By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” is the question posed to Mary Magdalene by the angel at the tomb of the crucified Lord two days after the his earth shattering death. Mary and the others were simply attending to the traditional burial customs with respect to the body of Jesus, but what they discovered was the power of God that had rolled back the stone, and unloosened the grasp of death. Their Lord’s indescribable death on the cross was now overcome by his unimaginable resurrection from the dead. The living God already was planting the seeds of healing and hope in their hearts to overcome the agony of the crucifixion.
But how could anyone sort out such extremes?
No one among the Jewish people who were expecting the Messiah, including the Lords’ disciples, was prepared for his manner of death. He died as a worthless slave with criminals hanging on both sides. On Easter Sunday morning, the gospel proclaims the first step in their journey of faith with the empty tomb. This is not proof that Jesus rose from the dead, but in a paradoxical way the rolled back stone, exposing only burial clothes inside, set a new world in motion. The disciples knew that they had not come in the night to steal his body, a story that had circulated for years that is referred to by Saint Matthew after the burial of Jesus. So then, where is the body?
The Church addresses this unyielding question throughout the Easter Octave, the brilliant week of faith and hope from Easter Sunday to the second Sunday of Easter. The liturgical prayers of each weekday Mass during the Octave celebrate Easter Sunday. The daily gospel readings proclaim the risen Lord’s appearances to his disciples found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In these accounts Jesus addresses their confusion and disorientation, and even more so the ache in their hearts. He reveals himself in his glorified body, risen from the dead, the pathway to eternal life. It is not the body that he once had, a body like everyone else’s that knows the constraints of time and space. Yet, it is because he can eat, and can be touched. Astounding!
In the gospel of Saint Luke, Jesus appears and calms the fears of his disciples who thought that they were seeing a ghost, by drawing their gaze to the marks of the nails in his hands and side.
Even more, he asks for some of their cooked fish, which he takes and eats. Jesus likewise eats in his resurrection appearance in the Gospel of John at the sea of Tiberius where he had been waiting for his disciples who had gone out to fish. The disciples could also touch him physically. Remember in another resurrection account in John’s gospel that Thomas was not on hand when Jesus appeared to the terrified apostles who were in hiding behind locked doors. Thomas was present on the Lords’ return visit, and this time Jesus invited him to place his fingers in the nailt marks, and to place his hand into the gaping hole from the spear in his side. So Jesus is identifiable; he can eat; he can be touched. Yet he is not constrained by time and space. This is clearly something to be grasped.
Because of our faith in the risen Lord we do believe life is stronger than death, that love overcomes fear, that hope dispels gloom, that courage conquers powerlessness, and that forgiveness reconciles sin and division. We believe this not because Jesus overcame death and walks among the shades, or walks even among the living as we know life. He already lives in glory in the bosom of the divine Trinity and through faith, hope, and love, we are already joined to him as his body on earth. He has placed the abiding sense of timelessness in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is the foretaste of the heavenly banquet. As Saint Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, we are heirs of the promise and we have received the first installment of this eternal gift. This is the joy of the gospel that is an eminently personal, but not a private gift, a bequest to the Church to be lived in every generation, as the body of Christ in this world.
A dominant theme of the resurrection appearances is the greeting of peace from the Lord to his disciples to overcome their fear, doubt, shame, anger, disappointment, etc. They represent the brokenness of our human story, but the peace of Christ, the Shalom of God, is forever stronger. This is the peace that the Lord assures us that the world cannot give, nor take away. It is not a peace that merely calms our nerves or removes our guilt, but rather a power that propels us into our daily lives, whatever the circumstances may be, to live as the Lord’s disciples. As the Father has sent me; so I send you. Then he breathed on them and said, receive the Holy Spirit.
Where is the body of the Lord? He is present in our lives, in the church, and in the world. May we see more clearly through the eyes of faith, and know that the dawn from on high breaks upon us each day to shine on us who live in darkness and the shadow of death to guide our feet on the path of peace. Happy Easter Season!