When asked to describe the mystery of Easter, author Carl Knudsen responded with the following story. Years ago, an old municipal lamplighter, engaged in putting out the street lamps one by one, was met by a reporter who asked him if he ever grew weary of his work. After all, it was a lonely job and the night was cold and damp.
"Never am I cheerless," said the old man, "for there is always a light ahead of me to lead me on."
|Acts 10:34a, 37-43
1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
"But what do you have to cheer you when you have put out the last light?" asked the news writer.
"Then comes the dawn," said the lamplighter.
What if the same question were put to Jesus? One light after another did he put out: the lamp of popular acclaim, the lamp of patriotic approval, the lamp of ecclesiastical conformity -- all for the sake of God's love, which burned in his heart and showed him the way. At last even the light of his life was to flicker out on the hill called Calvary. What then? We hear his voice: "Into your hands, I commend my spirit." And then came the dawn. (Cited in A Treasury of Quips, Quotes and Anecdotes, Anthony Castle, ed., Twenty-Third Publications, 1998).
Because all did not end at Calvary, because the cross was but a passage to everlasting life, we celebrate today the Christ who lives and by whose arising a new day has dawned for all of humankind. In today's first reading, the formerly fearful Peter proclaims the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection, hoping to draw unto Jesus those who had not yet been willing to hear, to believe or to be transformed by faith.
Peter's words reach across the centuries and invite our renewed commitment to Jesus, the light of the world. Our belonging to Jesus precludes any hopelessness or pessimism, any hiding or wandering aimlessly in the dark. This kind of darkness has no place in the Christian heart.
Paul, in today's second reading, challenges us to clean house. Get rid of malice and wickedness so as to make room for sincerity and truth. Christ, our light, will aid us in discerning what should go and what should stay. Christ will also strengthen our resolve and inspire in us an even greater passion to believe in the Gospel and live in accord with it.
In the Gospel for the Easter Vigil (Mark 16:1-7), we read the original ending of Mark, where two Marys and Salome arrive at the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. Theirs was a sad and difficult task, but their love for Jesus urged them on. Notice that they did not expect to find anything except the deceased Jesus. They had no idea there could be an alternative.
Scholars agree that the empty tomb probably prompted the conclusion that Jesus' body had been stolen. In fact, John says as much in his narrative. Only when the young man in white interprets the empty tomb for them does the notion of a risen Jesus arise. But the experience terrified the women, and they ran off without a word to anyone.
A longer ending to Mark's Gospel, added later by an editor/redactor, tells the rest of the story. Included in Mark 16:9-20 are a Resurrection appearance, the commissioning of the disciples and an Ascension scene. This longer ending, as Hugh Anderson has explained, shows how the church thought of Easter as central and decisive, as the hinge of its history and belief and, above all, of its missionary proclamation and service (Gospel of Mark, Eerdmans, 1984).
The longer ending also represents one of the church's earliest attempts to construct a harmony of Easter events out of the varied data of the Gospels and Acts, all of which converge over time to express the Easter tradition.
We know the rest of the story, and Jesus also charges us with proclaiming the good news to all creation. We cannot be fearful and remain silent, for the reality of Jesus-risen compels us to witness with our lips and our lives.
"Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives" (Pope Francis, "The Joy of the Gospel," 2013).
And so, on this feast of light and life, let us resolve to be the light that dispels another person's darkness and to share the life that Jesus has secured for each of us.
[Patricia Sánchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]