On Good Friday, Jesus looked like a failure. He hung there, dead on a cross; His disciples had abandoned Him in fear. Where are all the miracles now? Of what use were all the beautiful words He had spoken to the crowds? As he was buried in the tomb, Jesus appeared to be just one more nice guy who finished last, one more naïve dreamer who found Himself chewed up and spit out by the harsh realities of the world.
And then something incredible happened. He rose. The tomb is empty. Death has been conquered, life is victorious. Jesus, who had once appeared broken and defeated, is now triumphant. From the beginning of the world, the one constant was death. All things were under the power of death. Now, that power has been defeated. The powers of death and darkness and sin are defeated by life and light and grace. That is what we celebrate today. It is the very foundation of our faith, that Christ has truly risen from the dead, and death and sin are defeated.
And yet, notice how the Gospel for this morning ends. Peter and John, two of the Apostles are standing at the empty tomb, and it says “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” Not exactly how we expect the reading for Easter Sunday to end. Here they are at the empty tomb, seeing it with their own eyes, and yet they do not understand. They see that the body of Christ is no longer there, but they do not yet understand what that means. They do not understand that they are witnesses to the greatest truth in history. They do not understand that all of reality has changed, that the chains of sin and death have been destroyed. They still believe that death is the final word. They are still living their old lives; they do not yet realize that Christ has made all things new.
I think we can often be like these two disciples standing at the empty tomb, seeing yet not understanding. We claim to believe in the Resurrection, we profess Sunday after Sunday in the Creed that Christ is risen from the dead, but we do not understand the importance of that belief. We do not yet understand how the Resurrection changes everything. We still live our old lives, lives under the power of sin and darkness and death. That is the way of the world. The world teaches that the goal of life is to try to squeeze as much fleeting happiness as I can out of life, because in the end death is victorious. And how often we can be tempted to live like that, as though the passing joys that the world offers are the only things that make life worth living. When we do that, we are like the disciples, not yet understanding the truth of the Resurrection. We are living according to the rules of death and sin.
Easter tells us that there is a joy that lasts forever, an eternal life that far surpasses whatever short-lived delights and accomplishments I can find in this world. That is the truth of our faith. And if we truly understand that and believe that, then our lives should be different. As Christians, as people of the Resurrection, our lives should be fundamentally different from the life that the world proposes. The way we live, the things we pursue, the ways that we seek joy and meaning in our lives, should shine with the light of Christ. The Resurrection should not be something that we just celebrate once a year on Easter or just profess at Mass every Sunday, but should be something that fills our entire lives. People should know by the way that we live that we are living for something other than this world. This is what St. Paul means in our second reading when he says, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Our very way of thinking as Christians, the way that we view the world and reality, should have its foundation in the truth that we celebrate today.
But all too often, that isn’t the case. We come to Mass on Easter, we sing Alleluia and profess our belief that Jesus is truly risen from the dead, and then as soon as Mass ends, we go back to living just like everyone else. We go back to living for this world and being guided by its rules. I get it. Even as a priest there is that temptation to want to judge my life by the world’s standards and not by the light of the Risen Lord. We are so surrounded by the way the world thinks that it just seems like common sense to us. In a same way, it was common sense to the disciples that dead people don’t come back to life. And yet, there was a deeper truth there, a truth so profound that it shattered the rules of the world and its so-called common sense. The disciples would eventually understand this, and their lives would be radically different. Once they truly understood the meaning of the Resurrection, their lives were never the same. We hear in our first reading of Peter, who once stood at the empty tomb and did not understand, now preaching to the crowds the Good News of the Risen Lord. Once the disciples understood the Resurrection, they were never the same, and people knew by the very way that they lived and spoke that they were guided by something other than the ways of the world. And it should be the same for us as well.
As we gather here this Easter morning in the joy of the Resurrection, let us not be like the disciples on that first Easter morning who saw but didn’t understand. Let us ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of understanding, so that we can truly see how the truth of the Resurrection changes everything. Let us also ask God to show us where in our lives we have still been guided by the wisdom of the world, rather than by His truth, so that we may truly be changed by this awe-filled mystery. May the Resurrection of Christ be something that we celebrate not just once a year, but with our very lives.