The Gospel for Easter Day is really the culmination of the rich scriptural narrative from the Vigil service. Salvation history comes full circle from the Garden of Eden, where sin brought death into the world, to the garden tomb of Jesus, the new Adam. Mary is the first tentative witness to the resurrection as she arrives at first light of dawn to discover the tomb is empty. She runs to find Peter and the Beloved Disciple, whose heart will be the first to see what has happened. They depart, leaving Mary in tearful bewilderment. Her baptism of tears will end in the Gospel proclamation that love is truly stronger than death. Jesus is alive, the source of life for us all.
Our own Easter faith must make the same journey to faith through love, which first knows only the grief of empty hope and loss. Death appears to triumph, but first light reveals that something mysterious has happened here. These burial cloths and the face-covering rolled up nearby tell a different story. Death could not contain Jesus; no winding shroud or heavy stone could keep him entombed. Liberation has occurred, a new and final Exodus that confirms for all of us that death is not the end. Our pioneer and older brother Jesus has made passage through death to eternal life and opened up the way for all of us who follow him.
How appropriate that we hear this proclamation at our communal Eucharist. Jesus is among us. His Real Presence is in the word, in the bread and wine, and in one another, our holy communion as the body of Christ. He is in the world through us and wherever his Spirit moves and inspires. We will hear further accounts of the appearance of the risen Jesus — to Mary and the other women, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, to the apostles in the upper room and on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. We will be challenged to find him in the world, especially in the poor. The stranger on the road, welcomed to our table, will be revealed as Jesus. The wounded neighbor, crucified for the sins of the world, will be revealed as Jesus.
The liturgy gives us 50 days to find Jesus in the word, in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup, in our prayers and in our going forth to serve the needy. We are formed and prepared for Pentecost by participating in the sacred rites and in the world. Everything reveals God and everywhere is holy ground, all our thoughts and words and actions illuminated by grace, overflowing with new life.
The Holy Week we began in sorrow ends in joy. The altar table of Jesus’ self -sacrificing love is strong enough to hold our sufferings and despair, our unanswered questions and anguished losses. In retelling the story, our minds are opened and our hearts burn within us. What we bring to God through Jesus is consecrated and transformed. The lives we place on the altar we take up again suffused with light and power.
Easter sets our lives in motion. The first disciples ran to and from the tomb. Two disciples ran all the way from Emmaus to Jerusalem to tell the others they had seen the Lord. The first faith community, broken by failure and sorrow, regrouped on Easter Sunday to begin their mission to the world. A new day has dawned. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad” (Psalm 118).