The 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost are described as one great Sunday by one of the earliest teachers of the church, St. Athanasius. The first eight days of the Easter season make up the octave of Easter and they are all celebrated as solemnities of the Lord. They are some of the most beautiful liturgical celebrations of the year. My only regret is that very few of us take or have the opportunity to be participants in these joyful liturgies.
In all our sanctuaries the Easter candle shines brightly during every celebration of the Eucharist throughout the great Sunday. The candle, of course, is a visible sign of the risen Lord, always present among his people. The candle is also a reminder to us that we have to bring that light to others when we leave church and return to our homes and our communities. The light of Christ that shone brilliantly that first Easter Sunday morning for his chosen witnesses now must shine brightly for all others through the church, which means through us.
The Scriptures during the Easter octave are powerful and inspiring. Every day the first reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles, the story of the earliest proclamation of the good news of the Lords paschal mystery. The events described therein are probably the most convincing proof of Christs victory over death. Just stop and think for a moment. St. Peter, St. John and the other apostles courageously proclaimed the good news of Easter without hesitation and with much enthusiasm. Obviously something had happened which changed them immensely. At the time of the Lords arrest, passion and death, they were afraid. They went into hiding and were in disarray. But their encounter with the risen Lord and their reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost changed their lives dramatically. Their personal experience of the risen Lord helped them proclaim salvation in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. They traveled everywhere, telling people what they had seen and heard.
The message of the gospel each day is especially noteworthy. Throughout Easter week we hear from all four evangelists. On Easter Sunday, Tuesday, Friday and the Sunday after Easter, the good news is taken from St. John. St. Luke is given an opportunity to share his piece of the story on Wednesday and Thursday of Easter week. St. Matthew does the job on Easter Monday and St. Mark is our Easter spokesperson on Saturday of that week.
The stories from the gospel of John are deeply moving. On Easter Sunday we are told how Mary Magdalene visited the empty tomb and hurried to invite Peter and John to witness what she had seen. They had not yet met the risen Lord, but they were deeply touched by what they had experienced at the Lords burial site. Later we learn that the risen Lord meets Mary Magdalene weeping in a garden near the tomb. She thinks hes a gardener but in a brief conversation she comes to know him and recognize him. This encounter is one of the most tender passages in all of Scripture. Mary returns to the disciples and tells them, I have seen the Lord.
Later in the week St. John tells us how the disciples decided to go fishing. After all, for most of them that was their job until Jesus called them to follow him. While out at sea, Jesus calls to them from the shore and invites them to cast their nets in the very place where they had been quite unsuccessful at making a catch. When they do, they are unable to pull in the net because of the number of fish. St. John tells Peter, It is the Lord, and indeed it is. Jesus prepares breakfast for them and shares a meal with them as he had done on the night before he died. Later, on the Sunday after Easter, we hear the story of St. Thomas, the apostle who found it hard to believe that Jesus had truly risen. Christ invites him to touch the wounds in his hands and his side and tells him, Do not be unbelieving, but believe. Thomas does and responds, My Lord and my God, a prayer we would do well to offer whenever we are in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord.
The gospel of St. Luke tells the story of the two disciples who met the risen Lord on the way to Emmaus. They were so disappointed about the events of Good Friday. They had not yet heard that some had seen the risen Lord. Jesus patiently explains to them all that has happened is a fulfillment of Scripture. They finally come to recognize him when they share a meal during an overnight stay on their journey. We too come to recognize the risen Lord in the breaking of bread at the Eucharistic table. St. Luke also relates the story of the Lords first appearance to all the disciples gathered in the upper room. They were there in fear that what had happened to Jesus might happen to them. To calm their nerves and invite their welcome, he greets them Peace be with you. The Easter peace which Jesus shared with his friends is the same peace we hope to share with one another in our celebrations of Easter.
Easter Monday finds St. Matthew telling us about the tale which went around among the Jews that soldiers had stolen the body of Jesus and that the resurrection was all a pure fantasy created by the Lords friends to empower them in their efforts to continue his mission. It seems that, right from the beginning, there were those who sought to debunk the good news of Easter. We should not be surprised that it continues to happen in our own day.
Finally, on Easter Saturday, St. Mark repeats the invitation of Jesus to his friends that they should go into the whole world and preach the good news. Those words continue to prod our churchs evangelizing mission of bringing that Easter light of the risen Jesus to all whom we meet. For without the risen Lord, surely our world will continue to live in darkness.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is not included in any of these Easter gospels. To be sure, the risen Lord came to his own mother, his first disciple, and brought her the joy and peace of knowing that he was still alive. She, together with the other members of that first Christian family, would bring his light of salvation to others. Christ now speaks to us and lets his light shine upon us, the church, and, through us, upon others as well.
May that Easter light brighten your lives and open your hearts to all that God has in store for his people. I thank you for being the light of Christ for me in so many ways. I pray that together we can make our great Sunday a happy and blessed experience for all. Happy Easter!