Reflecting on the Easter Sunday Readings

April 10, 2020

Reflecting on the Easter Sunday Readings

Easter Sunday 2020
Reflecting on the Readings
Brendan McConvery

First Reading • (Acts 10:34, 37-43). This text is taken from the longer account in Acts 10 of Peter’s visit to the home of his first Gentile convert, the Roman centurion Cornelius, who ‘was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God’ (Act 10:2). Peter assumes that Cornelius’s interest in Jesus has been stirred by what he has already heard. He gives a summary of the Gospel narrative beginning from John’s baptismal ministry through Jesus’s own ministry of preaching and doing good. Peter stands as a witness to the truth of the story and he situates the testimony to Jesus within the prophetic witness of the Old Testament. The ministry of Jesus however is not confined to Israel but will include the Gentile nations and this meeting with Cornelius is the beginning of the Church’s systematic welcome to Gentile converts.

responsorial psalm • (Ps 117. Originally a liturgy to celebrate a king’s victory in battle, this psalm is the quintessential paschal psalm. Jesus cites it in the context of the parable of the vineyard as a reference to himself (Matt 21:42 and parallels). It is used every Sunday in the Prayer of the Church either at morning prayer or at prayer during the day. 1 Pet 2:4-7 also uses it as a symbol for the Church: on the foundation stone of Christ, all the other stones – individual believers – become the new temple of God.

Second Reading • (Col 3:1-2) The Colossians are reminded that their lives have been radically transformed through baptism. Being submerged in the waters of the baptismal pool was a symbolic death: coming up on the other side, possibly gasping for breath, was symbolic of being reborn into a new way of life. One of the results of this symbolic death is the call to live a radically new way of life, one which is now fixed on the exalted Christ ‘sitting at God’s right hand’. The believer may not be able to fully grasp all the implications of this new life now, they must continue to believe that it will be revealed in the glorified Christ.

Alternative Second Reading • (1 Cor 5:6-8). Paul had an uneasy relationship with the Corinthian community. He seems to have found them smug with a tendency to self-congratulation when their conduct scarcely merited it. He uses the image of the effect of a small amount of yeast of leaven on a whole batch of bread. This image might have been suggested to him by the nearness of the feat of Passover. This is one of the oldest attempts to translate the Jewish Passover into Christian terms. The Passover Lamb is Christ, the removal of the leaven from the house which proceeds the ‘feast of unleavened bread’ – Passover’s other name, suggests the radical call to a more demanding purity of life. The text might be a reference to the way in which Gentile converts were to celebrate the Passover.

Gospel • (Jn 20:1-9). John’s narrative begins ‘while it is still dark’ for the night of the Passion is not yet passed. The evangelist has pared away a good deal of material from his synoptic sources. Mary is alone – the other evangelists have slightly varying lists of the women who came to the tomb, but Mary is always among them. John does not say why she has come to the tomb. She has not come to anoint the body – it was already lavishly anointed at the burial (‘a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds’ Joh 19:39). Family members did go to the tomb as part of their mourning (cf. when Mary of Bethany leaves the house to meet Jesus, it is assumed that she is going to the tomb and other mourners follow her John 11:31). Seeing that the stone has been taken away, she assumes the body has been stolen and hurries to report it to Peter and the other disciple.

The race of the two male disciples to the tomb has an element of the comic. The official leader is outstripped in the race by the other disciple (a younger man and faster on his feet?). Although he allows Peter to enter the tomb first, and so become the first witness to the empty tomb and the linen cloths, it is the beloved disciple who is first to grasp the significance of what has happened. Tombs in Palestine in the time of Jesus were usually cut into the rock. There were two main types – kokhim or narrow recesses with space for a single body, and arcosolium tombs, where the body was placed on a flat surface in an arced recess in the wall. Kokhim tombs were probably for ordinary folk, as they cost less and would in any case be reused after several years when the bones would be collected and placed in an ossuary or ‘bone box’ made from stone or pottery. The arcosoliumwas, a more up-market tomb, would have been appropriate for a rich man like Joseph of Arimathea who had planned it for his own use. There was room in the tomb for the family members or mourners to place and arrange the body.

The tomb of Jesus as the gospels describe it, was of this latter type. John tells us that Peter went into the tomb first and was followed by the other disciple. The description of the folded burial garments suggests that the body was not stolen, as thieves would scarcely have taken time to neatly fold the linens and to lay the face cloth in a separate place. The concluding editorial note that they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture that he would rise from the dead highlights a common theme in all the resurrection accounts that disciples of Jesus, including the inner circle, had not grasped the significance of Easter.

Communion Reflection

Even to Simon, the coward disciple who denied Him thrice, Christ is risen. Even to us, who long ago vowed to obey Him, and have yet so often denied Him before men, so often taken part with sin, and followed the world, when Christ called us another way. ‘Christ is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon!’ to Simon Peter the favoured Apostle, on whom the Church is built, Christ has appeared.

(St John Henry Newman

 

Brendan McConvery, C.Ss.R., taught Scripture in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He currently works in Redemptorist Communications and is editor of Reality.

 




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