Sts. Peter and Paul, Huntington
The tomb is empty! The Gospel we just heard recounts the discovery of the empty tomb by Mary Magdalen, and then by Peter and John. The subsequent appearances of Jesus will reveal the reason why the tomb is empty. As the angel said to the holy women in other Gospel accounts of the finding of the empty tomb: “He has been raised; He is not here.” Yes, Jesus is alive. He is risen from the dead. This is the core teaching of the apostles, as we heard in Saint Peter’s sermon in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Saint Peter said: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day…”. This is the core teaching of the Church through the ages. We proclaim this mystery of faith at every Mass when we sing after the consecration: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.”
After forty days of Lent, a time in which we did not sing alleluia, today we again sing Alleluia, a Hebrew word meaning “God be praised.” We praise God with great joy today as we celebrate the resurrection of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, from the dead. Easter is the Church’s greatest feast, not just one feast among others, but the feast of feasts, the solemnity of solemnities. Without the Resurrection, we would not even be here. The Church would not exist. If the Resurrection had not happened, there would be no Christianity. As Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
The Resurrection of Jesus was a real, historical event, not a mythological story. There was an empty tomb. That was enough for the beloved disciple, Saint John, to believe. As we heard in the Gospel, when he entered the empty tomb, “He saw and believed.” But there was more than an empty tomb. It was the appearances of the Risen Jesus later that convinced Mary Magdalen, Saint Peter, and the other apostles and disciples of the truth of His Resurrection. All these disciples had been devastated by the events of Good Friday. Their hopes were dashed. They probably thought Jesus’ mission was a failure and that His message may not have been true. But the resurrection confirmed their faith in all that Jesus had said and done while He was with them in His public ministry. Filled with joy in the Resurrection, with faith that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, they would go out to all the world and proclaim this Good News. They would also go out, as Jesus commanded them, to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism is an integral part of the celebration of Easter. Tens of thousands of people were baptized last night at the Easter Vigil in Catholic churches throughout the world.
What does Baptism have to do with Easter? I mentioned that the Resurrection of Jesus was a real concrete event that happened 2000 years ago. But it is not just a past historical event. It’s not just some miracle from the past. The Resurrection transcends history. It continuously permeates this world of ours, transforms it, and draws it to itself. But how does this happen? How can the Resurrection of Jesus reach us and touch us and transform and lift up our lives? The answer is “Faith and Baptism.” The saving event of Christ’s death and resurrection came to us in our Baptism, the sacrament of new life in Christ. According to Saint Paul, the believer enters through Baptism into communion with Christ’s death, is buried with Him, and rises with Him. Think of those powerful words of Saint Paul to the Romans which were read last night at the Easter Vigil: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Because of our Baptism, in which we became one with Christ and His Body, the Church, we live in Christ. The Resurrection of Jesus seized us. We thus can live our life in Christ as a journey of faith. Amid the challenges and sufferings of life, and even in the midst of the greatest trials, including death, we live in hope. Yes, in our life on this earth, we walk the way of the cross. But, because of the Resurrection, that cross, though heavy at times, is a triumphant and victorious cross. In the sorrows and sufferings of this life, we can always grasp hold of the hand of Our Risen Lord. And even if our hand grows weak, He always holds us firmly in His hands. We also hold each others’ hands, because we are one in Christ. We are truly brothers and sisters in Christ, members of His Body, the Church. We hold each others’ hands to support one another in love. We can do this because of our Baptism, the sacrament that united us to Christ and to one another in the Church which we can call “the community of the Resurrection.”
The Holy Eucharist is another great Easter sacrament. Every time we receive Holy Communion, we receive the Body of Christ, risen from the dead. The life of grace we received at Baptism is preserved, increased, and renewed every time we receive the Eucharist. The Eucharist too is connected to the Resurrection. As Jesus said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.” The Eucharist is the medicine of immortality.
My brothers and sisters, the tomb is empty. The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our Christian faith. Easter is the Church’s greatest feast. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” Alleluia!