Be Messengers, Proclaiming the Risen Christ

User’s Guide to Sunday, April 4, Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of the Lord

Fra Angelico (c. 1395–1455), ‘Resurrection of Christ’
Fra Angelico (c. 1395–1455), ‘Resurrection of Christ’ (photo: Public Domain / Public domain)

Sunday, April 4, is Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of the Lord.

Mass Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9.

Happy Easter, everyone! On this Sunday, our 40 days of penance and mortification cease and we enter the 50-day season of Easter, culminating in Pentecost, the celebration of the Holy Spirit!

Easter is the greatest feast of the Christian liturgical year, and it is one of the few on which the vigil is actually the grander and more important liturgy, because in it the sacraments are received by catechumens and candidates. The readings for the vigil actually give us an entire “course” in salvation history. We begin with God’s covenant with creation (Genesis 1); his covenant with Abraham (Genesis 22) that anticipated Calvary and the new covenant; the Exodus and God’s covenant with Israel through Moses at Sinai (Exodus 14); a flashback to the covenant with Noah (Isaiah 54); a preview of the new and Eucharistic covenant (Isaiah 55); and finally a vision of baptism (“I will sprinkle clean water upon you”) and the new covenant (“I will give you a new heart and … a new spirit within you”) from Ezekiel 36. Why this long rehearsal of the story of God’s people? Because those to be baptized are about to enter the story: The story of the Bible will become their story, because they are joining the people of God on the pilgrimage through history. 

The Gospel of the vigil Mass is the women at the tomb according to Mark, where a “young man … clothed in a white robe” proclaims the Resurrection to them. “Young man” occurs only once elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel, when a “young man” ran away naked from Gethsemane (14:51-52). That “young man” was probably Mark himself, who had shadowed Jesus out to the garden. But God took Mark, the young man who shamefully ran away, and made him, figuratively, an “angel” who has been proclaiming the Good News through his Gospel for the rest of human history. God can take us, shameful and cowardly failures though we often are, and make us “angels” (literally “messengers”) who proclaim Christ to others if we will let him.

The Mass for Easter Day begins in Acts 10, with Peter — who also acted cowardly and shamefully at Christ’s arrest — preaching the Good News boldly to the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-45). The Resurrection and the Holy Spirit transform cowardice into courage. We rejoice using the words of Psalm 118, the end of the “Egyptian Hallel,” a hymn consisting of Psalms 113-118 that would have been the last thing Jesus chanted in the Upper Room before going out to Gethsemane (Mark 14:26). The words are poignant in that context: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” (verse 17). In the second reading St. Paul reminds us of why Jesus’ death and resurrection is significant to each one of us personally: “For you have died … when Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” Through our baptism, we have actually died with Jesus on the cross and been raised to a completely new life!

The Gospel tells of Peter and John running to the empty tomb. John waits for Peter to enter first, but when he finally comes in, John sees and believes. Why? Because “he saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head.” No grave robbers, or anyone else, would have bothered to unwrap the mummified body in order to steal it! In fact, they couldn’t — the body had been wrapped in linen strips with a hundred pounds of gooey spices (John 19:39 RSV) that dried like glue and locked the body in. Peter and John would have seen a hardened cocoon. Somehow the body had passed through the rigid grave clothes. 

It could only be miraculous. No wonder he saw and believed! 

May we, too, be in awe of the Risen Christ.