Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Resurrection Of Jesus Christ

Easter Year B 2015

Fr. Dale Matson

There are four Gospel accounts of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ however I simply cannot state the most important event in human history any better than St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians in Chapter 15. These verses are often used at funerals to comfort the bereaved. I deemed it fitting to use them on Easter Sunday morning for it is in every sense a Gospel lesson that stands on it’s own.

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised, for if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (Verses 1-9, 12-22)

I now want to talk about an additional witness to the resurrection of Christ. In October of 2011, I was conducting Morning Prayer on the Feast Day of Henry Martyn Priest and Missionary to India and Persia. Henry Martyn labored as a missionary in obscurity also translating the Bible and Prayer Book into Hindi and Persian. Following his death at the age of only 31, he was recognized for his accomplishments throughout the world. If we serve our Lord on this earth, St. Paul tells us that our efforts are not wasted. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58)

While Christ preached the Gospel of the Kingdom few heeded his call to follow Him. His Father rewarded Him by His resurrection and ascension to glory in Heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father. Those who do the work of the Lord do not labor in vain whether or not they see the fruits of their labor.

As I was celebrating Morning Prayer and Holy Eucharist on that feast day for Henry Martyn, it did not seem any more or less eventful than any other Wednesday morning. We had the usual handful of clergy and lay folks who attended and I am always thankful when there are at least two of us so that we can celebrate the Liturgy of the Altar. There is great symbolism in the vessels and linen used in the Liturgy of the Altar. For example, the fair linen on the mensa or top of the altar represents the Burial Shroud of Christ.

When everyone had communed, I began to clear the liturgical vessels by handing them to Fr. Carlos standing beside me to my left to assist. He took the vessels from me and placed them on the credence table.  I had rinsed the chalice and paten, wiped them with the purificator cloth, laid the purificator on the cup and rested the paten on it. I then laid the pall on top. Clergy refer to this as doing the ablutions. It is called cleaning up after the priests by the altar guild.

Finally, I began to fold the corporal, which is a square piece of cloth, made of fine linen that is placed under the chalice and patten. A practical reason for the corporal is to contain particles of consecrated bread that may spill out.

Something caught my attention in the corner of my vision to the right. As I looked, I found myself looking into the tomb of the resurrected Christ. The boulder that covered the entrance must have been already removed since I could see directly into the tomb. Christ was standing and folding the cloth that was placed over his face when His body was put into the tomb. He then laid it down in a matter of fact fashion. I’m not sure how long I looked into the tomb and Fr. Carlos may have thought I was having a seizure as he waited from me to hand him the vessels and linen. My hands had stopped as I watched.

I then turned and finished folding the corporal and placed it on top of the Pall and handed the vessels to Fr. Carlos. Before offering the blessing and dismissal, I told those present what I had just seen. It is not customary for a priest to interrupt the rubrics of the liturgy but if you have seen the risen Christ, you must tell others.

Once again, Christ had made Himself known in the breaking of the bread just like He did with two of His disciples at an evening meal in Emmaus following His resurrection. The priest will often say a brief prayer before the priest’s host is broken, “Make Yourself Known in the breaking of the bread”. Here, Christ is fulfilling His promise He made at the Maundy Thursday meal, to celebrate with us again following His death and resurrection in the Kingdom of God.

Why did Christ fold the corporal? I read this from one source and it sounds reasonable to me. “John didn’t explain the meaning of the folded napkin in his gospel (John 20:7). The Lord folded the napkin to show that His departure was an orderly and voluntary act.  It was proof that the tomb had not been robbed and His body had not been stolen, as some later claimed.”

Although I have had prior visions and have had visions since, I don’t believe I have derived so much meaning from a single vision before or since. St. Thomas Aquinas a doctor of the church had a vision so powerful during a celebration of the Eucharist that he exclaimed that all he had written was as straw and never wrote again.

I called Bishop Schofield that night and related the vision to him. He offered up one of his patented laughs and scolded me for not making the connection between the corporal on the altar as representing the burial linen on the face of Christ. I was unaware of the connection until then.

This is a portion of the resurrection account from the Gospel of St. John which is used in the principal service in year A. “Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, ‘They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn't go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings.  Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.”

How is it that God can accomplish so much with a single vision to strengthen faith and confirm my vocation? Bishop Schofied noted that as a priest I am not only the Alter Christus “another Christ” as a priest, I am also In Persona Christi as I administer the sacraments. Pope Benedict XVI stated, “During the celebration of the Mass, the priest serves in persona Christi, that is, in the very person of Christ, who is truly present.”

Additionally this vision given this unworthy person confirmed the authenticity of my Anglican orders as a priest and demonstrated for all of us that Christ is present in the mass throughout and to the very end of the mass. Every Eucharist reminds us that Christ rose from the dead for our sake and offers us and those we hold in our memories, the hope received by faith that we too will rise from the grave.

Every time I think of this event, I laugh to myself when I think of Bishop Schofied’s mock scolding. I am sure he is here with us today as we celebrate Easter. He dearly loved the drama of Easter Vigil.

Most of all, however, I became another witness to the resurrection of our Messiah. Indeed, He was in the tomb but he was a resurrected Savior Who had finished the work His Father had sent Him to do even to the folding of His face cloth prior to leaving the tomb.  The Lord has risen!


A. S. Haley said...

Thank you for this most revealing vignette, Fr. Dale. Having written often about the evidence for the authenticity of the Sudarium of Oviedo and also of the Shroud of Turin, I still had never thought about the simple point made to you by your vision -- that the careful folding of the cloths was itself more evidence at that time -- and for all later time -- of the truth of the Resurrection.

We also share a mutual admiration for the deep spiritual abilities of +John-David Schofield. Many were the moments with him when my life was enriched by his compassion -- his ability to put himself right in your place -- and by the profound insights which that compassion gave him.

A blessed Easter to you, to Fr. Carlos, to Bishop Eric, and to all those who carry Bishop Schofield's legacy forward in San Joaquin!

Dale Matson said...

Thanks for your affirmation tireless work on our behalf and commendation Mr. Haley. Happy Easter.

Pageantmaster said...

How encouraging - thank you for sharing that.

Happy Easter Father Dale.