EASTER SUNDAY YEAR A 2020 (R. 1: Acts 10: 34a, 37- 43; Psalm 118: 1- 2, 16-17, 22- 23; R. 2: Colossians 3: 1-4; Gospel: John 20: 1- 11)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
ALLELUIA: THE TOMB IS EMPTY!!!
Praise the Lord! Alleluia!!!
The Alleluia we sing today is the kind of Alleluia that I prefer to refer to as a “Long time no see” Alleluia. For more than forty days, we were deprived of this beautiful word derived from three Hebrew words meaning “Praise Ye the Lord.” We could neither sing nor say the word at the end of antiphons while praying the Liturgy of the Hours. At Masses, we were not able to use that beautiful word for our Gospel Acclamation. Since Ash Wednesday, that heavenly language, that great word of praise, Alleluia, disappeared from our worship.
But thanks be to God, today, our Alleluia is back to us. Christ, the Lord, has set our Alleluia free just as he is no longer held captive in the tomb. We can now sing Alleluia because the earth has received its greatest wound/injury (as beautifully put by Fulton Sheen), namely the empty tomb. We can now sing Alleluia because death has given way to life; we can now sing Alleluia because the grave has surrendered its occupant. We can now sing Alleluia because the prison has released its inmate.
We must sing Alleluia because there is something unique about his tombstone. Usually, on tombstones, people write: “Here lies,” then the name of the dead person, and then probably some praise of the deceased person. But in the case of Jesus, his epitaph was not written, it was spoken by an angel with different words, instead of the usual “Here lies,” the angel said, “He is not here” (wrong zip code)!
Listen to another interesting thing about what we celebrate today: they wanted him dead, they killed him, and they made sure he was dead, yet they had to guard his corpse to prevent him from rising. His tomb is the only tomb in human history to be guarded by armed soldiers to prevent the dead from rising. They were scared of the third day. They remembered that he called his body the Temple and that he would rebuild it in three days after they destroyed it. They had not forgotten that he compared himself to Jonah, who was in the belly of the fish for three days, and that he would be in the belly of the earth for three days after which he would rise. For this reason, they became “three-days-phobic.” The chief priests and the Pharisees willingly broke the Sabbath and went to Pilate to ask for guards to watch the one they had killed, to prevent the miracle of the third day.
God works in mysterious ways! It so happened that the enemies of Jesus themselves signed the certificates of the death and resurrection of Jesus. They made sure he was dead; they had to keep watch too to see him rise from the dead. By the power of his resurrection, I declare and decree that those who plan to curse us will end up blessing us, and those who plan to write petitions against us will end up recommending us for promotion, in the name of Jesus. Amen.
The paradox of the Easter story is that the enemies of Jesus expected the resurrection, while his friends did not. His enemies, who were the unbelievers, believed his words about the third day, so they had to keep watch. But, his friends did not believe as they had buried their hope with him in the tomb. Mary Magdalene did not come to the tomb out of faith in the third day. As we noted two Sundays ago when we read about Lazarus, in Palestine, there was a custom of having people visit the tomb of the loved one for three days after burial. They believed that the spirit of the dead hovered round the body for three days, seeking to reenter the body. On the fourth day, the spirit finally departs as the body began to decay beyond recognition. They buried Jesus on Friday; the loved ones of Jesus were unable to make it on Saturday because it was the Sabbath; that is why Mary had to come very early on Sunday only to be greeted by an empty tomb.
What we celebrate today is the feast of this empty tomb, the feast of life, the victory of Jesus over death and sin. They thought they could kill the Truth, bury the Truth, and prevent the Truth from rising on the third day, but the empty tomb has been able to prove them wrong. To this day, death seems to reign unchallenged. The evil use of power, discrimination, injustice, deceit, and all sorts of evil seem to have their way. The good news is that their days are numbered; in the end, the truth will always defeat.
On Easter Sunday, God gives a message of social revolution. In Jewish society, at the time of Jesus, there was a lot of discrimination against women, children, slaves, and shepherds. They were not trustworthy in witnessing. But to challenge this system, it was through a woman that God broke the greatest news to the world, “He has risen!”
To welcome the Holy Son of God into this world, we needed the womb of someone who was pure and sinless. As such, God chose the Immaculate Virgin Mary for this job. But, to welcome him from the tomb, a repentant sinner was needed, namely Mary Magdalene. If we are not immaculate, we can be repentant. And so, we renew our baptismal promises on this day to be worthy of welcoming Christ from the tomb. During the season of Lent, we gave up some bad habits. Easter does not mean that we can now go back to pick up those bad habits. Just like Christ left the burial cloths in the tomb, so we are expected to leave behind our evil ways and live holy lives, which can be challenging. That is why Deacon Mark Wieczorek reminded us at Easter Vigil three years ago that, “If we don’t feel a shaking of our foundations, then we are not experiencing Easter properly.”
As we welcome back our Alleluia, we remember the words Fr. Ron Hebert told us six years ago, “There are 40 days of Lent, but 50 days of Easter; 10 days extra.” The implication is that what the devil stole from us, Jesus is giving back to us with interest. May our victory and joy in the Lord know no bounds until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.