In the Eastern Church, when Christians meet each other on Easter Sunday morning, one greets: "The Lord has risen". The other responds: "The Lord has truly risen". This simple greeting brings home to us the true meaning of Easter, Christ, our Saviour, has truly risen from the dead.
The fact that Christ has risen from the dead is a source of joy & happiness for all mankind but, especially, for us Christians. We are happy & joyful this morning because Christ, through his death and resurrection, has reconciled us to God, the Father. We are celebrating this morning because we, who were alienated from God have now, through Christ's death and resurrection, been restored to God's love & friendship.
During the last few days, our attention was focused on Christ's sufferings --
-- His agony in the Garden -- His scourging at the Pillar -- The crowning with thorns & finally -- His crucifixion & death on the Cross.
But this morning all thoughts of suffering and death give way to joy and happiness. And the reason for our joy and happiness is that Christ, our Saviour, has risen from the dead. As the Angel, pointing to the empty tomb, said to the women who had come to anoint the Body of Jesus:
"He is risen as he foretold you". And so, full of joy & faith we can exclaim: Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ will come again. We Christians are Easter people. Christmas is important because it is Christ's birthday.
But Easter is much more important because we are remembering and celebrating what Christ actually accomplished on our behalf. Christ is remembered & revered, not merely because he was born, but because, through his death and resurrection, he restored us to God's love and friendship.
Christ's Resurrection Is The Basis Of The Apostles' Preaching Christ's Resurrection from the dead was the basis of the preaching of the Apostles and the belief of the Early Christians. (1 Cor.15:4-5; Rom. 1:3-4; 4:25).That Christ died on the Cross, was buried and rose from the dead on the third day is a theme that runs all through the New Testament. St. Paul underlined the importance of the Resurrection, when he wrote to the Corinthians: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain". (1 Cor.15:14).
Stories Of The Empty Tomb The New Testament does not claim that anyone saw the Resurrection. Unlike the Apocryphal Gospel of Peter, neither does it make any attempt to describe Christ's Resurrection.
The empty tomb does not seem to have played any direct role in the Early Church's proclamation of the Resurrection. In St. Luke's Gospel the empty tomb is a source of consternation for the women, who went to the tomb early Easter Sunday morning. (Lk. 24:1-3).
In this morning's Gospel, all that the empty tomb suggests to Mary Magdalene is that someone has stolen the Body of Jesus. The Apostles' experience of the Risen Lord is linked to the empty tomb. Yet, the Easter faith of the Apostles is founded, not on the empty tomb or the missing body, but on the appearances of the Risen Jesus. The Apostles claimed to have seen the Jesus, who was crucified and buried.
The faith of the Apostles and the Early community can be summarized in the Creedal formula in first Corinthians: Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures -- he was buried -- he was raised on the 3'4. day, in accordance with the Scriptures -- he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. (vv. 3-5).
(2). Appearances To Women One of the basic facts of the Easter traditions is that some women went to the tomb of Jesus early on Easter Sunday morning and discovered that it was empty. Although they differ with regard to whom and how many, all 4 Evangelists describe the presence of women at the tomb of Jesus, very early in the first day of the week.
Because all 4 Evangelists speak of women present at the tomb of Jesus on Easter Sunday morning, their presence at the tomb would seem to be based on a very solid historical basis. (c). St. Matthew has 2 women -- Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. (Mt.28:1).
An Angel of the Lord appears to them & says: "I know that you are seeking Jesus, the crucified, he is not here for He has been raised from the dead. Then tells them to go quickly & tell the Disciples that "he has been raised from the dead" and will go before them to Galilee. The Risen Jesus appears to these two women, as they were on their way from the empty tomb, to report to the disciples what the Angel had told them. (Mt. 28:9-10).
I'm sure you have already realized that these women, whatever their number, were the first ones to be told that Jesus has been raised from the dead. They were also the first. ones to whom the Risen Lord appeared. In St. John's Gospel, the Risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalene before He appears to His Disciples. Since a woman's testimony had no credibility in
the eyes of Jewish law, these faithful women could not be official witnesses to the Resurrection. That is why the empty tomb was confirmed by St. Peter
We cannot but ask: Is the Risen Lord rewarding them for their devotion & loyalty to Himself? I'll leave the answer to yourselves! But it is interesting to note that Christ appeared to these faithful women, before He appeared to St. Peter & the other Disciples. (Matt. p.363). In St. John's Gospel the Risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalene before he appears to the Disciples.
Gospel -- In. 20:1-9 In this morning's Gospel, Mary Magdalene is the only woman present at the tomb of Jesus, early on Sunday morning.
V 2 -- Discovering that the stone has been removed from the entrance to the tomb, she runs to Peter and the "other disciple, whom Jesus loved". She reports to them that the tomb is empty, not because Jesus has risen, but because an unknown group of people have taken the Lord out of the tomb & we do not know where they have put Him”.
(2). Confirmation Of The Empty Tomb By Peter --vv. 3-10). V.3 -- The story continues with Peter and the other disciple running to the tomb, with the other Disciple arriving before Peter.
- 5 -- The other Disciple does not enter the tomb but bends down & sees the burial cloths, carefully folded.
- V. 6 -- When he arrived, Peter goes directly into the tomb. He also sees the burial cloths there. V. 7 -- The cloth, which had been around Jesus' head, is rolled up in a separate place.
Not only is the tomb empty but the trappings of death are also empty. The positioning of the burial cloths clearly indicate that the Body had not been stolen.
- V. 8 -- Only then does the beloved disciple enter the tomb. The Evangelist tells us that “He saw & believed”. I'm sure you have often asked yourselves: Why did the Evangelist delay the Beloved Disciple's entry into the tomb?
After all, he arrived at the tomb first. Scripture scholars give 2 reasons:
(1). As we've seen, one of the early Easter Traditions is that a group of women, went to the tomb of Jesus early on Sunday morning & discovered that it w testimony had no validity in the eyes of the Law, they could not be official witnesses to the Resurrection. Only a man's testimony had validity in the eyes of the Law. Talk about a double standard!! (2). Another Easter Tradition is that the empty tomb was confirmed by Peter, (Jn. 3-10 & Lk.24:12 & 24). St. John may have this Tradition in mind, when he has Peter be the 1st. person to enter the tomb. (3). St. John has another reason for delaying the Beloved Disciple's entrance into the tomb. He wants to make the Beloved Disciple's expression of faith the climax of the visit. The Beloved Disciple believes solely on the basis of the neatly folded burial cloths – no Angel, no appearance of Christ is necessary for him.
As St. John says in v. 8 – "He saw and believed". He is presented as one, who immediately perceives the truth of the Resurrection. In this passage, the Evangelist is contrasting the faith of the Beloved Disciple with the doubts expressed later by St. Thomas. St. Thomas wants concrete proof that the Risen Lord is truly the Crucified Lord. (Jn. 20:24-27). St. John believed on the basis of the empty tomb & the neatly arranged burial cloths.
Later on, Christ reprimands Thomas for demanding concrete proof, before he would believe in his Resurrection. Christ tells Thomas that he should have believed on the basis of the words spoken to him by the other Apostles. St, John had all future believers in mind when he wrote: "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed". (Jn. 20:29).
Our Easter Faith What St. John is saying is that the faith of those, who believe in the Risen Lord, without ever having seen Him, is just as valid as the faith of the First Disciples. Our faith in the Risen Lord is just as valid as the faith of the Apostles, who actually saw Him. We are doubly blessed, because we believe without having seen. There are many phrases we can use to express our faith in the Risen Lord.
We can use the words of St. Thomas: "My Lord and my God!". (Jn. 20:28). We can use the words addressed to the two disciples when they returned from Emmaus: "The Lord is Risen ". (Lk. 24:35).
We can use the words of the Early Christians: "Jesus is Lord". (1Cor, 12:3). The words we use to express our faith in the Risen Lord are not important. The important thing is that we all express our faith that, as the Messiah & Son of God, the Glorified Christ is the source of our eternal life. We Christians are Easter people.