Reflection on the Gospel: John 20:1-9
—By Fr. Alcuin Hurl, FHS
This Easter Sunday the tomb is empty yet so are our Churches. What does this mean?
This Lent we have seen how Jesus revealed himself to his disciples as the source of living water with his encounter with Samaritan woman at the well; as light of the world with the healing of the man born blind; as the Resurrection and the Life with the raising of Lazarus; and as the Messiah-King with his triumphal entrance into the east gate of Jerusalem on the back of a little donkey on Palm Sunday.
Yet, the disciple’s ever increasing light of faith in Jesus is suddenly struck down by a terrible spiritual darkness. For, after Jesus gave Judas the dipped morsel of bread and Satan entered him to betray him John says, “And it was night” (John 13:30). This is why in the opening scene of today’s Gospel we are still in the dark.
Mary of Magdala, who witnessed the agony of the crucifixion and endured the silence of holy Saturday, comes to the tomb in the pre-dawn darkness without hope and full of sadness. Yet, her darkness starts to gradually break and she and the other disciples begin to realize the reality of the resurrection based on the surprising things they see. Let us look at what they see.
First, Mary is stunned to see that the stone is rolled away from the tomb. She does not even look into the tomb and assumes that Jesus’ body has been taken by grave robbers. So Mary runs to tell apostles.
Second, both Peter and the beloved disciple immediately run to the tomb. Either due to his youth or his deep love for Jesus the beloved disciple outruns Peter who denied Jesus three times. Still, the beloved disciple stops and waits for Peter at the entrance of the tomb. Why does he wait for Peter? By waiting the beloved disciple seems to honor Peter as the chief among the apostles.
Third, Peter, the beloved disciple and Mary see the empty tomb and the burial clothes. The fact that the cloth that covered the face of Jesus is rolled up in a separate place shows three things.
- First, it shows that the body of Jesus was not stolen. Grave robbers would be most unlikely to take the time to carefully unwrap the body before they stole it.
- Second, the very deliberate action of folding the face cloth up shows that the resurrection of Jesus was the deliberate act of God the Father.
- Third, this shows the stark difference between resuscitation and resurrection. While resuscitated Lazarus came out of the tomb wrapped in white cloth like a mummy the resurrected Jesus comes forth without his burial clothes. This means that Lazarus will die again but Jesus will never die again because death has no more power over him. Jesus swallowed up death in victory. Jesus has a new spiritual body in a perfect glorified state. Those who believe in Jesus will also be given this same resurrected body that will never die again.
- Fourth, the beloved disciple “saw and believed.” What exactly did he believe at this point? The beloved disciple’s deep personal love for Jesus leads him to trust that God is at work here in a way that he does not yet fully understand.
Does the beloved disciple believe in the resurrection at this point? Not fully. John tells us that he did not know the scriptures because he has not yet been given the Holy Spirit by the Risen Christ. The beloved disciple, despite his trust in God, must still have a personal encounter with the Risen Jesus and given the Holy Spirit before he can fully believe in the resurrection. The disciples at this point are still on their way to Easter faith. What does this mean for us?
In difficult times like the pandemic the light of our faith in Jesus is often tested and struck by spiritual darkness. Like Mary of Magdala stand stunned at the sight of our empty Churches on this Easter Sunday. Yet, like the beloved disciple we can choose to see the empty tomb and the empty Churches and believe that God is still somehow at work in a way we do not yet understand. So we stand outside the tomb and dutifully await the moment our Bishops will reopen our Churches so that once again we can have a tangible encounter with the Risen Lord in the Eucharist.
Until then all we can do is stand outside the empty tomb and proclaim:
Christ is Risen! Alleluia!