On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the resurrection of Jesus. Every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection. But at Easter time we recall in a special way the last days of Jesus' earthly life. On Passion Sunday, and again on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, we review the passion of Jesus in detail. And on Easter Sunday we focus our attention on Jesus' resurrection. We will continue to meditate on the resurrection of Jesus in a special way throughout the Easter Season, ending with Pentecost.
The reading from the gospel of John tells the story of the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb. According to all the gospels, this was the first indication to the followers of Jesus that he had been raised from the dead. The story shows that the empty tomb could have more than one meaning. When Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty, she said, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put him." She assumes that someone has moved the body of Jesus, not that God has raised him from the dead. On the other hand when the beloved disciple saw the empty tomb, he believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. One reason for this may be that he saw the cloths in which the body of Jesus had been wrapped still in the tomb. If someone had moved the body, there would be no reason to leave the grave cloths behind.
In itself the empty tomb could mean more than one thing. But when it was interpreted in the light of Scriptural predictions of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, and especially in light of Jesus' appearances to his followers after his resurrection, the empty tomb became one of the foundations for Christian faith that God has raised Jesus from the dead.
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles summarizes what we believe about Jesus. This is part of a speech in which Peter presents the Christian message to Cornelius and his household. Peter briefly summarizes the career of Jesus beginning with the baptism John preached and ending with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Peter indicates the significance of Jesus' career for us by saying that "everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name."
It is not immediately clear why belief in Jesus brings forgiveness of sins. The underlying idea is probably that Jesus' death was a sacrifice for sin. By making reparation for our sins, Jesus' death is the means of forgiveness for them, if we accept it as such by believing in him.
The reading from the letter to the Colossians speaks of the meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection for us in other terms. The passage says that the Christian has died and risen with Christ. This reflects the Pauline understanding of Christian life as union with Jesus in his death and resurrection. Jesus' death and resurrection were not simply something that happened to Jesus; in becoming followers of Jesus we are united with him in such a way that we also participate in his death and resurrection.
It is not yet obvious that we have died and risen with Jesus. Our "life is hidden with Christ in God." Our union with Christ will only be apparent when he comes again in glory. But if the truth is that we are united with Jesus in a hidden way as he sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, we should keep that reality before our minds and live in its light.
In celebrating Easter we celebrate God's resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We celebrate the victory of life over death, in Jesus and, through him, in ourselves. The victory of life over death in us means forgiveness of our sins in the name of Jesus and new, though hidden, life in union with him.