Annunciation of the Lord – March 25, 2020

God who had given

so many proofs of love,

but he held in reserve

the most unheard-of wonders.

 

 

Introduction

 

This ancient festival is connected with the spring equinox. It was celebrated in Palestine possibly as early as the fourth century and introduced in the West in the seventh century.

 

Originally, it was not a feast of the Madonna, but of the Lord. It was instituted to commemorate the announcement of the coming of the Son of God in the world.

 

It was in the Middle Ages—when the sobriety of the Marian cult that had characterized the first centuries gave way to devotional emphases—that today’s feast became that of Mary, the Annunciation. After the Second Vatican Council, it regained its original meaning and is back to being the Solemnity of the Annunciation. 

 

We are in spring, the vegetation awakens and life resumes after the rigors of winter. To the believer, the appearance of new shoots can only recall, in a spontaneous and immediate way, the true spring, the blessed day when, with the incarnation of the Son of God, the new world began. 

 

Throughout the centuries, Christians have used this bond between the spring of nature and that of faith to revive in their hearts the memory of the event from which their story had its beginning. For this, in the Middle Ages many communities—and in Florence even until 1750—they started the year on March 25. From the fifth century, the Annunciation was one of the subjects most represented in art history until the Renaissance. There was no church in which it was not shown. Then, from the eighteenth century onwards, the sweet and serene scene of the angel’s encounter with the Virgin almost disappeared from the painterly themes.

 

The rise of a more secular society, the spread of Enlightenment ideas had led to look at the Gospel story with certain disenchantment. The masterpieces by great artists such as Simone Martini and the Blessed Angelico—who had drawn entire generations to the sublime mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God—continued to fascinate and excite. However, they were no longer sufficient to nourish the faith of those who wanted to find out which good news of Heaven was behind the apparent simplicity of Luke’s pages. 

 

Bible studies allow us to give an answer to this spiritual instance. The angel and the Virgin are not placed at the center stage but the Lord, that God who so often we feel distant or absent and that today—with the announcement of his coming into the world—he reminds us instead he cannot be in heaven and be happy without us.

 

 

To internalize the message, we repeat:

“God cannot stay in heaven without us.”

 

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5th Sunday of Lent – March 29, 2020 – Year A

The Tomb: A Womb, No Longer A Grave

 

A video by Fr. Fernando Armellini with English subtitles

commenting on today’s Gospel reading:

 

 

A voice over video by Fr. Alberto Rossa, cmf, 

commenting on today’s Gospel reading:

 

Introduction

 

“When the gods formed mankind, they attributed death to humanity and withhold life in their hands.” These are the words that—in the famous Mesopotamian epic—the tavern-keeper Siduri addressed to Gilgamesh who is in desperate search of the tree of life. Dejected, the hero realizes that he has to resign himself: to die is to leave for the “land of no return.” Darkness, silence, and oblivion wrap the abode of the dead according to the Jewish conception. It is hard to find in the Old Testament some hints of the soul’s immortality and the resurrection of the dead. Those few texts, of course, were not written before the second century B.C.

 

Job said: “There is hope for a tree: if cut down it will sprout again; its new shoots will still appear. But when man is cut down, he comes undone: he breathes his lastwhere will he be? The waters of the sea may disappear, rivers drain away, but the one who lies down will not rise again; the heavens will vanish before he wakes, before he rises from his sleep” (Job 14:7-12). This dejection flowed in an elegy on the mouth of the Psalmist: “You allow me to live but a short span; before you, all my years are nothing. Human existence is a mere whiff of breath. Turn from me awhile, that I may find relief before I depart and be no more” (Ps 39:6,14). 

 

So the more enlightened spirit of antiquity expressed their bewilderment, anguish, and loss in front of the transience of life. The Bible has preserved the memory of their disorientation and concerns to remind us how dense was the darkness of the tomb, before the light of Easter shine on the world.

 

 

To internalize the message, we repeat:

“Although I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you, O Lord of life, are beside me.”

 

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EASTER SUNDAY – April 12 2020

WITNESS IS ONE WHO “SAW” THE LORD

Subtitles

The words with which John begins his letter are moving: “What we have heard and what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, I mean the Word who is Life … we proclaim also to you” (1 Jn 1:1-3). His is an enviable experience, but unrepeatable. However, to become “witnesses” of Christ, it is not necessary to have walked with Jesus of Nazareth on the roads of Palestine.

Paul—who also did not know Jesus personally—is deemed a witness of the things he saw (Acts 26:16) and receives this task from the Lord: “As you have borne witness to me here in Jerusalem, so must you do in Rome” (Acts 23:11). To be a witness, it is enough to have seen the Lord really alive, beyond death.

Witnessing is not to give a good example. This is certainly useful, but the testimony is something else. This can only be given by one who passed from death to life; one who can confirm that his existence is changed and acquired new meaning when it was illuminated by the light of Easter; one who has had the experience of faith in Christ, gives that meaning to the joys and sorrows of life, illuminating both the joyful and sad moments. 

Let’s ask ourselves: is Christ’s resurrection a constant point of reference in all the projects we undertake, when we buy, sell, dialogue, divide an inheritance, choose to have another child? Or do we believe that the reality of this world has nothing to do with Easter? 

Anyone who has seen the Lord will do nothing more without him.

To internalize the message, we repeat:

If our heart opens itself to the understanding of the Scriptures, we will see the Lord.”

English Voice over

First Reading: Acts 10:34,37-43

This reading is taken from the fifth of the eight speeches delivered by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles. The scene takes place in Caesarea, in Cornelius’ house. It is there that he joins a group of pagans who are to be baptized.

This passage is a valuable piece because, in short, it presents the preaching of the early Christian communities. Placing it in the mouth of Peter, the author intends to confer on it the authority and guarantee of officialdom. Let us see what the main points of this preaching are.

Foremost, it refers to the life of Jesus. “He went about doing good and healing all who were under the devil’s power, because God was with him” (vv. 37-38). It also indicates the place and the time when the activity began. It all began in Galilee after the baptism John preached. That which happened before—his childhood and youth spent in Nazareth—spurs our curiosity, but does not constitute a point of reference for our faith.

Peter emphasizes concrete, verifiable facts that are known to all, because the Christian faith is not based on esoteric rumination or a mythological character, but makes reference to a concrete person, who lived in a specific place at a precise time. We would expect Peter to at least hint at proclaiming the Good News. Instead, he merely highlights the concrete transformation of the world made by Jesus. It is enough to prove that a new reality has started.

The second point of the preaching is what people have done: They have not recognized in Jesus the messenger of God. They killed him, nailing him to the cross (v. 39).

And how did God react? Peter said: He could not abandon his “faithful servant” as a prisoner of death. For this, God raised him to life. His work is opposed to that of men, which ends in death, leading to the tomb.

God is the one who uplifts and leads to life. This is the fundamental article of our faith (v. 40).

Finally, the mission of the disciples is given: they are witnesses of these things (vv. 39,41) and are sent to proclaim and testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to judge the living and the dead (v. 42). This truth is part of the “Creed” and is not a threat, but a happy message. The apostles must tell everyone that Jesus is not a judge who condemns, but the model with which God compares the life of every person, declaring it a success or failure. There is not a higher authority. The Jews cannot invoke their faith in God or the observance of the law. The point of reference established by God is not the law, tradition, nor any other human standard, but Jesus and only Jesus.

The apostles are his witnesses because they were with him. They ate and drank with him; they heard his teachings and saw the signs he made. There are no witnesses to their exemplary lives, but they had a unique experience that they can relate to anyone who will listen to them with honesty and purity of heart.

Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

Writing to the Christians of Colossae, Paul reminds them that, on the day of baptism, they were born to a new life, a life that has its fulfillment not in this world but in the world of God. Faith in this new life is what differentiates believers from atheists, who are convinced that a human being, relying only on their own strength, manages to attain salvation in this world.

It is not difficult to realize that, even if all material problems are solved, there would be food for all, pain and disease overcome, yet unresolved questions would remain in the depths of the human heart: why do I live and why do I die? Where do I come from and where am I going? Only Christ, who died and rose from the dead can give a satisfactory answer to these questions.

Paul does not say that Christians should not concern themselves with the reality of this world. They work and are committed to others. However, they are not convinced that the fullness of life cannot be achieved in this world (v. 2).

Good works are not wanting—says the reading. They are a manifestation of the new life. They are signs of his presence. They are like fruit that can sprout and grow only on a living and thriving tree.

Gospel: John 20:1-9

“Now, on the first day after the Sabbath, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark …” (v. 1). In these first words of the Gospel of Easter day, we can sense, almost breathe the signs of death’s victory. On earth, it’s all silence, immobility and quiet. A woman, alone and frightened, moves in the darkness of the night. Death seems to dominate unchallenged while silence and darkness celebrate the triumph. Power, the principle of force, discrimination, injustice and the yeast of cunning seem to have decisively bettered the forces of life.

Let’s see what happens when Mary sees the empty tomb: the scene changes as if by magic. Caught in a sudden thrill, all the characters are shaken from their slumber and move quickly. “Mary of Magdala runs to Simon Peter … who rushes out with the other disciple … They run together, but the other disciple, outrun him …” (vv. 2-4). Taking everyone by surprise, the day after the Sabbath, life explodes in all its force. God intervened and opened the tomb, but Mary of Magdala does not know that. She thinks that the corpse was stolen. It’s a natural and spontaneous reaction. It is the first thought that would cross the mind of anyone running into an empty tomb.

We can stop at this first finding or continue searching for the meaning of what we observe. In the face of death, we can be resigned, cry, or open our hearts to the light from above.

Magdalene exits the scene momentarily, as if passing the baton in the race toward the faith to two other disciples. One is well-known, Peter, the other has no name. It is generally believed to be the Evangelist, John. But this was identified much later, about a hundred years after the apostle had died. It may have been him, the disciple that Jesus loved. However, in the Gospel of John, this figure certainly has a symbolic character who should be dwelt upon.

This unnamed disciple is always connected in some way to Peter:

– He enters the scene next to Andrew. One day the two see Jesus passing by. They ask him where he lives. They follow and stay with him all night. What about Peter? He enters because the nameless disciple reaches Jesus before him (Jn 1:35-40).

– This disciple is not spoken about again until the last supper when Jesus declares that among the twelve there is also a traitor. Who finds him out? Those who can recognize who is on the side of Jesus and who instead is against him? It’s not Peter, but the unnamed disciple who reclines his head on the breast of the Lord (Jn 13:23-26).

– During the passion, Peter stalls and denies the Master. The unnamed disciple has the courage to follow him into the house of the high priest and is close to Jesus during the process (Jn 18:15-27).

– Peter is not on Calvary. He escaped. The disciple whom Jesus loves is instead with the Master. He is at the foot of the cross with His mother (Jn 19:25-27).

– Then comes the passage in which Peter is again beaten both in the physical race and in the spiritual one—as we shall see shortly (Jn 20:3-10).

– On the sea of Tiberias, it is still this disciple who recognizes the risen Christ in the man on the shore. Peter recognizes him only later (Jn 21:7).

– Finally, when he is invited by Jesus to follow him, Peter does not have the courage to do it alone. He feels the need to have at his side “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn 21:20-25).

Who is he then? Why has he no name?

He represents the authentic disciple, the one that just meets Jesus and does not hesitate. He immediately follows him and wants to know him. He even forgets to sleep just to be with him. Do you know him enough to immediately know who are his friends and enemies? He also follows him when it is necessary to offer his life. He has no name, because everyone is invited to name themselves. 

We see this pair of disciples run to the tomb. The unnamed disciple arrives first, bends, sees the linen cloths lying there, but does not enter. Simon Peter also arrives, enters and sees the linen cloths lying flat, and the napkin that was placed on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths, but rolled up in a place by itself.

Nothing miraculous! There is no appearance of angels; everywhere one only the signs of death. Perhaps the two disciples have an intuition, the one formulated by John Chrysostom: “Whoever had taken the body, would not have stripped it before nor would have taken the trouble to remove and roll the napkin and leave it in a place by itself.” His body has therefore not been stolen.

Peter stops, astonished and amazed. He observes but cannot go further. His thoughts are frozen before the evidence of death. The unnamed disciple instead takes a step forward: he sees and begins to believe (v. 8). It is the climactic moment of his journey of faith in the risen Lord. In front of the signs of death (the grave, the bandages, the shroud…), he begins to sense the victory of life.

The following annotation unites the two disciples: “Scripture clearly said that Jesus must rise from the dead, but they had not yet understood that” (v. 9). It seems illogical, at least as regards the disciple without a name. But, at this point, the evangelist John is not compiling a cold chronicle of events, but is pointing the Christians of his community to the route through which to come to faith. It starts from the signs—those documented in the Gospels (Jn 20:30-31). However, they remain mysterious and incomprehensible unless guided by the Word of God contained in the holy Scriptures. These are words that open the mind and the heart and give the interior light that reveals the Risen One. The true disciple does not need further testing; he does not need the verification that Thomas will require.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Whoever does not believe considers even the free-gift of life an absurdity, a madness, because behind this gift they only see signs of death. But in the light of Easter, the authentic disciple “begins to understand” that the life given for the brothers and sisters introduces one to the bliss of God.

The concluding verse of the episode: The two disciples “went back home again” (v. 10). It almost gives the impression that everything returns as before. But it is not so. The two have known Jesus; they have witnessed the same events and seen the same signs. By simply resuming their daily lives, they would continue to be discouraged and disappointed, but their new lives are guided by a new light and supported by a new hope.

READ: Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty. Peter and the Beloved Disciple run to the tomb. The Beloved Disciple arrives first and believes. Mary does not recognize Jesus until she calls her by name. She announces the risen Lord to the other disciples. Jesus appears twice to his friends in the upper room. The chapter closes with an apparent ending to the entire Gospel.

ACT: Pay attention to the names of people, especially those who share your faith and belief.

REFLECT: What is the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene? What is the relationship between Peter and the Beloved Disciple? Does Jesus know your name? Do you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ? What does this mean to you? 

PRAY: Faith needs constant support. Pray for an increase in the power of your faith. The Beloved Disciple saw the cloths and believed. Pray for people who struggle with faith.

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EASTER VIGIL HOLY SATURDAY – April 11 2020

DO NOT LOOK FOR THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD

Subtitles

We Christians are convinced we are custodians of an excellent project of humanity and society, and we are proud if the noble and elevated moral proposal that we preach is recognized. We are pleased to be referred to as the messengers of universal fellowship, justice and peace. We experience a certain modesty presenting ourselves as witnesses to the resurrection, as carriers of the light that illuminates the tomb.

Sometimes we get the impression that, on the same night of the Passover, preachers feel a little embarrassed to show the joy of Christ’s victory over death during their homilies. Instead, speaking about the Risen One, they often fall back on current topics that more easily captivate the assembly’s attention. They touch on serious and important social issues that need to be illuminated by the light of the Gospel. However, at the Easter Vigil, the community is convened to hear another announcement. It is gathered to celebrate and to sing praise to the Lord of life for the unheard prodigy he has created in raising his servant Jesus. 

Tertullian, a Christian rhetorician of the first centuries, characterized the faith and life of the communities of his time thus: “The Christian hope is the resurrection of the dead; all that we are, we are to the extent we believe in the resurrection.”

What distinguishes the Christian from other people is not a heroic moral life. Noble gestures of love are also made by non-believers who, without realizing it, are moved by the Spirit of Christ. The world expects from Christians a moral life consistent with the Gospel. However, it first seeks the answer to the riddle of death and the testimony that Christ is risen and has transformed life on this earth from gestation and death to a new birth.

The urgency of a new life can be understood only by those who are no longer afraid of death because, with the eyes of faith, “he saw” the Risen One and cultivates in the heart the expectation that soon the day dawns and the morning star rises (2 P 1:19).

To internalize the message, we repeat:

“Every moment of our life is illuminated by the light of the Risen One.”

English Voice Over

Second Reading: Romans 6:3-11

From the earliest years of the Church’s life, Christians declared holy “the day after the Sabbath” and assigned it a new name. What the Romans had called the “day of the sun” became the “Lord’s day,” in Latin: dieDominica

Soon they came to feel the need to dedicate a special day to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, a founding event of their faith. Thus, what the Passover considered “the Sunday of Sundays,” “the feast of feasts,” the queen of all festivals, of all Sundays, of all the days of the year, was born.  

During the solemn vigil—at which nobody could be absent—baptisms were administered. The ritual required that the catechumens not merely receive a simple ablution, but be totally immersed in water and then emerge from the baptismal font, which was like the maternal womb, as new creatures, the children of the light. 

Amidst songs of joy, the community welcomed these new children, reborn into divine life from the water and the Spirit. This is the rite Paul refers to in the reading from the Letter to the Romans. To the Christians in Rome, he recalls the moment of their baptism and the catechesis they received. 

He exhorts them with a rhetorical question: “Don’t you know that in baptism which unites us to Christ we are all baptized and plunged into his death?” (v. 3), an effective way to remind them of a truth that they already had in mind. They were baptized into Christ and this has resulted in an intimate union with him, sharing his destiny of death, to rise with him to life. 

One day, Jesus, too, used the image of baptism: “But I have a baptism to undergo, and what anguish I feel until it is over” (Lk 12:50). He was referring to his “immersion” in the waters of death, from which he would then resurface on Easter Day. 

The Christian, as Paul explains, is called to follow the same path as the Master. To be united with the Risen One’s fullness of life, he must first die to the “old man” in all his evil ways. This happens in the ritual immersion in the baptismal font. Going down into this tank means to agree to die to sin, to “bury” his past and start a whole new life, a life in harmony with that of Christ (vv. 4-6). 

In the Letter to the Galatians, Paul explains this passage from death to life with a dramatic contrast between the “works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit”: “You know what comes from the flesh: fornication, impurity and shamelessness, idol worship and sorcery, hatred, jealousy and violence, anger, ambition, division, factions, and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I again say to you what I have already said: those who do these things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy and peace, patience, understanding of others, kindness and fidelity, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:19-23). 

The night of Easter is for each Christian—child, adolescent, or young adult—the best time to be reminded of the commitments made by those who want to behave in a manner consistent with his own baptism. 

The first part of the passage focused on the negative aspect and on death to sin. In the second part (vv. 8-11), Paul introduces a positive theme, the entrance into life: “If we died with Christ, we believe we will also live with him.” We pass through death, but the ultimate destiny is life. 

The first-generation Christians have deeply internalized this Pauline teaching on baptism. They tried to put it into practice in their lives and gradually enriched the ritual with other symbolic and eloquent gestures. 

They introduced the gesture of covering the neophytes with a white robe, a sign of the completely new and spotless life they commit themselves to living. The bishop gives them the vestment, after embracing them as they come up from the baptismal font. In some communities, the bishop also puts on their lips a few drops of milk and honey, the food promised by God to those who enter the Promised Land, the land that—for the neophytes—is the Kingdom of God.

The shape of these tanks was also acquiring symbolic meanings. The oldest—two famous ones are preserved in Nazareth—were square or rectangular to remind the candidate of the tomb in which they enter with Christ to bury “the old man” and all his evil ways and then to rise with Christ to new life. Other tanks were circular to reproduce the vault of heaven. They indicate to the neophytes the celestial kingdom into which they enter. Those of cruciform shape recall for the baptized the gift of life; they were invited to join the Master and to offer themselves to the brothers and sisters. Those of oval design finally had an even more obvious symbolism: as life comes out of an egg, so from the baptismal font, the new person is born. 

Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10

All the evangelists begin the narrative of the Easter events indicating a precise time—early in the morning, the day after the Sabbath—and with the scene of the women—Mary Magdalene and some others go to the tomb.

However, they differ in their reporting of their immediate reaction to the shocking experience that they have witnessed at the tomb. 

While Mark, Luke and John assert that, with immense astonishment, they found the huge stone already rolled away, Matthew says that they saw a terrifying sight: “there was a violent earthquake, an angel of the Lord descending from heaven, and he came to the stone, rolled it and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his garment white as snow. They were all frightened and the guards trembled in fear like dead men” (vv. 2-4).

If this version was the work of a journalist, it would be a difficult task to harmonize it with the information that we are given by the other evangelists. 

Let us immediately clarify: this Gospel passage is not a news report. It is misleading to consider it as such because Matthew is not narrating a documented historical fact. The event that is referred to us—the resounding victory of the Lord of life over death—really happened, but it belongs to the divine world, not to the earthly realm. Unlike the crucifixion, the resurrection is not verifiable through the senses and cannot be told as one of the many episodes in the life of Jesus. 

The sublime experience of the Risen One, which the women had before the disciples, was hard to communicate. But Matthew had at his disposition a theological language that his readers understood exceedingly well, the one used by the Bible. It was a language often consisting of images, full of allegory and metaphor.

It is with one of these images that Matthew begins his story of Easter: a terrifying earthquake. To illustrate the miracles performed by God on behalf of his people, the sacred authors often use impressive images: lightning, thunder, hail, thunderstorms, dark clouds and above all, earthquakes that were frequent in Palestine.

When the Lord appeared to Moses at Sinai—the author of the book of Exodus narrates— “the whole mountain shook violently. Moses spoke, and God replied in thunder” (Ex 19:18-19). The psalmist thus introduces the outrage and the intervention of God against the wickedness of the world: “Then the earth reeled and rocked, the foundation of the mountains shook; they trembled at his fury” (Ps 18:8). 

To illustrate the power with which God, on Easter Sunday, has destroyed the power of death, Matthew had an obligatory literary choice: the use of the biblical image of the earthquake. He had already used it in the story of Jesus’ death. Unique among the evangelists he had written: “The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened” (Mt 27:51-52). 

He was not referring to literal facts. He wanted his readers to understand the upheaval that was operating at the time when Jesus offered the sacrifice of his life: the ancient world, the world of sin, lies, injustice, hypocrisy, was shaken to its foundations. It had suffered a devastating blow from which it would never recover.

The other images too—the angel of the Lord, the color white, lightning, fear—are taken from the Bible (cf. Dn 7:9; 10:6; Jdg 6:11; 13:22ff). The evangelist used them to build a theological framework with which to bear witness to the men and women of his time and to us the disciples’ experience of the Risen One.

Stripped of the literary casing in which it was wrapped by the evangelist, the Gospel clearly reveals the theological message. The wicked have fought the righteous and managed to prevail. They believed in having him silenced forever. A huge boulder was placed in front of the tomb and a picket of guards watch so that no one comes close (Mt 27:62-66). All celebrate the victory of death over life, impiety over righteousness, hatred over love. 

Faced with this tragedy, we wonder: will the darkness and the silence of the grave extinguish forever even the memory of the righteous, while those who killed him mockingly laugh? At dawn on Easter Sunday, God responded to this anguished question. In a flash of light, he detonated his life-giving power because he could not allow the Holy and Righteous One to remain in the power of death. He pronounced his final verdict on what had happened on Good Friday: the defeat in the eyes of the world was, according to his judgment, the winner. 

The angel of the Lord was none other than the Lord Himself revealing all his power. The act of sitting on the stone recalls the gesture of the warrior who celebrates his victory by sitting proudly rampart on the city he conquered. Matthew uses this bellicose image to vividly depict the triumph of the Lord over death, the terrible enemy that has always terrified humanity. The heavenly messenger urges the women not to seek the Crucified, but the living and to move away from the place where he was buried (v. 6). 

After the defeat of death, those who have concluded their earthly life are not to be found in a grave. They are not to be found and encountered there, but in the Father’s house, where all the living gather to sing the praises of the Lord. Those who have made this discovery must announce it to everyone. The angel of the Lord sends the women: “Go at once and tell the disciples that he is risen from the dead … This is my message for you” (v. 7). It is not an easy mission because anyone who announces the Living One runs the risk of not being believed or even of being laughed at.

We have no difficulty in talking about the Crucified One and of his courage in giving his life for love. The Crucified One belongs to the verifiable reality of this world. It is a historical fact that no one doubts. We instead are reluctant to announce the Living One, because he cannot be recognized by the senses: he lives in a heavenly dimension and can be contemplated only by the believer’s gaze. Only those who have had the intimate experience of a personal encounter with the Risen One, have the courage to announce to all—as did the women—that the Lord was not merely revived, but alive and present in our midst.

Next to the empty tomb two groups of people appear: the women and the guards (vv. 4-8). They represent two opposite ways of placing themselves before the revelation of God’s power. The reaction of the picket of soldiers is fear: “The guards trembled with fear and became like dead men” (v. 4). They had to guard the kingdom of death, but, faced with God’s power, they panicked, fled, terrified by the light of Easter (Mt 28:4). The angel did not reassure them: they represent all the forces that are against life and are at the service of death. They are in disarray and need to continue in fear because they have no way out.

The women instead—a symbol of the community—are reassured: “Do not be afraid!” (v. 5). Those who love life need not fear the upsetting interventions of God. He comes to remove all the rocks that sin has put in place to protect the domains of death.

The heavenly message directed to the women is actually directed to all people. It is an invitation to grow in the certainty of the victory of life: never will a righteous person be abandoned; each tomb, like that of Jesus, will be empty. The forces of death (injustice, oppression, slander, hatred, deceit, cunning … will not prevail even if, apparently, for a time, they will appear to have the upper hand.

Faced with the great scene of Easter, all the losses and all the tears of the righteous of all times make sense.

The women hastily abandoned the place of death and rushed to announce to the brothers that Christ is alive. They represent all those who believe in the victory of life and race to witness their faith to the brothers and sisters.

Faced with the same event, the guards make the opposite choice: as Judas did, they let themselves be corrupted by money. They are the symbol of those who, even today, for the sake of some material advantage, resign themselves to compromise. They prefer the lie to the truth. They take sides with the powers-that-be and cooperate with them in an attempt to perpetuate the reign of injustice.

The Gospel passage ends with the manifestation of the Risen Christ to the women (vv. 9-10). “Rejoice!”—he tells them. Joy always shines on the face of a person who has “seen” the Living One and realizes that, after Easter, the issues of this world, even the most dramatic and absurd, do have meaning.

It is true that after Easter people continue to die as before. However, now they know that they will not remain in death. They know that life has a goal—that it is not in the night of the grave, but the heavenly light—and that humanity has a destiny: the endless celebration. 

Here is the reason of Christian joy. Joy is not joy if it is not shared. Even the Risen Christ—as the angel at the tomb—sends the women to proclaim to all the experience they had. That has changed the perspective of their lives. From the material point of view, nothing has changed for them. Their difficulties and the problems remain the same. They are the ones who are no longer the same: they have been transformed by the encounter with the Living One.

READ: The drama continues. Matthew likes drama: the earthquake, an angel in dazzling white, the faithful women performing their duty with fear and joy. The tomb is empty.

PRAY: The Easter is Alleluia, “God be praised.” It is not said during Lent. At Easter, we sing it with great enthusiasm: “Jesus is raised! God be praised!”

REFLECT: Do you like the way Matthew describes the empty tomb? Does anyone witness the actual resurrection? Belief in the risen Christ requires an act of faith to which witness is given by women and men as disciples. What lesson does this teach us?

ACT: Easter is a springtime feast. The earth comes alive and the Lord is raised. Make it a happy time for yourself and for others.

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