The lectionary readings of Easter Day and Easter Week serve up a rich repast of revelation regarding Jesus’ resurrection. Like those of Holy Week, these readings command attention, and if we are awake, hardly allow us to think of anything else.
Several themes predominate in these readings that we can picture as concentric circles of meaning.
First, at the very center, the resurrection accounts of all four Gospels thrill our hearts and fire our faith with testimony that Jesus really did rise from the dead. Never mind the fact that there are minor discrepancies among the evangelists as one would expect from diverse witnesses to a remarkable event. All agree, the tomb was empty. All agree, the first witnesses to the fact were women. All agree, angels were involved. Except for the short ending of Mark, all agree that Jesus appeared to his disciples and spoke with them. First Corinthians 15:3-8, written even earlier than the Gospels, reports that on one occasion Jesus appeared to more than 500 people, most of whom were still alive at the time Paul wrote.
Second, we are told repeatedly that Jesus’ death and resurrection was “according to the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27, 44-45; John 20:9), that is, according to the “set plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). In his Pentecost sermon, St. Peter identifies one of the texts that points to Jesus’ resurrection, Psalm 16:8-11 that includes the line: “you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption” (Acts 2:25-27). Undoubtedly, the early Christians also referred to Isaiah’s Suffering Servant text and Psalm 22, both of which speak of death and then, inexplicably, of life after death (Isa 53:10-12; Ps 22:21-31).
Third, the lectionary selections of Easter tell us what the resurrection reveals about who Jesus is. “He is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). God has made him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). He is the prophet like Moses that all must listen to (Deut 18:15; Acts 3:22-23). The Gospels tell us that after his resurrection his disciples spontaneously “paid him homage”: they worshiped him, finally grasping who had been in their midst (Matt 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52; John 20:28).
Fourth, the Easter readings explain how God is summoning every person to respond to the Risen Lord—“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ”—and the benefits he will bestow—“the forgiveness of your sins, and… the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
The outermost circle of significance of the Easter readings spells out the implications for the Church, the continuing community of Jesus’ disciples. Since we the baptized have been raised with Christ, we are to seek things above, where Christ is, at God’s right hand (Col 3:1-4). We are to devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community life, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers (Acts 2:42).
Finally, we are to tell everyone: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” To this end new power is manifest among Jesus’ disciples: “These signs shall accompany those who believe…” (Mark 16:15; Acts 3). This power is evident immediately in the ministry of the apostles and is available to us today, the power of the Spirit, of the permanent presence of the Risen Lord in our midst “to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).
Will you dare to believe what Scripture tells us plainly? What difference will Jesus’ resurrection make in your life today?