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April 16 2017 (A) --EASTER SUNDAY (A)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue:

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Acts 10:34, 37-43). We have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection. This is Peter’s address to the pagan centurion Cornelius and his household at Caesarea, after Cornelius had sent for Peter at the Lord’s suggestion. Cornelius’s household were obviously interested in becoming followers of Christ. The sermon was probably typical of an early Christian presentation of the Gospel message. It began with the baptism by John the Baptist, the+ anointing by the Holy Spirit, and gave the central events of Christ’s ministry, his miracles through the power of the Spirit, his crucifixion, resurrection and post-resurrection appearances to show that he had truly risen in his bodily existence. It also gave Christ’s mandate to his apostles to preach that he was God’s appointed messenger and the saviour of the world. Early sermons such as these gave the framework of the Gospel tradition that would later be consigned to writing in all four gospels: from the preaching of John to the resurrection. The call at the end to believe in Christ and repent of sins is valid for all times.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 117). The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone.

Second Reading (Colossians 3:1-4). You must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is. This section of the epistle to the Colossians is chosen as appropriate for Easter Sunday when we commemorate the resurrection of Christ and his return in glory to the Father, where he constantly prays that his work on earth through his Church be successful. Christians are united to him in baptism, and by God’s grace are united with him in heaven. The passage calls on us to think of these consoling truths. It is all in keeping with Christ’s own words: Store up treasure for yourselves in heaven; where your treasure in, there will your hearts be also (see Matthew 6:19-21). No one can serve two masters. Today’s reading is no generic statement without substance. In its context in the Epistle it is preceded by the exhortation: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as your were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7). And in the same letter, today’s passage continues with the consequences of belief in this new life in Christ, namely, on the negative side putting to death everything that is earthly, listing first four sexual practices, then other minor offences, ending with a list of works indicated by belief in Christ: kindness, humility, forgiveness and such like. The Easter invitation to have minds and hearts set on Christ does not foster withdrawal from social commitments. Rather does it imply this.The Risen Christ, enthroned at the right hand of he Father, continues to address his faithful followers on earth, reminding them of the mission he gave them at the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth; you are light of the world. So let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven”.

Alternative Second Reading (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). In the immediate preceding context Paul had condemned the abuse in the Christian community at Corinth where a man was living with his step-mother, something condoned by the community. Paul alerts to the danger of the bad example. He is thinking against the background of the Jewish Passover when all bread with yeast (leavened) had to be removed for the festival, and the sacrifice of the paschal lamb performed. Leaven (yeast) is here taken as a symbol of corruption. Easter should be celebrated in holiness, symbolically with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. For our own day this can be a call for the traditional Easter confession, the sacrament of reconciliation.

The Gospel (John 29:1-9). He must rise from the dead. There are different accounts in the New Testament of the resurrection of Christ and his appearances to chosen followers. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) lists five appearances, first to Peter and last of all to Paul himself. Today’s account by John in the Fourth Gospel is but part of a series of episodes: first the empty tomb, without any appearance of the risen Lord (John 20:1-10); then an appearance to Mary Magdalene (11-18), then to the disciples without Thomas (19-23), and then with Thomas (24-29). Today’s reading is about the visit to a tomb found empty. Mary Magdalene suspects robbery. The “other disciple” (probably the beloved disciple) recognized Peter’s special privileged position. The tidy situation with regard to the items of clothes rules out robbery. The “other disciple” has an insight into the resurrection, and he and the Church will later see in this the fulfilment of Scripture. A certain unevenness can be perceived in the narrative (for instance Mary Magdalene, although alone, says “we” do not know), due to the use of earlier traditions in which a number of women go to the tomb. In this section of his longer narrative the evangelist rearranges earlier traditions.

B. Reflection and Dialogue: The Risen Christ Centre of Christian life. Christian witness

In the first reading Peter stresses that the apostles are attested witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, with the task of proclaiming to all what Jesus’ saving mission meant. The message of the second reading is that all followers of Christ should be witnesses to the new life in Christ in a world that often has a contrary message. There is fruit for reflection in this for us today.

            Belief in the resurrection of Christ and of Christ at God’s right hand is, in a sense, revolutionary. It calls for Christian living and Christian witness in an indifferent or unbelieving world. By union with Christ in baptism Christians in a sense have died to one form of living, and now have a new life, in the words of today’s reading “hidden with Christ in God”. This is not a life of detachment from the world or human society, no more than Christ’s life in God is. As Pope Francis reminded us early in is pontificate, the centre of the Church is Christ, not the Pope. Without awareness of Christ as head and centre of the Church, Christian life is disoriented. The risen Christ, now in glory, is the same Christ who has given us the Beatitudes, and other teaching. He is the Christ who has sent his Spirit on the Church and has directed it confidently in the mission to pagans beyond Judaism, countering unacceptable pagan beliefs and practices. Hence it is that in this same letter, immediately after today’s reading, the implications of belief in the Easter Jesus are spelt out. Paul’s words merit citation in full. He first spells out five prevailing practices, unacceptable to believers in Christ, common in the society in which Colossian Christians found themselves. Paul’s words are (Colossians 3:5-8): “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which are idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things”. He then adds other qualities which should characterize Christian society. They should put away anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from their mouth, and many other failings besides.

            The Church in Ireland is now at a turning point. There have been the clerical, and other, sex scandals, and independent of this a falling away from Church attendance, not necessarily a lack of faith. There is also a growing, and vocal, secularism and anti-clericalism. Believers need to put faith in the Risen Christ, as presented in today’s reading from Colossians, at the very centre of their religion. Presence at Easter ceremonies could be a call and a reminder from Christ that all who believe in him are his witness+ses, witnesses to his passion and resurrection. We can compare the present situation in Ireland (and also elsewhere) somewhat to that of the disciples during and after the terrible events of the Passion and death of Jesus. The hopes expressed in him on the entry over the Mount of Olives seemed dashed. In his hour of trouble his disciples had abandoned him; Peter had even denied him three times. The situation changed with the resurrection belief, and the words of Jesus that his death was really a victory. Believers in him could take courage. Through his death and resurrection Christ had conquered “the world”, that is, all forces trying to take believers away from him. And his followers would be witnesses to this new age. As Jesus said (John 15:26-27): “When the Advocate (Paraclete, Comforter) comes, whom I send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

(For reflections on Sunday and Feastday readings see Martin McNamara, Sunday Readings with Matthew. Interpretations and Reflections, Dublin, Veritas, 2016)