The Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Year: B(I). Psalm week: 1. Liturgical Colour: White.
In other years: Saint Athanasius (295 - 373)
He was born in Alexandria. He assisted Bishop Alexander at the Council of Nicaea and later succeeded him as bishop. He fought hard against Arianism all his life, undergoing many sufferings and spending a total of 17 years in exile. He wrote outstanding works to explain and defend orthodoxy.
Athanasius’s passion for the truth seems tactless to many of us today, to the point where some Catholic devotional works even express embarrassment over it. This is grotesque. Before we congratulate ourselves on being more gentle and civilised than Athanasius and his contemporaries, we should look at the lack of charity that characterizes academic controversies today (from string theory to global warming) and the way that some of the participants are willing to use any weapon that comes to hand, from legal persecution to accusations of madness to actual assault. The matters in dispute with the Arians were more important than any of these scientific questions. They were vital to the very nature of Christianity, and, as Cardinal Newman put it, the trouble was that at that time the laity tended to be champions of orthodoxy while their bishops (seduced by closeness to imperial power) tended not to be. The further trouble (adds Henry Chadwick) is that the whole thing became tangled up with matters of power, organization and authority, and with cultural differences between East and West. Athanasius was accused of treason and murder, embezzlement and sacrilege. In the fight against him, any weapon would do.
Arianism taught that the Son was created by the Father and in no way equal to him. This was in many ways a “purer” and more “spiritual” approach to religion, since it did not force God to undergo the undignified experience of being made of meat. Islam is essentially Arian, granting Jesus a miraculous birth, miracles, death (though not crucifixion) and a resurrection, but all as a matter of God demonstrating his power by committing more spectacular miracles than usual.
Arianism leaves an infinite gap between God and man, and ultimately destroys the Gospel, leaving it either as a fake or as a cruel parody. It leaves the door open to Manichaeism, which mixes Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Gnostic elements into Christianity, so that God is good but creation is bad (or at worst, a mistake) and the work of an evil anti-God. Only by being orthodox and insisting on the identity of the natures of the Father and the Son and the Spirit can we truly understand the goodness of creation and the love of God, and live according to them.
Today's Gospel: Why Peter went first
The other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground… but did not go in.
It is possible – and wise theologians have done it – to read into this passage a typological statement about Peter, as founder of the Church; and indeed there is nothing wrong in this. But at the more literal and more human level there is also material for reflection.
We all see the events from Good Friday to Easter Sunday morning in a distorted perspective. We can’t not, because we know what happened at Easter. Imbued with the story of Jesus’ rising on the third day, we inevitably think in terms of his being dead and buried for three days. That is an anachronistic viewpoint. Viewed through the eyes of anyone who lived through those days, Jesus was dead and buried for ever, until something new and unimaginable happened.
The situation on Holy Saturday, as far as the disciples knew, was not that Jesus going to rise tomorrow but that that he was dead and would never rise again. This Gospel moment on Easter Sunday has to be understood in the same sense. What was in John’s mind as he ran? He knew that the most perfect and Godlike man had been humiliated and destroyed in the worst way imaginable, because he had seen it happen. Now he was embarking on the journey of mourning by enacting his grief and paying his respects. And as he approached the tomb, he saw that something had happened.
Stop there for a moment, remembering to forget the Resurrection, and think what that ‘something’ could have been. What could possibly have happened, except something bad? Primitive societies show extreme respect for their enemies’ dead. If their enemies cannot retrieve those bodies then they bury them themselves, according to their own rites or according to as close an approximation to the enemy’s rite as they can manage. But the Jews and the Romans were not primitive but civilised. They had no superstitious taboos about death. So if the tomb was disturbed, it could only be that Jesus’ executioners had decided that death was not enough for him – that the one they had humiliated and spat on in life had to be desecrated in death also.
That is what John ran towards, and then stopped because he could not bear to see it. It was Peter, the impulsive, the unthinking, who went on and, looking in, found the world turned upside down.
Liturgical colour: white
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||(1 Corinthians 15:3-5) ©|
Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; he was buried; and he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures. He appeared first to Cephas and secondly to the Twelve.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Ephesians 2:4-6 ©|
God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ – it is through grace that you have been saved – and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Romans 6:4 ©|
When we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.