Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118:1-2, 15-17, 22-24; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9.
Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God in a unique way and to be God’s special instrument for fulfilling God’s plans for Israel and for the world. Jesus had made clear that not even his death, and a shameful death at that, could stand in the way of these claims. The Jewish leadership had rejected these claims, and Jesus had been executed.
But Jesus had predicted his resurrection. Foes as well as friends knew this. The Jewish authorities requested a guard be mounted at the tomb to prevent the disciples of Jesus stealing the body and then putting about fabricated claims about such a resurrection (Mt 27:62-66).
Such is the situation on that first Holy Saturday. Jesus appeared publicly discredited and his apostles had buckled under the pressure of the situation.
Only the resurrection could possibly turn this situation round. And it did – but it was unusual in a number of ways – or seemed so.
If Jesus is God’s most important instrument ever, and if his work is so important for all of history, then one might have expected a very public vindication – a very public resurrection, one beyond all ambiguity and doubt and objection, indeed one leading all to bend the knee and confess him as Lord (cf Phil 2:10-11). One might well expect this even more after such a shameful and very public death, one that, if anything, stirred up even more controversy about him.
Political leaders and entire regimes, in order to survive in such situations, typically try to demonstrate strongly and publicly their power over their enemies. Should not God do this?
The resurrection did come. It did demonstrate the power of Jesus over death and with that over sin and Satan, the ultimate enemies of humanity. It did validate his claims and expose the false accusations and misunderstandings of the Jewish authorities. But it came in a very quiet way, away from the public eye.
The beloved disciple came to belief, entering a quiet tomb and seeing a carefully folded head cloth. Surely grave robbers and body stealers would not take the time to fold a cloth wrapped around the corpse’s head! The apparitions when they came were to the friends of Jesus, not to his enemies – with the later single exception of Paul. Why not appear publicly to all? This will happen – it is called the Second Coming.
In the meantime God has chosen another way of making his victory public. It is through the witness of those who did see him, as Peter makes clear in our reading from Acts. It is through their faith, and that of those who believe because of them. Which today means us.
So it is not that Jesus is not made manifest in public. He is made manifest through the Church, through us, who together are his body. We may feel this to be a fragile way for God to work, to make clear his decisive victory.
But – interestingly – it is rather similar to the way God achieved that victory in the first place. This happened through the words and works, through the holiness, and the witness to truth unto death of someone who was seemingly only a carpenter from Nazareth. God was uniquely present in Jesus and that made the difference. But what God has done for us, he now wishes to do in us, and through us. That is perhaps why he has chosen that until he comes in full public glory we, fragile humans, earthenware vessels, are to manifest his resurrection life to the world and call its people to believe in his claims and so receive eternal life.
Jesus brought in the Kingdom of God through sharing our human life. We are to announce it through letting him reproduce the pattern of that life in us here and now. St Paul says in today’s epistle that our true life is hidden with Christ in God. This means that its power and wisdom come from a source beyond this world, indeed from a source that this world crucified, but that God raised up. That divine life is real, present, and effective in changing us here and now even if we do have to wait until the Second Coming for that life in us to be made fully clear.
However, it is already at work and is also partially manifest to others here and now. Jesus Christ is present in each and every believer, and makes the victory, life and power of his Resurrection evident through our lives of faith, hope and charity, through our holiness, through our verbal testimony to the Gospel, through any signs and wonders he may choose to work through us, but often and perhaps especially through our share in the cross of Christ. That is how the victory of the Resurrection is made public. It may seem strange – but it is no stranger than the manner in which the victory was first won.
Let each of us take our part, sharing in, and testifying to, his life, death and resurrection: sharing in the very life of God that knows no end.