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Saturday, 11 April 2020

Easter Sunday Year A 2020

 Easter Sunday (Year A)

(Acts 10:34, 37-43; Colossians 3:1-4; Saint John’s Gospel 20:1-9)

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, on this glorious day let us look at one verse in our Gospel passage which is rarely noted and which speaks volumes about our Risen Lord.

You heard how John and Peter ran to the tomb and how John glanced inside and saw that there was no corpse there:

He bent down and saw the burial cloths there but did not go in.

Next Peter came up and, characteristically, went straight into the empty tomb and, we are told:

He saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered Jesus' head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up (folded up) in a separate place.

John, the author of John’s Gospel that is, tells us that John looked in at the strips of linen lying in the tomb and that is all.  He does not say that John believed then, at that moment.  It was only after he entered the tomb after Peter that he saw the face-cloth that had been around Jesus' head folded up by itself and separate from the linen, that we are told that he believed.

Notice that fact dear people: John only believed after seeing the burial face-cloth neatly rolled up, folded, and separate from the much larger cloth that had covered Jesus’ body.  Peter, on the other hand, running more slowly and arriving after the younger John, directly entered the tomb and saw, immediately, that the face-cloth was placed apart from the other cloths.

Now Peter, an older and much more humanly-experienced and emotionally-developed man than John, and the disciple the one who loved Jesus most, coming up, straightway entered the tomb and saw ... and what he saw caused him thoughts so intensely personal that he did not open his mouth to chat with, indeed not even to comment to, his younger companion, fellow-disciple though he was; no, he just slowly left the tomb and walked away quietly, lost in deep, absorbing, thought -- in some likeness to Mary’s own behaviour – treasuring in his heart what his eyes had just seen: Why had his Lord so carefully folded the face-cloth which had been placed around His head to preserve His human dignity -- though that of a corpse -- and prevent His jaw from sagging in death?  Why had Jesus so lovingly rolled up what He had just so decisively and carefully removed from around His head?

Jesus had, at His trial, told Pilate (John 19:27):

For this was I born, for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.

and now He was risen from the dead His mouth had to be most obviously free in order to symbolise His enduring proclamation of that truth through the Church, His Church, that will carry on His work -- in His Name and by His authority -- to the end of time!  How gently He folded that cloth which His mother (who else??), with the help of Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James, and Salome -- had put round His head with such love and reverence. Never again would He be silenced, and His lovingly detaching and folding the face-cloth from His head and mouth was His first symbolic-statement on rising from the dead: His faithful disciples throughout the ages would continue to proclaim HIS truth, under the guidance and protection of HIS Spirit,  to all mankind, in and through His Church!  

Do we need, People of God, the author of John’s Gospel to tell us that Peter also had believed along with John??

Just recently we read the Gospel passage about Jesus’ miraculously bringing Lazarus back from the dead and from the tomb:

Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."  (John 11:43-44)

There you see, Lazarus did indeed come out at Jesus’ command but with:

His hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

He was not able to free himself; Jesus had to authoritatively tell those around:

Take off the grave clothes and let him go.

As you can see there was a big difference between Lazarus’ being raised from the dead and Jesus’ resurrection.  When Jesus Himself rose to life, He simply left the linen cloths behind, though giving special and most meaningful attention to the face-cloth so lovingly placed in position to retain His human dignity, but now yielding place to serve His proclamation of saving truth for the whole world.

Recall now how Jesus appeared to His disciples for the first time:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" (John 20:19)

Those strips of linen binding His hands and feet in the tomb, in common with the solid, locked doors of the upper room in Jerusalem, could neither restrain nor obstruct the risen Lord of Life because the Risen Lord was glorious.  Lazarus had been called back to ordinary, human, earthly life; Jesus, however, had risen to a new LIFE, not of this creation, but rather of that heavenly Kingdom which He had said was close at hand.

Why then did He not just leave the stones covering the entrance to the tomb?  He could have done that, but just think, who would have known then that the body was no longer in the tomb?  Had He done that and then appeared to His disciples, they would indeed, and for good reason, have thought they were seeing a ghost!

We should now turn our attention to the Resurrection no longer from the point of view of Jesus the Son of Man but from that of Jesus the Son of God, and glimpse something of the supreme Christian mystery: 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 our Risen Lord in that respect?   God the Father, to be Father, must have a Son.  God the Father eternally begets His beloved Son Who is like Him in all things save that the Father begets and the Son is the only-Begotten.  The Father from all eternity loves and most intimately knows the Son He begets, and the Holy Spirit is that power of begetting, that power of infinite knowledge and love, uniting Father and Son.  That is why the Holy Spirit is called Gift, for in and through Him the Father and the Son give themselves to each other in total love.

Therefore, you will understand that when God determined that the Son should become man, the Son sent by the Father was conceived of the Holy Spirit; and that is why when the Son -- after His Passion and Death -- was raised to new and eternal life, we read in the Scriptures that both the Father and the Spirit raised Him.

We hear Paul preaching the Gospel to the Jews at Perga saying:

We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: 'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.'  (Acts 13:32-33)

Yet when writing his letter to the Romans (8:10-11) the same Paul says:

But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.   And if the Spirit of Him Who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He Who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, Who lives in you.

And in the letter to the Hebrews (9:14) we see the Holy Spirit again uniting the Son to His Father in Jesus’ very act of dying:

Christ, through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, to cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Jesus rose from the dead because He was glorified by the eternal Spirit of glory, love, and power, Who is One with the Father and the Son, the eternal Bond in the one living God.  The human flesh of Jesus had been brought to perfect Sonship through His Passion and Death as the letter to the Hebrews (5:8-9) tells us:

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.

Jesus, learned that obedience as Man for our sake, for our example and consolation, and His human flesh now glorified in the Spirit, is the channel through which we can in full confidence and hope receive the divine Spirit into our poor, sinful, lives.  In the power of the Spirit, the Bond of love and power uniting Father and Son, the humanity of Jesus Itself becomes a bond, uniting us sinners -- as adopted children in Jesus -- with the All Holy God.  Jesus comes to us now, and offers us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist so that, by receiving His glorious flesh and blood we -- who are of His flesh and blood -- might receive, and hopefully be filled with, His most Holy Spirit, so that Spirit of holiness --  abiding in Mother Church and now given to us -- might begin to form us in the likeness of our beloved Lord and Saviour as children of God, by recalling to Mother Church all that Jesus taught us, and leading her into all truth and grace, so that we, in her and as her faithful children, might be formed into true adopted Children of the heavenly Father.

Dear People of God, glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit in holy mother Church for ever and ever; and may these Easter joys fill and delight your minds and hearts through the faith -- the Catholic and Christian faith -- which has been bestowed on us, which we have received and now embrace with most loving and grateful hearts.  Amen.