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Easter Sunday Of The Resurrection Of The Lord, Year C

By Father Donald Dilger
Father Donald Dilger

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord, Year C

Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23;1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9 

The first reading is from Luke’s Acts of Apostles. The setting within Acts is not the day of the resurrection of Jesus, but months later. By this time Peter had become well known as a preacher of the word and spokesperson for the Christian Community. In the context, Peter had just experienced a divine revelation through a vision that overcame his prejudices about reaching out to non-Jews, usually called “the Gentiles,” or “the nations.” Following his conversion to the idea of a universal Christian Community, Peter enters the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion or high military official, a Gentile, who wants to hear what Peter proclaims. Our reading is part of Peter’s sermon or proclamation. Unfortunately, the reading omits the headline, which was this, “I truthfully believe that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who reveres him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” That “ecumenical” statement sums up for Luke and for the Church the revelation that God’s mission through Jesus was meant for all humanity.

The sermons in Acts were not recorded on site or at the time when they were supposedly proclaimed in the thirties, etc. of the first Christian century. Luke composed these sermons through combining traditions handed down with Old Testament texts, and with his own developing theology. The principle was this: we do not always know what such and such a person said on such and such an occasion, so we write what we think should have been said. That should not cause a problem for us, once we understand that God’s revelation comes to us through the authors inspired to write in such a way that their composition contained, without error, the truths of revelation. This sermon is a sample of how sermons were given in first century Christianity. Like our gospels, the sermon begins with the mission of John the Baptizer, moves on to Jesus’ being anointed with the Holy Spirit, his miracles of healing, his crucifixion and resurrection. Authenticity is established by a claim of eye and ear witnesses who ate and drank with Jesus after his resurrection. For a list of these witnesses, see 1 Corinthians 15:5-8. The sermon closed with a promise that those who believe in Jesus will receive forgiveness of sins. Thus the RCIA of the first Christian century — a summary of the history of salvation. 

The Responsorial Psalm, 118, is a thanksgiving psalm. If the context of the first reading led us away from the immediacy of what we celebrate on this day, the People’s joyous Response, verse 24 of this psalm, jolts us back to thank God for the resurrection of Jesus, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.” The most important of the verses selected for the Responsorial Psalm expresses the rejection, the vindication, the Father’s approval, and our “Amen” to the whole process, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This has been done by the Lord, and is wonderful in our eyes.”

The second reading is from 1 Corinthians. The context: a scandal in the Corinthian Church. Paul excommunicates the offender because he is fearful that the offender’s bad example can lead others into sin. He resorts to an example familiar to his readers. When baking bread, it takes only a little leaven (yeast) to cause the whole mass of dough to rise. It was the custom to clear out of the residence all leavened bread before celebrating Passover, which had to be celebrated with unleavened bread. Paul picks up on this house-cleaning chore, “Clear out the old yeast that you may become a fresh batch of dough, which you already are, since our own Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.” Thus the first New Testament claim that Jesus is the ultimate Passover Lamb.

It was early Sunday morning. One might expect that the Twelve, so close to Jesus during his ministry, would be en route to the tomb. Not so! Who was out looking? A woman disciple, Mary of Magdala, “while it was still dark.” Magdala, the name means “tower,” was the location of a fish drying tower used by fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. The circular stone rolled across the entrance to Jesus’ tomb was rolled back in its groove. Mary ran and reported this to Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, whose identity is never revealed in John’s gospel. It was their turn to run. The author inserts a note of humor which may be historical, “They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter.” One Father of the Church surmised that the Beloved Disciple could run faster because he was unmarried. If historical, the difference was more likely age-related, or since love makes the heart beat faster he was able to run faster. He bent down to look into the low entrance to the tomb hewn out of the soft rock. He saw the burial cloths, but did not go in. Peter arrived and went in. He too saw the burial cloths. The cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was rolled up separately — a tribute to neatness Mary taught her Son. The other disciple also entered. “He saw and believed.” Nothing is said of Peter’s faith. The author is playing favorites.

It is clear from all the gospels that Jesus’ promise, during his ministry, that he would rise from the dead, was not understood by his disciples except as a reference to the final resurrection. The author notes, “They did not yet understand the Scriptures.” In the sequel to our gospel reading, Jesus appears first to Mary of Magdala. So a few words about this woman who is a disciple of Jesus in all four gospels. The tradition that Magdalene was a reformed prostitute has no basis in Scripture and should be rejected. Pope Gregory the Great, 590-604, in a series of sermons on Magdalene in 591, sanctioned what had wrongly been popular belief, by identifying her with the sinner woman of Luke 8:37-50. For 1400 years she has borne this burden. What do the gospels really tell us about her? That she was one of a group of wealthy women who supported Jesus in his ministry. Pope Francis made amends for Gregory’s libel by proclaiming her a role model for women’s ministry in the Church, an apostle of hope. Aquinas called her “apostle to the apostles.”