On this greatest day of the year Christians everywhere rejoice over the resurrection of Christ from the dead and our sharing in his Paschal victory. While we never separate the resurrection from the incarnation, life, and death of Christ, it stands as the central moment of history and is the source of all Christian hope.
Given the glory and magnitude of what we celebrate today it may help to turn to two figures featured in today’s readings to best welcome the salvation that is ours in the Lord. We hear from Saint Peter first although his words were spoken long after the actual event of the resurrection. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles Peter is in the presence of the Roman military officer Cornelius and a group of his friends, explaining how the glorious news of the resurrection brings them new life and meaning as well. Peter begins by saying: “This man [Jesus of Nazareth] 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” (Acts 10:40-41).
Peter goes on to explain why he has been chosen as a witness: “He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.” The entire goal of Peter’s preaching, and the point of our Easter joy, is that “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:42, 43) and come to salvation. Eventually we find that Cornelius and his entire household come to faith and are baptized (Acts 10:44-49), and Peter continues his missionary efforts throughout that region and beyond.
Turning to the Gospel we again find Peter, along with Mary Magdalene and “the other disciple” (John) marveling over the empty tomb of Jesus. The irony of the resurrection is that those like Mary, Peter, and John who were closest to Jesus during his life were slow to realize what his resurrection meant; we see a hint of this in the last verse of today’s Gospel reading: “they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” They all obviously recognized that Jesus was gone from the tomb but did not fully comprehend how this impacted their lives.
Once Mary encountered the risen Jesus in person—we hear John the Evangelist’s account of this Tuesday after Easter—she felt that impact intensely and took up a missionary journey of her own: “Mary went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’” (John 20:18). Peter and John and all of the apostles likewise went forth to proclaim the Good News of the risen Lord to both Jews and Gentiles alike, and so we eventually meet Peter preaching to Cornelius, as seen above.
Like Mary and Peter we don’t always realize the impact the resurrection has on our lives, pinned down as we often are by many concerns and responsibilities. We do not meet Jesus in the flesh as they did, but we encounter him in the Eucharist and other sacraments, and we encounter him daily in the downcast and needy. While our meetings with the Lord are different from those of Mary and Peter, nonetheless they still give us an understanding of how Jesus’ resurrection affects our lives, giving us existential hope and impelling us to follow in the footsteps of Mary, Peter, and John, sharing the Good News of the Risen Lord. Blessings for a joyful and happy Easter!
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.