“He is not here; he is risen.” Reflection on the celebration of Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; 1 Cor. 5:6b-8; Jn. 20:1-9
While John names only Mary Magdalene going to the tomb early at dawn, and Mathew names another Mary with her, Mark would name Salome, and Luke would name Joanna as a third witness at the tomb. While all the other evangelists would narrate post resurrection apparitions, Mark would end his gospel with the statement of the angel to the women, who out of fear told no one.
Let us reflect on three points: a) the women bought perfumed oils intending to go and anoint Jesus; b) the angel’s word “he has risen; he is not here”; c) they were afraid, trembling, astonished.
The book of Sirach 7:33 says, “withold not your kindness from the dead.” The Old Testament gives three examples of this kindness for the dead. 2 Sam 21:13-14 narrates how David collected the remains of Saul and Jonathan and gave them proper burial. Tobit (1:17-20) narrates how he would bury the dead and was persecuted for it; but Raphael told him (12:12-13) that his acts of mercy were pleasing to Yahweh. 2 Macc 12:42-46 tells how Judas sent money to Jerusalem to provide for expiatory sacrifice for those who died in battle.
On the afternoon of Friday everybody was in a hurry for the celebration of the Passover Sabbath which started at sundown. Thus the burial rites for Jesus seemed incomplete for these women. Saturday at sundown, when the Sabbath ended, they already bought perfumed oils planning to go to the tomb early the next morning. All their thought was to fulfill their duties for the dead. Their love for the Master was such that they wanted to serve him even in death.
Their respect for the dead was confined within the thought world of Israel. The coming back to life of the dead in the Old Testament and in the life of Jesus were reanimation properly so called. In 1 Kgs 17:17-24 Elijah raised to life the son of the widow at Zarephath. 2 Kgs 4:19-37, Elisha raised to life the son of the Shunamite. Even in death Elisha’s bones raised a dead man to life (2 Kgs 13:20-21). In the New Testament, Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Naim, and Lazarus. These were simply brought back to earthly life. The concept of a glorious resurrection was unknown. Ps 16 suggests that the just receives the ‘fullness of joy in your presence”; Ps 49 asserts that Yahweh ‘will redeem me… by receiving me’. The ‘how’ is not discussed. Dan 12:2 claims that the dead ‘shall awake, some shall live forever’ and ‘you shall rise for your reward at the end of days’. Wis 3:6 says God ‘took them to himself’ and in v49 ‘the faithful shall abide with him in love’. This ‘abiding with God’ is not a consequence of man’s nature, but is God’s gift to the just. It is 2 Macc 7 that speaks explicitly of resurrection with physical restoration of lost limbs. Thus v9 ‘the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever’; v11 “It was from Heaven that I received these; … from him I hope to receive them again.” It must be noted that 2 Macc is rejected from the Jewish canon and was not read in the synagogues.
The full concept of resurrection will only be understood with Jesus’ own rising from the dead; he could be seen, heard and touched, could eat and yet penetrate through walls and ascend to heaven. It should be noted that life after death was not known in early Israel. Even the Psalms and the Wisdom literature conceived that retribution was only in this life. The books of Job and Qoheleth attest that Israel could not understand the suffering of the just, since everything ends up in death and the wicked do not suffer for their sins.
It is, therefore, clear why the women were afraid, trembling, astonished, even bewildered when they were told that ‘he is not here; he is risen.’ If they told anyone they were sure not to be believed. Furthermore, holy fear and reverence was still echoing among the early Christians when Mark wrote his Gospel, a typical reaction to the supernatural.
Each evangelist presents an angel or two who gives the message: “he is not here; he is risen”. The angel gives an inspired explanation of the event. The solemn interpretation of these facts by an authorized and acknowledged messenger from heaven was more than enough. The angelic witness is stronger than any human witness. The empty tomb is only a visible confirmation of what they have heard from the heavenly messenger. It is the angel’s message that is the basis for their conviction of the resurrection. What has occurred is a supernatural event; the body was not stolen but is truly risen. The interpretation of the fact of the empty tomb was given by the angel; that is the strong foundation of the Good News. Exhortation. 1) We are an Easter People! We do have our share in the Good Friday, but life does not remain there. At every dying to self, there is a joyful resurrection, for we grow into maturity in Christ. 2) Death is not the end of life. Beyond death life goes on for all eternity. Therefore, death is part of life, a doorway to a better life, life with our heavenly Father. 3) Death is a homecoming (Jn 14:1-4), because Jesus is taking us back to the eternal mansions. We will be like Jesus risen from the dead going back home to our Father. 4) Prepare for death psychologically and spiritually, facing it with Christian hope in the resurrection. 5) Pray for the dead. Practice the corporal work of mercy of burying the dead and consoling the relatives of the dead. “We are an Easter People.”
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