Gospel Reflections

Feast of the Vigil of Easter

Luke 24:1-12

Feast Day Reflection by Sister Camilla Burns

Published: March 26, 2016

Read Luke 24:1-12

At daybreak on the first day of the week the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus took the spices they had prepared and went... Read More…

The Easter story begins with the obvious: Jesus is dead, and his followers assume that he remains dead. The women bring spices to show proper respect for the dead. The discovery of the empty tomb does not lead to an easy change of perspective; rather than clarity, it brings confusion.

Without full realization, we may be close to the thinking of these women even though we know the end of the story. If we gather at Easter to pay our proper respect and enshrine the dead Jesus in the tomb of memory or celebrate his great legacy as an insightful teacher and compassionate healer, we are like the women who imagined themselves called to honor his dead body with spices and ointments.  

The women receive a word that runs counter to what they know to be true. “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:5). They are confounded by the question. To ease our mutual discomfort, we might be tempted to focus on the “two men in dazzling garments” who terrified the women and brought their bowed faces to the ground. What is most striking about the scene is that the women encounter the Resurrection through a message.  They are told that Jesus has risen, but they do not see the risen Jesus himself. What they have is a word, a message.

This brings the Easter experience precisely into our own understanding. What we have is the word of Resurrection. It would be so much more comforting if the women saw Jesus walk out into the light of day. And likewise, it would seem much easier for Jesus to appear in dazzling glory to us, who gather on Easter morning generations later. But just like the women on the first Easter, we are all given a message, the word of Resurrection.

When one knows that death is death, the only logical response is unbelief. The Easter message says that Jesus lives which collides with our certainty of the finality of death. It only makes sense to continue affirming what we already know. Luke reports this reaction in the next section (24: 8-11). The women brought the message to the eleven and all the others who respond as thinking people would normally respond: “their story seemed like an idle tale and they did not believe them” (24: 11).

“I don’t believe it” doesn’t mean people believe nothing but rather there is something else they believe more strongly. At this exact crossroads, the Easter message begins its work by challenging our certainties. Experience teaches that death is real and life is what you make of it.  The Easter message says that death is real but not final. In Jesus, life gets the last word.

The Easter message calls us from our old belief in death to a new belief in life. Perhaps the death we have settled on is not just physical death but the many kinds of deaths we experience throughout life, the certainties of harms, disappointments, betrayals and losses of our own family and friends that convince us that death is death. The Easter message reaffirms that these deaths are not final but life gets the last word.  Perhaps we can go with Peter to the tomb and find out if it is really true and allow ourselves to be “amazed” again this Easter.

We who gather at the Easter Vigil follow in the footsteps of Peter. We have come to be amazed again at the realization that death is real but not final. The Easter reading stops with Peter’s amazement, but the Easter story continues far beyond, as God continually challenges the certainty of death with the promise of life.  What certainty of death in our existence can bring life to us? Can we say with Paul this Easter, “we too live in newness of life” (Rom 6:4)?

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