The Easter Sunday Mass is not itself the paschal liturgy.
That took place at the culmination of the Easter Vigil. Rather,
this is the first of a series of Masses that belong to the
great fifty days. In them we reflect upon the post-Easter revelations
of the risen Christ and the fruits of our redemption in him.
The readings are the same every year.
New Testament scholars regard the “kerygmatic” speeches
of the Acts of the Apostles, not as records of what was actually
said by Peter or others on a particular occasion, but as
samples of the “kerygma,” or basic message of the
earliest Jerusalem church.
While Luke undoubtedly had a hand
in giving them their present shape, they enshrine very early
christological patterns. This sermon, for example, contains
the following points:
(1) The earthly
ministry of Jesus, culminating in his death, met with Israel’s
rejection of the proffered
word “tree” calls attention to the scandalous
nature of Christ’s death: “Cursed is everyone who hangs on
a tree” (Deut
21:23; see Gal
(2) Christ’s resurrection was God’s vindication of Jesus
and all that he had stood for, in face of his contemporaries’
rejection of it. This “no-yes” interpretation
of Golgotha and Easter is characteristic of the earliest period.
(3) The apostles witness the events from the beginning of the earthly ministry
through the post-resurrection appearances.
Note, too, the
suggestion, present elsewhere, that the context of the resurrection
appearances was, at least sometimes,
a meal. The roots of the Christian Eucharist
lie not only in the Last Supper but in the meals that the risen Lord celebrated
with his disciples after his resurrection.
Responsorial Psalm: 118:1-2, 16-7, 22-23
Psalm 118, with its reference to the stone rejected and made
the headstone of the corner, was perhaps the earliest psalm
that the primitive community
applied to the death and resurrection of Christ. It was the
basic Old Testament text for the “no-yes” interpretation
of the earliest kerygma.
Reading II (First Alternate): Colossians 3:1-4
“If you have been raised with Christ” is a common
turn of phrase. It means “If (and of course you are).” Colossians
is more positive than Rom 6 (see the Easter Vigil service)
that baptism includes both the dying and the
rising with Christ.
But it still maintains two reservations:
the resurrection with Christ has to be implemented by constant
moral effort; it is
a hidden reality that is not finally revealed until Christ’s
II (Second Alternate): 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
As the Jewish housewife spring-cleaned before Passover to make
sure that there was not a crumb of leavened bread left in the
so Paul, in figurative language, urges the Christians of Corinth
to purge the leaven of malice and evil so that they may celebrate
the festival of Christ’s sacrifice as the true Paschal Lamb
with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
This is the
earliest reference we have to the Christian reinterpretation
of the Passover. It may even indicate that 1 Corinthians was
written with the feast in view.
This text is a combination of two different traditions.
one is the well-attested and reliable tradition that Mary Magdalene
(other names are added in various forms of the tradition, but
there is no consistency here) visited the grave of Jesus on
Easter morning, found it empty, and reported the fact to the
The other, less attested tradition is of Peter’s
visit to the grave (see Luke
(In the earliest and strongly attested tradition, Peter was
the recipient of the first appearance located in Galilee.)
To the less
attested tradition John has added the race between Peter and
disciple,” probably with a symbolic significance. The “other
disciple” comes to faith in the resurrection through the
mere sight of the empty tomb.
In the earlier tradition, however,
the disciples come to faith in the resurrection through seeing
the risen Lord.
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Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10
The story of the empty tomb in Matthew’s Gospel is best explained as an
editing of the more primitive Marcan account by the addition of other oral traditions.
The first addition features the earthquake and an elaborate description of the
angel (Mark had simply “young man”), the rolling away of the stone,
and the angel sitting upon it.
This is the nearest thing we have to an actual
description of the Resurrection in the New Testament. In the apocryphal Gospel
of Peter, the angel actually rolls away the stone to let the risen One come out
of the tomb.
These additions comport awkwardly with the visit of the women, for we are not
told whether the women actually saw this happen or whether they arrived after
it had happened.
If, as we suppose, Matthew has selected features from a popular
legend (evidenced more fully in the Gospel of Peter) and combined them with his
Marcan material, the effect in his version is that the angel has become no longer
the agent of the miracle of the rolling away of the stone but, as in Mark, simply
an interpreting angel (angelus interprens) for the benefit of the women.
In the episode of the women at the tomb, the following differences from Mark’s
account are noted:
(1) only two women appear:
Salome is omitted, apparently to remove the discrepancy between the
two Marcan lists of the names of the women—that
at the burial and that at the visit to the tomb;
(2) the motive of the women’s
visit to the tomb: in Mark it was to see to the burial rites left unfinished
on the eve of the sabbath, while in Matthew it is merely to see the sepulcher;
in the angel’s (Mark: young man’s) instruction to the women,
telling them to report to the disciples, the name of Peter is dropped,
Matthew goes on to narrate (28:16-20) a single appearance to all the disciples,
without a special one to Peter;
(4) Mark’s concluding statement about
the subsequent silence of the women is omitted as ill comporting with their
The third episode in the pericope
is the appearance of the risen One to the women. We have no certain clue
as to whether this is an earlier tradition
or a redactional
composition of Matthew.
Traditional piety and contemporary Christian feminists
agree in wanting it to be genuinely historical, while critics object that its
absence from the most primitive lists of appearances in 1
Corinthians 15:3-8 tells decisively against its primitive character. These
critics conclude that
of the tendency to coalesce the originally distinct traditions of the empty
tomb and the appearances.
For such critics this would be the earliest example of the
trend, manifest later in Luke and in John 20, to relocate the appearances in
Jerusalem instead of Galilee. It is also an example of the tendency to materialize
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for Afternoon or Evening
This is the most beautiful
of all the appearance stories, and it seems almost blasphemy for the critical
scholar to lay hands upon it. Nevertheless, modern New Testament study shows
that this story grew up through the years from an original nucleus and became
the repository for theological ideas at various stages of development. Finally,
Luke, with consummate literary skill, made it into a vivid narrative.
In its present form, the story reflects the pattern of early Christian worship.
The self-manifestation of the risen One takes place through the two events of
the exposition of the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread. These two events
take place in every liturgy; word and sacrament are integral parts of a single
coming of Christ to his own.
Over sixty years ago now, Karl Barth wrote in his Gifford Lectures the following
“What we know today
as the church service in Roman Catholicism and in
Protestantism is a torso. The Roman Catholic Church has a sacramental service
without preaching. But I wish to speak at the moment not for or against her,
but about our own Protestant Church. We have a service with a sermon but without
sacraments. Both types of service are impossible.”
Barth would have
to revise his words about Roman Catholicism today, but I
wonder parenthetically whether
many Protestants have paid sufficient heed to his words!
Reginald H. Fuller
Copyright © 1984
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, Minnesota.
rights reserved. Used by permission from The Liturgical
Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 56321
Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller. The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition)
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