Following is the prepared text from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s homily on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016:
“Peter…ran to the tomb, bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone; then he went home amazed at what had happened.” — Lk 24:12
When the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, He left behind burial cloths in the empty tomb. These are not proof that Jesus rose from the dead, but they reminded Peter of Jesus’ promise, repeated on three separate occasions, that the Son of Man would suffer greatly, be put to death and on the third day rise from the dead. These do not convince everyone of Jesus’ resurrection, but they moved Peter to be “amazed”, and to be prepared to understand what happened later that same day. That very evening, while Peter and the others were gathered behind locked doors for fear of the Jews (Jn 20:20), Jesus came, stood in their midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you;” then He “showed them His pierced hands and His side.”
Peter and the other Apostles rejoiced when they saw the Risen Lord. Not only was He alive — He was totally transformed. He was still human — He could eat and drink and speak with them — but He was no longer confined by the restrictions of time and space. He could go wherever He desired; doors and walls set no limits for Him. And His glorified body was glorious to behold. But why the wounds on His Risen Body?
The Lord’s glorious wounds tell us that His act of love on the Cross never ends. It belongs to eternity, remains forever present:
- present to His Father in heaven as the perfect worship of His Mystical Body, the Church; and
- forever present for us in the world as the fountain of mercy to wash away our sins and bring us new life.
His glorified wounds remind us, too, that only through the Cross did Jesus come to the victory of the Resurrection. In other words, the Cross and Resurrection are forever woven together. This is why St. Paul writes to the Romans (6:3f), “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were indeed buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”
The way to the fullness of life encompasses the whole Paschal Mystery: suffering, death and Resurrection in union with Christ.
It is no accident that the time when Baptisms are celebrated most often and in the most solemn way is at Easter because the meaning of Baptism is so closely bound to the death and Resurrection of Christ, so closely linked with the glorious wounds of the Risen Lord Jesus.
When we come for Baptism, we bring wounds with us, spiritual and emotional wounds that need healing. In the Baptismal font, the Risen Christ washes away our sin, heals our wounds, rescues us from darkness and brings us into God’s Kingdom of Light.
In Baptism, Jesus makes us beloved sons and daughters of His heavenly Father, makes us one with His own Mystical Body, fills us with His Holy Spirit and clothes us in the grace and dignity of the children of light. Baptism and Confirmation strengthen us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit needed to stand fast and remain faithful to our Baptismal promises, no matter what difficulties come our way. The great blessing of becoming children of God moves us to count it, not a burden but an honor, to take up our cross each day and follow in the footsteps of our Risen Lord.
Baptism makes it possible for us fully to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist: i.e. to be one with the Risen Lord Jesus as He, at the right hand of His Father in heaven, offers to Him the perfect sacrifice of worship and praise. It also purifies you and me to receive worthily Christ’s sacred body and blood in Holy Communion and thus to be filled with every grace and blessing.
Through Baptism, the Risen Lord also gives you and me such a rich share in His triumphant death and Resurrection that it is possible for us to die to an old way of life, to be freed of relationships and behaviors, vices and addictions that have enslaved us to sin, and then to rise to a whole new life in union with Him and with all the angels and saints, both on earth and in the heavens. St. Paul writes about this mystery of Baptism in his letter to the Romans (Rom 6:8), “…our old self was crucified with Him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin…If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”
When the Risen Lord Jesus appeared to the Apostles and showed them the wounds in His hands and side, He was preparing them for the royal road of the Cross, even for persecution and martyrdom. And indeed, all of them except for the beloved disciple John died as heroic witnesses of Christ. Because their bond of love with Him was so strong, they counted it a great honor and privilege to die as martyrs.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us resolve this day to be courageous witnesses to the Risen Lord every day. Let us count it pure joy when we are involved in difficulties and suffering for the sake of Christ. For when faith and love are tested, like gold they are brought to perfection. That is why St. Augustine said, “We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song!”