entire ministry.  He might have begun to consider the many miracles He performed.  St. John also had the advantage of being with Jesus at the Transfiguration where he saw Jesus’ glory revealed and also within the Garden of Gethsemane to witness Jesus’ anguish of heart.

We notice here though that the confession of Jesus conquering death is not a full and complete one.  The full measure of this confession would only grow as St. John, and many other followers of Jesus, would continue to encounter Him; in the breaking of bread in the Eucharist, in the community of disciples as they gathered together, in the continued preaching of Jesus as risen from the dead through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The confession at the tomb is only a first beginning, but it is one that acknowledges that Jesus Christ is both truly God and truly man.  It acknowledges that He died on the cross and has risen from the dead.  St. John had been a witness to both of these events, and he continued throughout the rest of his life to share them with others through his life and his preaching.

My brothers and sisters, we too have the blessed opportunity to witness the death and resurrection of our Lord through the liturgy of our Holy Church.  We will attend the services of Good Friday where the death of Jesus is presented to us.  We will attend the morning Mass of Easter Sunday when those first words of Resurrection echo from our parish churches, “Come Rejoice our Lord is Risen.”  But we cannot go home satisfied that we have seen enough, it would be like St. John going off after witnessing the wrappings and empty tomb and saying that it was enough, that he needed no more.

Throughout the Book of Acts and through Catholic history we know that St. John and all of the apostles, as well as many others who were converted by their preaching, continued to encounter the Risen Christ in prayer, in Eucharist, through preaching and in the community (the Body of Christ) working together.  This opportunity is given to us today.  During Holy Mass, the celebration of the Eucharist, Jesus still becomes present among us and offers Himself to us as food to sustain and strengthen us.  When we work together as a parish community, the body of Christ, we bring Jesus into a world which so sorely needs His presence.

I hope that on Easter Sunday we will be able to cry out the traditional greeting of the Easter season, “Christ is Risen,” with the answer, “He is Risen, indeed.”  But then we must also consider, will it be on our lips, if not in actually words, then at least in spirit for the weeks after and for the rest of our lives?  The celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, where we say with St. John that we “see and believe” should draw us to ever deeper encounters with Jesus Christ, our Lord and God.  Now that we have seen Him conquer sin, death and the grave, now that we have seen Him rise to a new and glorious life, we must acknowledge that His way alone is the way to salvation.  He has opened the door for us, but we must join Him on the journey, by living as He taught and following His way.  We must follow up our confession that Jesus is Risen, our seeing and believing, with a life which is transformed by the Risen Christ.  We must then be the ones who say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loves me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

To my brother bishops, the Very Rev. and Rev. Fathers, the Deacons and all my brothers and sisters within our Holy Church, I wish you a truly joyous and fulfilling Easter.  As we together announce to the world that Christ is risen, may we continue to nurture His presence within our hearts and within our lives and share it with our families, our friends and our communities and especially within the Church as we build each other up in the faith that Jesus lives.

Christ is Risen.  He is Risen, Indeed.


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