Easter Sunday – The Resurrection of the Lord
Through a Glass Darkly
Some weeks ago the United States experienced a rare total eclipse of the sun. We were warned not to try to view the eclipse directly but only through heavily filtered lenses to avoid damaging our eyes by the blinding light of the sun. I thought of this as today we celebrate the very heart of our Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus Crucified, a conviction of faith that is ground zero for us as Christians. Yet in the New Testament there is no direct description of the actual moment of Jesus’ triumph over the power of death—nor could there be. That “instant” of transformation was an act of God beyond the arena of time and space. As Paul the Apostle put it long ago, we glimpse life with God “through a glass directly.”
Two of the ways the New Testament testifies to the reality of the resurrection are reflected in the choice of readings for Easter. One is the testimony of those who encountered the Risen Christ as alive. The same Jesus they knew and loved, whose body was broken and his life taken away through a cruel and painful death, was now experienced as fully alive—not resuscitated as if somehow brought back to his former life but transformed into a new and vibrant mode of life. We hear such a testimony in the words of Peter while preaching to Cornelius, the Roman Centurion and his household in the Acts of the Apostles.: “This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance.” An even more compelling example of such witness is Luke’s account of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. Two followers of Jesus, broken hearted and despairing because the Master they loved had been crucified, leave Jerusalem and take a sad journey to their village of Emmaus. We all know the story—as they walk they are joined by a mysterious visitor who turns their despair into ardent hope—the Risen Jesus himself. They recognize him when he joins them in a meal, as he had so many times during his life with them. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” This appearance story is so characteristic of the New Testament accounts: the Jesus they encounter is truly the Jesus they knew and loved (he breaks bread with them; he still carries the wounds of his crucifixion; he cooks a breakfast of grilled fish and bread for them…). Yet at the same time, the Risen Jesus radiates a new and transformed life (they don’t at first recognize him; he appears suddenly, unrestrained by time and place).
The other lens through which the New Testament views the brilliant light of resurrection is through a series of accounts where people who loved and knew Jesus discover that the tomb in which his crucified body had been buried is now empty. In John’s exquisite account, Mary Magdalen first discovers the empty tomb and then alerts Simon Peter and the “beloved disciple”—they run to the tomb (the beloved disciple outruns Peter!) and find that Mary’s testimony was true. The tomb is empty and the burial cloths are neatly rolled up. Mark’s Gospel also concludes with the discovery of the empty tomb. Here the faithful and courageous women who had stood by the cross of Jesus (while the male disciples had all fled), come to the tomb after the Sabbath to anoint Jesus’ body. But the tomb is empty, and a heavenly messenger proclaims the Easter message: “Do not be afraid! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”
Most of us are afraid of death and the unknowns we may face in the future. But the very heart of our Christian faith celebrated today assures us that death is not the last word—for ourselves, for our loved ones, and or indeed for our world. For us as a Passionist family, to proclaim this message is at the very heart of our charism for the Church.
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P. is President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union. He lives at the Passionist residence in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.
[This reflection is adapted from Perspectives on Scripture, a weekly column written by Donald Senior for The Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan paper of Chicago.]