The Secular Sepulcher

It’s Easter, again, and the world blinks. Its incomprehension is reasonable enough, for who can make sense of a resurrection? Christmas announces a birth. Though we do not remember our own we observe enough signs of universal nativity to concede that Jesus had a birthday. Good Friday retells a death. Yours and mine has not come around just yet, but we have seen enough of life to profess complete confidence in its end, for us and for the Nazorean. But resurrection? Oh, that is ice cream of a very different flavor. We have never known anyone to be resurrected. And even if we have encountered someone who made the claim to have come back from the dead, we had reason to doubt their veracity and probably their sanity too. So resurrection stands in its own very separate category, beyond experience and especially fantastic. What is one to make of it?

In some ways the timing of Easter is unfortunate. Most years the Resurrection of the Lord is celebrated at the same time nature awakens from its frigid austerities. Hence, the Easter mystery is popularly subsumed into the rites of spring. I have even heard the Resurrection explained that way to children. “Jesus comes back out of the tomb like the dogwood blooms again after its long winter nap!” Oh dear. Well, I suppose children require childish reasoning to appreciate Easter at all. But you do not. No, if you are reading this you need a very different approach to Easter day, all the more because your pastor insists to you that the events of Easter are of much greater consequence than Christmas, or Good Friday, or anything.

Reverend Father is in very good company. No one less than the Apostle Paul writes, If Christ is not risen your faith is in vain, you are still in your sins, and we are the deadest of the dead. Those words were written in another language, a very long time ago, but they still strike like a dope slap before your first cup of coffee. Why did Paul preach this with so much passion? Because he knew Easter is true and he knew what it means.

The utility of the Resurrection of the Lord is that it ratifies everything Jesus said, and man, he said a lot! Jesus explained what he did by describing who he was. So do you remember these puzzling self-revelations? I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. . . . Before Abraham was I AM. . . . No one has known the Father but me and no one knows me but the Father. . . . I am the Living Bread come down from heaven. If any one eats this Bread he shall never die. . . . And as though these were not enough, I could quote many other similar gospel statements until Jesus declares with emphatic explicitness, He who has seen me has seen the Father. . . . The Father and I are one. Christmas gives the Word a tongue. Good Friday decisively establishes the content of the Word. But Easter demonstrates the truth of everything the Word announced.

Now our project is to find the means to believe in that attractive truth. On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” In response to Magdalene’s anxious report, Peter and John whipped-up enough courage to race to the burial place of Jesus. Yet the gospel reports that then, and for sometime thereafter, even the Apostles were slow to accept the reality and the repercussions of Easter. Why shouldn’t it have been that way? The fantastic dimensions of Easter could not be instantly apprehended by the Apostles any more than the pragmatic people of today can willy-nilly swallow the whole story. Yet in time those Apostles came to believe in it and even die for it, very significantly isolated from one another, far removed from the scenes of Christ’s dramatic life.

This very day, the most secular-minded citizen of this blinking world can travel to Rome and enter the gigantic basilica at the Vatican. Should he be inclined, he could consider the undeniable weakness, the wiles, and the hypocrisy of the Church as he descends the long staircase terminating at the 1938 excavation of an old tomb labeled “Peter” after the same perplexed Peter who ran to the holy sepulcher at Magdalene’s disturbing news on the original Easter day. If the curious traveler is honest enough, and his insights detailed enough, he will be led to also consider the reality of the massive architecture above him, and the more restrained tomb before him, and wonder why this ancient person, in that ancient tomb, came to the center of the ancient world and how he came to die and be honored in a most conspicuous place bearing his name. At length he may conclude, as so many have concluded, that the spectacle around him exists as a testament to the truth of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a truth worth embracing for it is the most eloquent and penetrating response to the nature, experience, and aspiration of humanity that has ever existed or that could ever exist.

Monsignor Bradley Offutt is Chancellor of the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.

Daily Scripture Readings

For complete daily Scripture texts, click here.

Monday, April 25
Acts 2:14, 22-33
Psalms 16:1-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
Matthew 28:8-15

Tuesday, April 26
Acts 2:36-41
Psalms 33:4-5, 18-19, 20 and 22
John 20:11-18

Wednesday, April 27
Acts 3:1-10
Psalms105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9
Luke 24:13-35

Thursday, April 28
Acts 3:11-26
Psalms 8:2ab and 5, 6-7, 8-9
Luke 24:35-48

Friday, April 29
Acts 4:1-12
Psalms 118:1-2 and 4, 22-24, 25-27a
John 21:1-14

Saturday, April 30
Acts 4:13-21
Psalms 118:1 and 14-15ab, 16-18, 19-21
Mark 16:9-15

Second Sunday of Easter
or Divine Mercy Sunday, May 1

Acts 2:42-47
Psalms Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

The full text of the Scripture readings for this week and next week can be found here:
Click on the “Readings” tab at the top of the page.

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Wednesday
May 24, 2017
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph