By MOST REV. DAVID B. THOMPSON
Strange as it may seem, it is a fact that on the first Holy Saturday only the enemies of Jesus felt or feared that he might rise from the dead. Among the friends of Jesus, the holy women brought spices to anoint his dead body. Mary Magdalene complained that the Lord had been taken away and she did not know where they had put him. The 11 considered the story the women told them of their experience at the empty tomb to be nonsense, and the apostles refused to believe them.
The enemies of Jesus, however, expected or feared his resurrection. They sent sentinels to prevent this dead man from rising, lest the dead walk, the silent speak, a pierced heart quicken to the throb of life. They said he was dead, they knew he was dead, they said he would not rise again; yet they watched, looking for a corpse they felt might rise. And just in case this would occur, they were prepared with a concocted story that while they were asleep, Jesus’ disciples stole him away.
Here today, Easter 1999, we are believers. Jesus is risen as he said. If he is not risen then our faith is in vain. His life goes on. No other human being has ever done the things he did; and, no matter what a person’s belief about him, Jesus is the most respected human being who has ever lived. His message goes on, too. Can you think of anyone else who is so frequently quoted and whose words have so strong an impact? And his followers go on. Just think of all those who will embrace Jesus at Saturday night’s Easter Vigil as they are baptized or come into full communion with our Church.
St. John reports that the resurrection of Jesus took place in a garden: “In the place where he had been crucified there is a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had ever been buried.” Interesting and important. It was in a garden that our fall from grace took place. How appropriate that our return to grace would also take place in a garden. Indeed, by Jesus’ rising from the dead we received many Easter Graces. Let’s reflect upon three of them.
Grace of the Dead
On the first Holy Saturday, the earth that had trembled on Good Friday became still. The King was dead; however, while he died in the flesh, he lived in spirit and was very active. He searched for his first parents, yours, mine: “I am your Savior, rise from the dead, for I did not create you to be held prisoners in hell. Rise, let me leave this place, not for an earthly paradise, but for heaven, now open and adorned, with a banquet ready, and with your dwelling place prepared just for you from all eternity.” What a consoling Easter Grace!
Grace of Sinners
On the first Easter Sunday, our Risen Savior, according to St. Mark, appeared first to Mary Magdalene out of whom he had cast seven demons. She had heard, together with the other women, that according to the young man sitting at the right of the tomb’s entrance and dressed in a white robe that Jesus had been raised up (Mark). Mary announced the news to Jesus’ followers but they refused to believe it. Mary Magdalene then returned to the sepulcher just after Peter and John had left it. This sinner then received the great grace of the Lord’s first appearance after his resurrection: “Mary,” said Jesus; “Rabboni,” replied Mary. Mary, looking for her dead Jesus had found her living Lord.
How comforting and encouraging that the grace of the Lord’s first resurrection appearance was given to a sinner. How appropriate, too. After all, didn’t Jesus come to save sinners? Isn’t that the very meaning of his name?
Grace of Believers
Doubts and questions about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead continued among his chosen apostles even into a week after the first Easter Sunday and a number of appearances.
We know the story well, that of Doubting Thomas, absent from the Easter convocation of the Apostolic College, badgered by the numbers stridently declaring, “We have seen the Lord;” caught in the crossfire of the holy women who insisted on the resurrection.
We appreciate Thomas’ doubts. Doubts about faith are for us as old as the first Low Sunday, and we have needed a Lord large enough to understand how small we can be. But that’s all over now. Thomas doubted for all of us, and we now have the grace of believers. We can say strongly and firmly with Thomas to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”
My fellow believers here in 1999, I wish you the blessings of our Three Easter Graces: of the dead, of sinners, of believers. Jesus was the apostle to the dead; Mary Magdalene, to the 11; Doubting Thomas, to believers. Through them the news of Christ’s resurrection has been out for almost 2,000 years: “He is risen!” Ours is to go right on believing this, and hoping and loving until our last breath. And then? Why then, we shall see!
A Blessed Easter to all.