April 12, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Monday within the Octave of Easter
Reading (Acts 2:14, 22-33) Gospel (St. Matthew 28:8-15)
In the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear Peter on the day of Pentecost standing up before all the people to preach the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. This is something that we know the disciples did not believe in initially. They did not understand what it meant that Jesus would rise from the dead. It did not make any sense since no one had ever done so; but even after they had heard that He had risen from the dead, they did not want to believe.
In the Gospel, we hear about Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb. They did not believe in the Resurrection either because they went to anoint the body of Jesus. They did not go to the tomb expecting to find that He was no longer there; they went expecting simply to anoint the body with the spices and the herbs and the oils that they had mixed together the way that the Jewish people would naturally have anointed the body of their dead. So when Our Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene, we hear that she was half-terrified and half-overjoyed. Once again, we can understand that. If somebody appeared to us from the dead, we would be a bit startled. Yet, at the same time, because they knew that Our Lord had told them this was going to happen, it left them a little confused because they still did not understand. And who could? No one can blame them for not understanding; this was not the normal situation. Yet it was something that they immediately recognized was a reality. This was the reality they had to grapple with.
As the time went along after the Resurrection, before Peter went out and began to preach, they had an opportunity to hear from Our Lord all of the various passages of Scripture that referred to Him. They had a chance to pray and to think about the psalms and what they had to say. We hear in the first reading Peter quoting the psalm and talking about how from Psalm 16 it says, “You will not let your faithful one undergo corruption.” So he recognized that there were these clear statements in Scripture that the Messiah was going to rise from the dead, but because until it happened they did not understand, they did not know what to make of it. But now he was able to stand up and preach, to talk about how Our Lord ate and drank with them after the resurrection from the dead, to talk about how David had prophesied about this and that clearly David was not talking about himself because David died and was buried and his tomb was right there in Jerusalem; therefore, it was pretty evident that David was not talking about himself because David’s body had corrupted like any other. And so the question then was who was he talking about?
What happened, I suspect, for Peter and the apostles, is that these Scripture passages, like so many that we read, they just kind of read right over without ever really stopping to think about them. They do not necessarily make a whole lot of sense practically to us because we do not have anything yet to relate them to, and consequently we just do not even think about it. But after the fact, Peter thought about it and then he was able to understand exactly what it meant.
Now for the chief priests, on the other hand, they were quite shaken when they heard about the Resurrection as the soldiers went and told them. And they paid off the soldiers because, again, they were afraid of what this was going to mean. First of all, it implied that they were wrong, something which in our humanness we do not ever seem to like to admit even when it is obvious. Secondly, they were very much afraid. Recall the point that Caiphas had made that it was better for one man to die than the whole nation. Well, they were still in that mindset. They still could not grasp the concept that Jesus was not a political Messiah, and so they were still afraid of what the Romans would do if they heard that the King of the Jews had risen from the dead. But the tragedy of this is that these were the men who had been appointed to serve God. These were the high priests. They were the elders of the people. These were the people who were on the Sanhedrin, who were called to be the judges, who were called to try to be the arbiters of truth. And when the truth was presented to them, they rejected it. They did everything that they could to hide it, and the reason was out of fear. They did not want to lose their jobs, and they were afraid of what the Romans might do.
When we apply these things to ourselves, we can ask, first of all, “What does the Resurrection really mean to us, that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead? And more than that, of course, for us, that He is glorified at the right hand of the Father?” We are members of Christ; He lives in us and we live in Him. Therefore, our lives should be entirely different because we should no longer be living merely on the natural level. Secondly, we can ask ourselves, “Do we want the truth? If the chief priests did not want the truth, how much do we want it?” Now it is not that they did not want any truth; they had a lot of the truth and they upheld most of the truth. But the fact is that they did not uphold all of it, and, in fact, they did not uphold the Truth, Who is a Person. For most of us, we are willing to accept the truth as far as the way that it is laid out in propositional form; but when it comes to the Truth, Who is the Person of Jesus Christ, that requires more than an intellectual assent – that requires something of the heart. It requires a relationship. It requires entering in deeply, not just saying, “Oh, yeah. I guess I can accept that.” It requires making a change in our lives. That is what the apostles initially did not want to do, that is what the chief priests would not do, and the apostles finally did. But how about us? Do we want to really accept that truth, to embrace that truth, to love that truth? Are we willing to change our lives because of that truth?
Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and death has no more power over Him. You are a member of Jesus Christ; and, therefore, in Christ, Satan has no power over you, unless you give it to him. If we choose not to change our lives then we give the power over to the devil. What does the Resurrection mean to us?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.