My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, on this glorious day let us look at one verse in our Gospel passage which speaks volumes about our Risen Lord.
You heard that both John and Peter ran to the tomb; John, being the younger, arrived first and:
Stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in.
Peter, coming next, characteristically went straight into the empty tomb where:
He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around (Jesus’) head not lying with the linen cloths but folded together in a place by itself.
Now just recently, St. John told us (11:43-44) about Jesus miraculously bringing Lazarus back from the dead and out of the tomb:
Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!" And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.
The fact that he was still bound in his grave clothes signified that he was not totally free from death; he must needs face death again. For the present time however, Jesus said to those around, Loose him, and let him go.
As you can appreciate there was a big difference between Lazarus’ being raised and Jesus’ Resurrection, for when Jesus rose He left the linen cloths behind:
Simon Peter saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.
Jesus rose totally, divinely, from the bonds of death, and could never again be subject to them, as St. Paul emphatically teaches in his doctrinal letter to the Romans (6:9-11):
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. The death He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Let us, therefore, consider further those discarded binding cloths left behind in the otherwise empty tomb, and, in order to help us, let us recall how Jesus later appeared to His disciples for the first time (John 20:19):
(That) same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."
The doors were locked, and they remained locked, just as if no one had entered. Nevertheless, Jesus had been able to enter the room, because closed -- even locked -- doors presented no obstacle to His Risen Body. In like manner, the linen cloths and the kerchief we are now considering: though Jesus had risen, those grave-clothes remained as they had been on His body, save that the head-cloth -- the kerchief which had been round His head -- was now neatly folded and separate from the body cloths. If we therefore, following that Gospel indication, go on to give more special attention to the kerchief we may find that it has some particular message for us, since the kerchief, which was generally used to cover, protect, one’s head, and also for carrying money, was used in funerals to wrap the head in such a way that the jaw bone was prevented from falling open, thus preserving the dignity of the dead person.
The special mention of the kerchief can therefore be understood in line with its original function of preserving Jesus’ human and Messianic dignity in death, and now seen to be serving as a sign that Jesus’ proclamation of the Messianic News of salvation will never be silenced: for, thanks to that kerchief the fruit of Jesus’ lips had never been shown gapingly vacuous in death, and so, when the Lord had risen, it was not found to have been thrown on one side but rather, appreciatively folded and neatly placed by itself, in its own place, bespeaking the enduring dignity of the Messianic Lord sent to proclaim and win salvation for those who will obediently hear Him. For the Risen Lord will continue to speak: the enduring spiritual legacy of His Messianic life and teaching need only to be lovingly gathered, prayerfully matured, and faithfully and integrally handed down through the ages by His Church, established on the rock witness of Peter and the testimony of His chosen Apostles, and under the power and protection, inspiration and guidance, of His ultimate and most sublime Gift, His own most Holy Spirit.
The message of the grave-cloths, as with that of the closed and locked door in the upper room, was that the Risen Lord was now glorified. Lazarus had been called back to ordinary earthly life; Jesus had risen to a new and glorious life not of this creation, but sharing in the glory of that heavenly Kingdom which He had proclaimed to be close at hand.
It is now time, therefore, to turn our attention to the supreme Christian mystery, that of the most Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; three divine Persons, one God. How are we to think of this?
God the Father, to be a Father must have a Child -- His Son, the Bible says. God the eternal Father, therefore, eternally begets His only begotten and beloved Son, Who is like Him and equal to Him in all respects, save that the Father is the Person Who begets whereas the Son is the Person begotten. Thus the Father and His only-begotten Son are eternally One in the power of that begetting -- that uniting power of their mutual Love -- which is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is called God’s Gift, for in and through Him the Father and the Son give themselves to each other in total knowledge, understanding, appreciation, and love; and that is why, when God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- determined that the Son should become man in the Incarnation, He was sent -- as Son -- by the Father and conceived as a human being in the Virgin’s womb by the Holy Spirit. Moreover, when His earthly life had run its course, we are told in the letter to the Hebrews, of the Holy Spirit uniting the Son to His Father in Jesus’ very act of dying:
Christ, through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, (to) cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God! (9:14)
Therefore, when the Son -- after His Passion and Death -- was raised to new and eternally glorious life, the Scriptures tell us that both the Father and the Spirit raised Him. We read of Paul preaching the Gospel to the Jews at Perga:
We declare to you glad tidings -- that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.' (Acts 13:32-33)
Yet when writing his letter to the Romans (1:1-4) the same Paul also says:
Jesus Christ our Lord … was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
St. Peter (1 Peter 3:18) likewise mentions the Spirit:
Christ also suffered once for sins … being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.
Through His Passion and Death, as the letter to the Hebrews tells us (5:8-9), Jesus had been brought to perfect Sonship in His humanity:
Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered; and having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.
And now, the Risen Jesus, having being raised by the Father and glorified in His human flesh by the Spirit -- perfect man and perfect God -- has become the perfect channel through Whom we are able to receive the divine Spirit into our poor, sinful, lives. For Jesus, Son of the Father and Giver of God’s Gift, comes to us now in the Eucharist so that we, who are of earthly flesh and blood might, by receiving His glorious Flesh and Blood, be enabled to lovingly receive and humbly commit ourselves to His Holy Spirit.
As of old, the Ark of the Covenant had tabernacled God’s Law for His chosen People, so, when He Who had been long-promised came, it was Mary who housed and nourished Jesus in her womb. Today Mother Church is the treasure-house where Jesus is ever-present to His people by His Word in the Scriptures and by His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist; and it is Mother Church who, by the abiding presence of His Spirit and according to the model set for her by Mary, now treasures and ponders in her heart all that Jesus taught and did (Luke 2:19, 51); and all Catholics who, as children of Mary, live by faith in Mother Church’s proclamation of Jesus, receive the Gift of His Spirit so that they might be formed by Him into a true likeness of Our Lord and Saviour, and as adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. Mother Church’s proclamation of Jesus is thus by no means cold doctrine but the very food of life and love … for we know Jesus not by imaginary and emotional transports, but by loving and living the Doctrine of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
People of God, wonderful things have been done for us this Easter: for through oneness with Jesus our Saviour and in the power of His most Holy Spirit, our Comforter and Strength, we -- as our second reading from the letter to the Colossians doctrinally said -- in all our daily endeavours to walk along the way of Jesus, are being offered union with the Father:
You (have been) raised with Christ, (so) seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Your (real) life is hidden with Christ in God, (and) when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
Let us therefore strengthen our faith, as, with deepened understanding in our minds and renewed joy in our hearts, we proclaim our own Easter hymn of praise and thanksgiving, saying: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, in holy mother Church for ever and ever. Amen.