Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard, O.Carm., is parish priest of the parish of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Mayfield, Sussex. He is a member of the Aylesford Community. Today, Fr. Patrick is reflecting on the readings from the Mass on Easter Sunday. Please read Fr Patrick's introduction to these reflections and please look at the readings for Sunday Mass here (these will open in a separate window for ease of reading):
“Christ is risen”, acclaims the Church on Easter Night. After all the drama and tensions of Good Friday, there is that great sense of joy that once again we are proclaiming the Jesus who died for us is risen and will die no more. Through Holy Week, we were always aware that we would next be celebrating Easter. As we remembered the great events of our salvation we always did so in the light of the resurrection. It is a journey which year by year we follow through step by step until we arrive at this moment. Our remembrance is of the whole event in its various stages and as we remember we do so that we are making present amongst us that great act of our redemption which took place two millennia ago.
Easter Sunday has its special place. This is still the third day of the Paschal Triduum, which began with the Vigil at Night and concludes on the evening of Easter Sunday. There may be a sense that all is over after the Vigil but that is not the case. The Vigil is the moment of transition from darkness to light. The morning Mass is the time to celebrate singing out our Alleluias from the very beginning.
Yet, we could well ask, where is he? Neither at night nor in the morning in the Gospel readings do we have an appearance of the risen Jesus. The first time he may appear is at an evening Mass on Easter Sunday when the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus may be read as the Gospel. The evidence given to us at Easter is but an empty tomb from which we must draw our conclusions.
At the Easter Vigil, it was Luke’s resurrection account that was read. The Synoptic Evangelists agree on the discovery of the tomb by the women and the announcement by an angel.
Otherwise, their account of the initial discovery is shaped by the whole resurrection presentation of the evangelist. As so often, Luke’s version is especially distinctive. When I looked at the three resurrection stories in a Synopsis 1, it was the proclamation of the two men at the tomb and the call to remember which stood out. With Luke, an impossible amount is squeezed into one long day, from the tomb to the ascension. This begins at the tomb with the the women who have been with Jesus since Galilee. They have good cause to remember all that Jesus did and said, that three times he had predicted he would die and rise again. Yet for them, the implications of resurrection when faced with the empty tomb were just too great, as it was for the Eleven when the women made their announcement to them. Their witness was not enough, the Eleven were hard to convince. Peter at least decided to investigate further but he is merely puzzled. Two men or angels at the tomb therefore make the basic Easter proclamation to the women. From the tomb, the whole theme is developed with the experience of the two men on the road to Emmaus. This whole account in Luke has been well described as “from eyewitnesses to ministers of the word.” From Jerusalem the mission of the Church would be launched, continuing to this day.
Quite different then is the resurrection on Easter Sunday morning with the Gospel of John. Mary Magdalene's report led to an investigation and a journey of discovery follows. There is plenty of running in this Gospel, Mary does and so too do the two disciples. The tomb itself though is but a silent witness. Here there are no helpful angels proclaiming the resurrection. Just the neatly rolled up grave clothes, a contrast to Lazarus who came out of the tomb still bound. It is the other disciple who saw the evidence, assessed it and came to a conclusion. He saw and he believed is the climax of this Sunday’s Gospel. It is though an assessment which depends on Scripture and reading Scripture from a new point of view.
The Gospel as proclaimed therefore leaves open the consequences of seeing and believing. What happens next is strangely never heard on a Sunday yet it’s importance has been increasingly recognised in recent decades. There are five parts to the resurrection chapter of John’s Gospel. The first is heard this Easter Day and parts three to five every year on Low Sunday. The missing second part is the encounter of Mary Magdalene with the risen Jesus and his commission to her “go and tell my brothers and sisters…” We can see that this encounter takes the story too far for Easter Sunday morning, we need to reflect carefully upon the evidence of the tomb first. By next Sunday, the story will have moved on. The encounter may not fit into either Sunday, yet it is important that we are aware of this story and that we keep it in mind. In the past, the dominant image of Mary Magdalene would have been the traditional understanding of her as a great sinner. We now realise that came from a confused reading of the Gospels. Today, she has her unique role as the first proclaimer of the resurrection. Very briefly, the meeting of Mary and Jesus inevitably required a considerable re-orientation on her part. She had to accept that she could no longer the touch the Jesus she loved as human. Jesus instead told her to go to the disciples. The changed relationship would be evident later. With a five part sequence, comparison is invited between scenes two and four. The fourth part in this case is Thomas who is invited to touch Jesus and gets a much stronger challenge than Mary.
Believing leads to witness, such is the theme at the beginning of the Gospel of John. We hear much from Acts in Eastertide; as the second volume to Luke’s Gospel it tells of the witness of the early Church. As with the Gospel, we see Luke taking the traditions and stories available to him and shaping them into a story of the early Church that he wanted to tell. This Sunday, we have a speech by Peter which marks a turning point. After Pentecost he gave a long and lengthy speech addressed to Jews. In this his last speech he speaks to Gentiles in Caesarea a Roman city. It is to the point with no reference to the Scriptures, just a statement of the basic facts. Clumsy editing means that Peter’s comment about the Gospel being open to all is taken out but that openness of the Gospel is the core of the Church’s mission. “We are those witnesses” says St Peter. Today just as Peter and his companions were witnesses to Cornelius and his household, so we too are called to believe and witness to the Risen Lord.
1 A Synopsis presents the three Gospels lined up in columns for ready comparison.
Image credit: image from Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Faversham