Twenty-third in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Easter Sunday of the Lord’s Resurrection
Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9
11 years ago, I composed an Easter hymn for my church choir, after hearing for the -nth time from the director that there’s no “good new Easter music.” So, being a helpful (and ever-so-humble) sort, I wrote him some! I showed it to him, and he showed it to the choir, and Quia surrexit Dominus was scheduled for Easter weekend. In all, 15-20 people either knew I had written or had seen this piece – that is, until Easter Sunday, when my director and another member of the choir told the pastor, who proceeded to tell the entire congregation prior to its performance. Of course, that wasn’t my intention; I had just wanted to write and present a song that glorified, and through which we could glorify, the Easter mystery. But that does seem to be the way these things work when something big happens in our lives: we tell a few people, and those few people let the world know. Rumor volat, the saying goes: “rumor flies.” There’s no better PR, it seems, than the whispers of our companions.
Today we celebrate the quietest world-changing event in history.
The First Reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, recounts one of Saint Peter’s many speeches to the people about the events concerning Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection. By this time Jesus had departed from earth, ascended to His Father. But before that He appeared to His small group of Apostles – as Peter says, “not to the world, but to us” – and confirmed the fact of His Resurrection, and charged them spreading His message of now-universal salvation throughout the world. And that is exactly what they did. The Redemption effected by Jesus changed the world, and He let just a few people know, those who had walked with Him the longest and closest. And those few people told the rest of the world, not in whispers but in shouts! In fact, they wouldn’t shut up about it – until they were made to shut up. All but one of the Apostles met with a violent and ignoble end, but the message continued to spread for centuries, even underground. And it all began here, in Jerusalem, with these 12 men preaching “forgiveness of sins through [Jesus’] name.”
The actual moment of the Resurrection is known by even fewer people than 12, and by people unexpected. All four Gospels attest that the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women. In the ancient world (and sadly sometimes today) women were not always the most respectable of sources for any sort of enduring testimony. And yet, the Scriptures relates that women have been powerful agents of change throughout Jewish history, down to the young virgin of Nazareth who became Mother of God. John’s Gospel, from which today’s Gospel reading is taken, relates that the first person at the scene is Mary Magdalene, the disciple referred to in Catholic tradition as “Apostle to the Apostles.” When she arrives at the tomb that morning, the event has already happened: the stone is rolled away, the tomb is empty. She runs and tells the others. Peter and John come to inspect the tomb, and through that inspection wonder if He could be alive – “for they did not yet understand.” But if our Gospel reading were to continue we would see that it is Mary Magdalene, visited first by angels and then by a disguised Jesus Himself, who is charged with confirming the faith of the Apostles before He appears to them. Even before those 12 men spread the good news far and wide, it was a small handful of women who prepared those 12 to receive that news themselves.
Why did Jesus act this way, letting only a few people know something so important? Why do we do the same thing? Deep down, we know that that’s all it takes. As Saint Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?” Or put another way: a little goes a long way.
So, then, what of Saint Paul also telling us to “clear out the old yeast” so that we may be “unleavened bread” in the ongoing Passover feast of “Christ, our Paschal lamb?” The Jewish Passover lamb is eaten with unleavened bread, hearkening back to the Exodus when the Israelites made unleavened bread with the dough they brought with them out of Egypt, because there was no time to leaven it beforehand. This action was incorporated into the Passover meal, prescribed by God to be eaten “in a hurry,” as if in flight. In the same way, we who are God’s ambassadors of the Gospel, His ministers of reconciliation, are meant to be unleavened, free of even the smallest influence that can bloat us, for it is the clean of heart who will see God. This is what Saint Paul means when he advises the Corinthians, 1200 years after the Exodus, to “become a fresh batch of dough” now that the true Lamb has been sacrificed. It’s what he meant when advising them regarding how to prepare themselves for the Lord’s supper, the prescribed memorial of that sacrifice. Keeping us free of “the yeast of malice and wickedness” ensures that we can be a “bread of sincerity and truth.”
Think on that the next time you encounter the Gospel message, however you encounter it (even here!). Truth is Christ, the Christ Who shared that message with a handful of people and entrusted them with telling the whole world, a mission that has been carried out for the last 2000 years. Ask yourself: is the way I’m hearing this message leading me towards God, or is it getting in the way? Am I accepting the message itself on its terms, or on mine? Am I taking from it what He wants, or what I want?
Let Him be our only yeast; for He is the only One Who can make us rise.
Now hell, in all its sighing gloom,
at last has fallen in the strife.
The angel ever-shining cries:
‘The Lord indeed is ris’n to life!’