April 17, 2022
Let me begin today with a recent travelogue – my last visit to the tomb of Jesus in February. The very large Church of the Holy Sepulchre covers the places and shrines of the death of Jesus, his being taken down from the cross, the anointing of his dead body and his empty tomb. Over this last place is a stone building faced in ancient marble where you can, four by four, enter and kneel before what looks like a marble shelf and box that covers the place where tradition says that Jesus was laid to rest – this tradition handed down to us since the mid-300s.
In 2019, pilgrims from around the world lined up to enter the tomb there, in a line that required a two-hour wait. This last time, Israel having opened up tourism the week before, there might have been 30 others in the huge church, no waiting at all.
One of the challenges in making a pilgrimage is that fourth century Christians, interested in preserving the places associated with Jesus, have covered everything with stone, marble, silver and gold work, icons and paintings. You really have to sit and pinch yourself: Am I really here?
[Father Mangini’s next pilgrimage to the Holy Land is scheduled for February 10, 2023. Visit oakdiocese.org for more information]
In one sense, we do the same thing here in the U.S. We cover up Jesus by a building, by an altar and places to sit with statues and icons – all to help us to remember and to reach out to someone sacred and spiritual whom we cannot see.
The Resurrection – what is it and where is it?
Our gospel story of Mary Magdala does not tell us very much. She had been there when Jesus was buried in the cave and the huge stone rolled into place. Two days later, she comes early in the morning to complete the proper anointing of Jesus’ body. She finds the huge stone that closed the tomb to be removed and no body of Jesus. She sees also the burial clothes in a pile, curiously that cloth that covered his head is neatly folded. That was perplexing.
When the disciples, Peter and John arrive after Mary of Magdala went to find them, they see exactly what she saw. Peter scratches his head, but John begins to believe that something extraordinary has happened.
So, here we are, two thousand years later carrying on the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Did God his Father come to awaken him and glorify him at the moment the huge stone shut his tomb or what? When?
There are various other stories passed down to us in the gospels that Jesus appeared and reappeared to some individuals and groups but there needs to be something more than just the account of a small group of eyewitnesses to establish an almost historical-like-fact that He indeed stood up and walked away from death.
There is nothing in our system of human logic or natural skepticism that would make us believe in something like the Resurrection of Jesus for two thousand years now. Now, we are just brought up accepting the fact. In reality, just because it is a doctrine of the Church or something that is taught in our catechism does not make it true.
If you really want to understand what the Resurrection of Jesus means, I invite you to read the 10th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which gives us a clue. Our first reading today tells us what Peter had to say when he met Cornelius the Roman centurion, but what is really important is what happened to Peter and to Cornelius before they said what they said to each other.
Cornelius was a devout follower of the old religion of the Romans, described as devout and a God-fearing person and generous. He had a vision in which God spoke to him, to call a man named Peter who would come and speak to him.
At the same time, Peter was having a vision re-ordering all the priorities of his Jewish life, teaching him to be inclusive and not discriminatory. Peter became so distracted by what was going through his mind and interpreting the vision about who and what was acceptable to God and not.
Finally, Cornelius and Peter met. They tell their stories. Cornelius hears Peter’s story about Jesus (our gospel today) and shares with Peter that he had seen a man in shining robes stand in front of him.
What is not heard today is the conclusion of the story:
While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit came down on Cornelius and all his friends gathered there. Peter was astonished. The Risen Jesus had walked across a racial and religious divide. The first non-Jewish people were baptized into being followers of Jesus. The lesson? When anyone seeks to find God in their life, searches for what is good and just and true, and begins to find others in trying to do the same, such a person finds the Risen Jesus– someone very much alive and very life-giving. When such people begin to share their lives, working and growing together, again Jesus the Risen One shows who and where he is.
Today’s Gospel story continues in Chapter 11 of the Acts of the Apostles. Peter was called on the carpet by some of the Apostles in Jerusalem, going to a pagan Roman household, talking and sharing with them and baptizing them.
But then, in the beginning, Chapter 11 concludes with these words of Peter: “I had scarcely begun to speak when the Holy Spirit came down on them in the same way as it came on us at the beginning, and I remembered that the Lord had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I realized that God was giving them the identical things that he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; and who was I to stand in God’s way?”
Jesus appears in our personal search, in the personal experiences of our lives. Through those experiences and searching, we begin to find the meaning for our lives. Our faith and trust grow as Jesus introduces himself to us and me to him. Together, then, we know that Jesus is Risen!
Jesus does not appear to us out of the blue, Jesus appears in our real-life experiences and relationships. It is up to us to put two and two together!